Friday, May 28, 2010

No Matter How Hard You Try, No One Will Listen

What follows is a mostly verbatim text from a student in our Bachelors program. This was written for a timed exam for students seeking prior professional experience credits, so she did not have much time to revise it. I think it gives it an immediacy lacking in most of the texts we read in academia.

For me, this student's story captures better than almost anything else I have read the tragic position of working-class parents of color in inner-city public schools.
I was the parent advocate for my own son. I had to advocate for his ADD disability. The origin of the advocacy initiative was the school saying if my son doesn’t take his medicine he cannot come to the school any more. I had a problem with this because when he was on the medicine he became a zombie and no learning was taking place. He was suspended more than he was at school. So my journey began with me being a parent who needed to advocate for my son who could not speak for himself.

First I had to deal with real emotions from the teachers who were tired of dealing with my son on a day to day situation. He was extremely out of order in class every day.

I was called to come to the school every day. Which made me lose two jobs. Taking care of my son’s educational needs ending up being my fulltime job. I had to advocate for my son’s education because the school district had decided if he didn’t take his medicine then you might as well keep him at home. I would come to the school in the mornings to calm him and help him get the morning classes out he way, and hopefully I could leave but normally that was not the case.

I knew I had to find a teacher my son liked in the school so that we could get the process of learning started. Once I found the teacher that could deal with him, the school said no that he was to stay put in the class he was in. I don’t take no very well, and I had to figure out how to get this principal to change her mind on his placement. The first thing I did was go directly to the principal and appeal to her that my son needed to be with a teacher that he respected and enjoyed being with. She still said no.

The next step I had to come up with is to get his IEPs scheduled more frequently, like once a week until we get a handle on his behavior. The IEPs helped a little, I could tell the principal had an attitude problem and the teacher was just staring into space. The only person who seemed interested was the school psychologist. The meetings were supposed to benefit my child but they always turned into me being a bad parent by not giving my son his medicine. I knew I had to find a way to ask the right questions, because I felt the school perceived me in a bad light. Possibly a parent from the ghetto who was using the school as a baby sitter. In the beginning I didn’t know how to ask the right questions because the staff was always on defensive and that made me go on defensive with them.

I knew I had to understand the playing field better. Who could I trust? They needed to know what my expectations were for my child.

I got extremely frustrated at one point because the only thing the school was saying to me was force the medicine in him. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I defiantly was on the wrong side of the playing field with these educators who were smarter than me. I learned to write down everything , keep a journal so when stuff changes I would not have to remember by memory. I had 3 years of journals to refer back to.

The next step was how to deal with a hostile environment in the school. The staff, to me, was taking this too personal. Sometimes even yelling at my son telling him he was bad and going to be stupid. This type of environment was not conducive for learning for any one.

The next approach was to find ways of boosting my child s ego before he got to school. I would tell him that he was going to be the best kid today. And that if he could make it to lunch with no outbursts, tantrums, or attacking some one I would reward him with going to the park to play. I know he had a lot of energy and needed to get the steam off. If my son woke up in a bad mood it had to do with something he went through the night before, and I would have to solve this before I would take him to school. It would take till he got to the 6th grade before the outburst would stop. Because soothing him before he got to school did not work.

When my son got in the 6th grade I realized he still could not read or write, he was at a 3rd grade level so I had to hire him a tutor to get him up to par. The IEPs did not address his education they were only addressing his behavior. So not only was the school failing him I was failing him. So myself and the tutor took upon ourselves to have school every day and teach him his abc’s how to write and his math was below par too.

At this point I had to find a job to support us. My advocacy turned to letter writing first to the school district, then to a lawyer. I wrote so many letters my fingers were numb. I needed to find some one to help me with my case. My son’s education was suffering because the only thing the school was concentrating on was his behavior. He was being shipped from one alternative school to another. And he was not learning a thing. I became an assertive parent advocate so that I could be a effective parent in helping my child get educated. I talked to whoever would listen to me. I was at the school board more than I was at work. . . .

I finally found an educational advocate for my son, someone to speak for him at his IEP meetings. This worked because the staff listened to her she was one of their peers and could not say some of the dumb stuff they had said to me over the years. I found too that I had to keep up with the documents that labeled him mentally retarded. My son was not mental he had a severe behavior problem and I knew this was going to hinder him from learning because if everyday he was acting out he was not learning. I knew the resources were limited and I did not care, I asked for whatever the school district had in the budget to use for my son. I asked the school to hire him a mentor to walk with him to every class so he could stay focused on going to class and actually entering the class room and not walking the hallways. This worked perfectly until the school received budget cuts and the first person to go was my son mentor. I knew I had to walk in the schools shoes and I needed them to help want to help my child. This was a hard task, because once you start asking for things for your child you get labeled as the enemy.

I failed as an educator advocate for my child he is now 16 in and out of jail, he still can't read or write that good and if you ask him if he wants to go to school he will tell you no. My child has turned down any help we have offered him and at this point I hope he graduates, I don’t see this happening because he is 16 and still in the 9th grade. Nothing worked after he got old enough to say no to the forced medicine at school. . . .

Nothing happened because the school district fought me tooth and nail. They did not care if my son got educated, he was passed to the 9th grade and that is where he probably will be when he turns 18. My efforts went unnoticed because I was only advocating for my son, I did not meet any other parents that had children with type of disorder.

I learned that the school district has a long way to go on compassion for children that have problems. I was beat down so many times because I didn’t know the right questions to ask. Anybody who met my kid either hated or loved him. I fought a long and hard fight for my son but he has now chosen the thug life and school is on the bottom of his agenda. I have not given up. I do pray for him and call and encourage him. But when teens have their mind made up that they are already grown and can make their own decisions there is basically not much you can do. I have learned that you can only do so much with little support from educators who are supposed to be on your side. Yes I probably should have given my son the drugs but I still feel today that they should open schools for children like my son so that they can get the education they deserve and not focus solely on his behavior.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

More Poor People are in Suburbs than Cities

"A new image of urban America is in the making," said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings who co-wrote the report. "What used to be white flight to the suburbs is turning into 'bright flight' [sic] to cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who see access to knowledge-based jobs, public transportation and a new city ambiance as an attraction."

"This will not be the future for all cities, but this pattern in front runners like Atlanta, Portland, Ore., Raleigh, N.C., and Austin, Texas, shows that the old urban stereotypes no longer apply," he said.

The suburbs now have the largest poor population in the country. According to the analysis, between 1999 and 2008, the suburban poor grew by 25 percent; five times the growth rate of the poor in cities. During that same time period, the median household income in the U.S. declined by $2,241.
As I have noted before, this shift in population will have significant implications for schools, although the "losing whites" title and "bright flight" framing certainly have racist overtones at least.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Argument Itself is Dated

Almost 11 months in to raising our first child, I am finally getting back to doing some blogging.

...and regretting not doing better spell checking...

I am child-myopic these days, and the influence on my thought, actions, and writing will undoubtedly focus on how he, to borrow from Gert. J. J. Biesta, comes into the world as a unique singular being despite the forces that would shape and construct him otherwise.

As this is a policy blog, and an educational policy blog in particular, I will do my best to relate our son’s unfolding to schools, schooling, policy, and policy implementation. If I drift too much into “raising baby,” I trust my colleagues will reel me in.

I woke up this morning thinking about schools as a type of technology, one created to serve a specific function: to educate.

What that means is obviously debatable.

If it’s a public school and you’re asking the current, or previous administration for a definition, to educate is to ram facts into a child’s head and then test the child to see how much fact has stuck.

School is a hammer; knowledge the nail; the teacher is a carpenter and a child the entity under construction. Said differently, school is a needle; the teacher a nurse; history, English, math, beauty, and Truth are the medicines administered in various doses according to the doctor making the rounds.

This is a simplistic way to “educate” as we live in a world where appropriation of fact is a quickly satisfied task for anyone with access to a laptop (or a phone, but not MY phone) can find and appropriate almost any fact desired without having someone nail or inject it into one’s psyche.

Applying that fact is an entirely different matter, as is bringing new facts to bear (sp?) on those committed to memory, evaluating both sets of facts (old and new) and then acting to make a change in one’s life, family, or community in light of reflection on what’s been tried, what’s worked, and what has not.

As a space for achieving all of the above (imagining, testing, critiquing, reflecting, resisting, creating, and attempting) I believe schools as we know them now, the schools I’ll be sending my child to perhaps, are ill suited technologies for encouraging the higher order thinking and intelligent behavior that I want my son, and indeed all children, to engage in.

This brings me back to my phone...which also happens to be our son’s favorite new “toy.” My phone is 4 years old, a veritable dinosaur in a world of eagles. Texting is impractical, as I have to hit the same button several times to scroll through choices before finding the letter or symbol I desire. I cannot access the net from my phone, and if I could, I imagine surfing it would be akin to realtime-surfing on crutches.

I am limited by my 4 year old phone as to how I can interact, learn from, and change my world. Imagine if it was 40 years old. Imagine carrying a 40 year old cell phone around in your pocket.

How about a computer?

This laptop is 5 years old and cannot keep up with my wife’s new machine, which cost us half the old one and has quadruple the power (but it’s a Window’s device and I make myself feel better by noting I have a much cooler marketing apparatus behind my aging iBook™).

Imagine using a 50 year old’d need a much bigger lap, one the size of a bedroom. Now imagine using a 100 year old computer. Harder to do because they weren’t around. 100 years ago few people could imagine the processing power we’d eventually have quite literally at our fingertips.

To finally make my school-related point...A 4 year old phone and a 5 year old machine help me function in the world and make life livable and workable, but they have their limits. I’d buy a new phone and new computer if I wasn’t thinking more about my child’s education.

In 5 years there’s a good chance I’ll be sending my son into schools still wedded to designs over 100 years old, technologies that use the basic hardware and operating systems from the 19th Century. Yes they help people get by, and yes they can train children to function in particular ways, but the walls, the bells, the goals, the end of the day desires held by most of the people constructing "schools" will not work in an era that demands more advanced operating systems.

So I’m sitting here thinking to myself:
"Self, are you going to leave your child’s education up to people employing dated technologies, and if so are you prepared to reap the cosmic consequences of reducing Asher’s opportunities for robust exploration and growth as part of an organic-democratic-whole in the name of standards and accountability, themselves dated artifacts?"
I have to answer NO.

Advanced operating systems to be discussed below or outlined next week...