Monday, September 29, 2014
This week's Sunday Times had an awesome article by Frank Bruni titled The Wilds of Education. It makes the point that education should be dangerous. It should excite the mind. It should inspire thought. It should challenge norms. It should be uncomfortable at times. We're speaking academically, of course, as the physical building and the culture of the school should be nothing but comforting and safe. Students should be encouraged to try new things, embrace failure as a learning experience, and worry more about the process of learning rather than the actual grade. Yes, we need grades. We need ways to measure growth. But we need to embrace academic risk. Last week was Banned Books Week. I love that week. I love to learn about what people are scared of reading. Who are these scared people? I have no idea. But there are enough of them to create an actual week where their fear of books takes on national attention. While checking out books on the Civil War today, which will fill the next month of Mommy School, there were three jars in the kids' library with the shredded text of books that were on the banned books list. You could enter the names of the books, if you could figure them out, and win a prize. Hint: one of them deals with wizards with names like Harry and Professor McGonagall. I burst out laughing. Harry Potter is one of the most brilliant books of our time. It deals with issues of class and race, abandonment and trust, coming of age and facing fears for the good of society. Good vs. evil. Rich vs. poor. Better to learn about those things in a fictional tale when you are 7, 8 or 9 than face the real life equivalent at that stage, like World Wars, 9/11, ISIS...the big stuff about which I hope my kids can remain innocent until at least they enter upper elementary school. There have been so many movements by college students and colleges to shelter their precious brains from difficult issues that they might face or have faced in life, like poverty, slavery (well, their ancestors I guess), violence, that I wonder sometimes if anyone is interested in learning anything about life that will actually help them cope with the real world. Neither of my kids likes to fail. They cry. They scream. They throw temper tantrums. Alex hates to beaten at chess. Izzy explodes into a tizzy when Alex beats her at anything. I often wonder what the neighbors must think. But I let them scream and cry and slam doors and throw fits and declare that they will "never again play x,y,z..." and then I invite them to calm down and try again. First I give them a pep talk. "Oh, good, you failed for once," I tell them. "Your brain is growing again. You must feel yourself getting smarter and stronger. See if you can apply what you learned from your mistakes this time to win." Occasionally, like when Izzy has a milk drinking contest at dinner or a teeth brushing contest at night, I find myself yelling, "It's not a contest! Teeth need to be brushed slowly!" And both kids grow very serious when we talk about tough issues, like alex's premature birth or child homelessness. We shake things up in Mommy School. We read Harry Potter, every volume. We re-enact the Revolutionary War. This year, we even discussed 9/11, something with which I was intimately involved in dealing. Yes, it's painful sometimes to talk about, but I won't put that on my banned list. Banning the discussion will mean that my kids might never learn about 9/11, and as some very famous and knowledgable people have said, "History repeats itself." Let's not be unprepared. Academic risk? Bring it!
We would be lost at this point without IXL.com and Khanacademy.org. When we started using them both several years ago, I thought we were just having fun. I never realized I would rely on them for Alex's education. Alex has pretty much given up on school. He promised himself throughout kindergarten that first grade would be more challenging and that he would find it interesting. But here he is, into his fifth week of school, and his disappointment at the lack of educational challenges has left him deflated. Every morning I have to hear his complaints about what a waste of time it is to go to school. I'm not entirely sure what the answer is to our dilemma in the long term (private school?), but thanks to IXL and Khan Academy, I have the tools to teach math to Alex in ways I could never do on my own (he is actually surpassing me in math at this point...), challenge him to work on his own in very rewarding programs (you earn stars and banners flash at you with words of praise), and allow him to soar. "Yes," I tell him. "School is boring right now, because you aren't yet in your place. You haven't found your people. Why don't you help the other kids catch up with you. And when you get home, we'll do the real learning." He sighs. "We'll work on converting fractions to percentages," I promise. He cheers up slightly. "Well, at least I have music today," he concedes. "Maybe I'll win another participation award." Thank goodness for music class.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Alex will be turning 7 next week. I remember on his first birthday how I breathed a sigh of relief because we had gotten through that first, hard year. Now that he is older, he is able to articulate how his body feels, whether he is sick or has a headache, if his limbs or back hurt from the pull of cerebral palsy, and he can share his frustrations and triumphs. As a baby, we just had to guess if his crying meant serious problems and pain. We had one trip to the ER that was completely unnecessary, and one horrible night when we realized we should have taken him to the ER days before. This year, as we celebrate all that Alex has overcome, we are doing what Alex loves most, running. Join us during the week of September 23-28th, for our Baby Alex Foundation event, Run 7 for 7! to help us raise money for pediatric brain injury research and support. Alex will be out there every morning running before school and participating in this event. He will also be having sugarfree cake and sugarfree ice cream and doing what 7 years olds do on their birthday, opening gifts with friends. For more info, visit our donation page: . Thanks for running with us.