Letting Your Child Shine (Or Fail)

super-nhlWhen you have a child, the instinct to protect your kid from all pain and sorrow is powerful.  It gets even stronger if your child has special needs.

I know that NHL’s Asperger’s and anxiety creates barriers for him that other children don’t have.  Depending on the activity, NHL might be more likely to fail than a neurotypical child. And when he fails, it is more likely to be a horrible mess rather than a near miss.  Adding to this are the many horrible messes I’ve encountered in my life.  There are the things I’ve tried and failed at and the things/people who hurt me.

This has led me to instinctively try to protect NHL.  When he tries to do something, my mind immediately lists all of the ways that it could go horribly wrong.  Where NHL sees enthusiastic fun, I see horrible crash and burn.  I wind up holding him back.

This was the case the other day when we were seeing an improv group for his school.  He kept trying to raise his hand and I, sitting right behind him, kept gently pushing his hand down.  Towards the end, they began to ask for more volunteers.  NHL, as always, raised his hand.  I decided to let him, knowing that it was close to the end and seeing all of the other hands raised.  There’s no way he’ll be picked, I thought.

He was picked.

As he walked up, my mind immediately listed all of the awful things that was sure to happen.  He would say something inappropriate.  He would do something inappropriate.  He would horribly embarrass himself and come back to me with everyone laughing at him.  His classmates would make fun of him over this debacle for months to come.

I was powerless to stop him and could only hope that the crash and burn wasn’t too bad.  NHL was told to act like a pigeon when his turn came up as part of the ad lib.  Then, NHL did something surprising.  He waited his turn and put on a perfect pigeon imitation.  Whereas other kids just stood in one spot and made one or two motions to ad lib, NHL bounced around, flapped his arms, and pecked just like a pigeon would.  He couldn’t have been more pigeon-like without growing feathers.

He returned back, giving me and his teacher a high-five.  He proved me wrong and made me realize something.  When he says he can’t do something, my advice to him is invariably that he can.  However, by trying to keep him from failing, I was implying that he couldn’t do some things.  I need to take my own advice and let him try.  I can still look out for him by providing my advice, but in the end he needs to try these things out for himself.  Will he fail?  Sure.  But he will also rise higher than either of us thought was possible.

NOTE: The image above is a combination of a photo of NHL and “super hero flying silhouette” by laubc which is available from OpenClipArt.org.

To Do List Prioritization

To-Do_List_smallOn Sunday, I had so many things that I needed to do that I couldn’t keep track of them all.  Out came my trusty To Do list app of choice (Out Of Milk) and before long I had a list of 10 things I needed to get done.  By the end of the day, all but 2 were done.  Those remaining two were put off for another day since they involved shopping and we feared the pre-Christmas crowds.

After dinner, I sat on the couch with my boys and watched some television.  I only managed to get in a half hour before duty called again.  This wasn’t on my To Do list, but it should have been.

There are so many things that I "have" to do that it all-too-often seems like I have no time for the things I want to do: Like spend time with my boys or go on date nights with my wife.  Real life has a habit of butting in and pushing the things I want to do off the list.

I realized that I always want to have "spend time with my family" on my to do list.  Even if it’s just watching TV for a half hour.  The "need to get done" items can wait until this "want to do item" is checked off my list!

Don’t Take The Plagiarism Short Cut

writeIt was bound to happen eventually.  We sat NHL down by the computer so he could type out sentences to his spelling sentences.  As I was preparing dinner, I looked over and saw one of his sentences.  Only there was a problem.  It was way too advanced a sentence for him to have written.  I asked him and he admitted to having looked up words on Dictionary.com to be sure of their meaning.  While he was there, he noticed that they had the words in sentences.  Just what he needed.  Copying them would save a lot of time, right?

I knew then and there that it was time to introduce NHL to another word: Plagiarism.  I told him that he couldn’t just copy someone else’s work and try to pass it off as his own.  First of all, the assignment was for him to write out sentences.  Copying someone else’s work is not fulfilling the assignment.  Secondly, the purpose of the assignment is to learn how to use the words that he is being introduced to.  Grabbing sentences from the web isn’t teaching him anything.  Third, stealing someone else’s work and passing it off as your own isn’t fair to the original author.  I asked NHL how he’d feel if someone stole something he wrote and told people they had written them.

Sadly, too many people don’t learn this lesson this young.  Some go through life thinking that passing someone else’s work off as their own is perfectly acceptable.  Others learn their lesson later in life when the consequences are more dire.  These consequences can range from public shaming to losing your job or being kicked out of school.

In a way, I’m glad that NHL tried to plagiarize so young as this lesson is an important one to learn as early as possible.  Just like with Google Image Searches, text on the Internet is not free for the taking.  It can definitely be tempting, but you can’t just take text from Wikipedia or another source, use it in your own work.

NOTE: The "pen paper" image above is by aungkarns and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

Accountability, John King, and So Called Special Interests

special-interestsOur government is built upon a foundation of accountability.  We elect people to serve our interests in government.  If they don’t do a good job, we can kick them out next election cycle.  It’s not a perfect system, of course, but it’s pretty good overall.

This style of government was – in a big way – influenced by the events 240 years ago.  In 1773, the colonists revolted against the British Parliament for not having a say in how they were being taxed.  Today, parents, teachers, and students find themselves the ones without representation.

Throughout the country, Common Core and Race To The Top are being implemented.  Though I’m a fan of having a nation-wide education policy, in general, Common Core is just badly written and its implementation winds up giving corporate interests more say in our children’s education than we have.

In New York State, our kids were subject to a series of high stakes tests.  We were warned that scores would be low but that this would be a "baseline" by which future success would be measured.  Considering that only 30% of kids passed the tests, I’d say we’re setting the bar pretty low to start with.  The biggest issue here is the accountability, or the lack thereof. of all of the parties involved.

I’ve written before about Pearson education and how the lack of oversight on the tests combined with their business interests (selling textbooks and courses) gives them a clear incentive to have students do poorly on the tests they design.  Today, I’d like to focus on Commissioner John King and the New York State Education Department.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) gets to decide education policy for all of New York State.  Districts can decide not to abide by some rules, but NYSED can "lean on" them to get them in line (for example, by withholding funding).  So when NYSED says the high-stakes tests are going to take place, local school districts have little say in the matter.

Voters don’t get to choose NYSED members – they are appointed by the legislature.  We do vote for the legislature, but many times legislators either feign ignorance or are purposefully ignorant as to what is happening in the education system.  It’s better (in their minds) to act outraged that high stakes testing isn’t making our kids’ education better and promise to get to the bottom of it, than it is to know how bad the situation is beforehand and risk being blamed.  Furthermore, the Commissioner gets appointed by the NYSED’s Board of Regents.  He is two steps removed from any voter accountability.

Recently, Commissioner King held the first in a series of town hall meetings intended to open a dialog with parents and teachers who were unhappy with the state’s overemphasis on tests and with Common Core.  (You can watch the town hall here.)  Parents and teachers who attended were told they would have an hour to make statements.  In fact, only a half hour at the end was allotted for statements.

To make matters worse, John King interrupted the statements period so that he could rebut the statements.  When the crowd got upset that their limited time was being eaten into, King remarked "We’re not going to go on until I speak."  Understandably, this met with resounding boos from the attendees.  At least one parent was escorted from the grounds by the police which soured the crowd even more.

After twenty minutes, the statements period was closed out and parents were told that those with written statements could hand them to a representative instead.  Commissioner John King ducked out the back to avoid any further parent interactions.

The very next day, Commissioner King cancelled all further town hall meetings, blaming "special interests" for hijacking the meeting.  Specifically, his statement read:

I was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with parents across the state. I was eagerly anticipating answering questions from parents about the Common Core and other reforms we’re moving ahead with in New York State. Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.

The disruptions caused by the special interests have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments. Essentially, dialogue has been denied. In light of the clear intention of these special interest groups to continue to manipulate the forum, the PTA-sponsored events scheduled have been suspended.

Let’s break this apart bit by bit, shall we?  First of all, he "was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue."  The last time I checked, a dialogue is an even back and forth.  If one person has all the speaking time and attempts to silence all dissenting opinions, it’s not a dialogue, it’s a monologue.  Dictionary.com agrees, calling it a "conversation between two or more persons."  It sounds to me like Commissioner King was actually expecting to monologue his way through the town hall meetings and didn’t expect to hit any dissenting opinions along the way.

Next, there’s his mention of "special interests" who "dominated" the questions.  The people who attended the meeting were parents and teachers.  Was he seriously calling concerned parents a "special interest"?  Or was he referring to the teachers who have seen firsthand the damage this is doing to our kids?  I, for one, am willing to embrace the label as I have two very special interests in the educational system:  They’re called my children!

He also mentioned how they dominated the forum.  The last I checked, during the two hour forum, King spoke for about an hour and a half.  He left only twenty minutes for questions and during that time he interjected to talk more.  If anyone dominated the discussion, it was Commissioner King.

I agree with Commissioner King.  Dialogue has been denied.  It wasn’t from some "evil" grouping of teachers and parents, though.  It was denied by Commissioner King himself.  He tried to manipulate the forum to his benefit, failed miserably, and then tried to pass blame to everyone but him.

Even now, people are calling for King’s resignation.  Sadly, I don’t think this will cause real change.  Instead Commissioner King will likely become a scapegoat.  He will be publicly fired and blamed for the fiasco.  Then, they will appoint a new commissioner to continue on the same over testing path hoping that parents and teachers will be placated by this token gesture.

Don’t fall for it.

The goal here is not Commissioner King getting the boot.  The goal here is to ensure a good educational future for our children.  The goal is to make sure that our kids don’t dread going to school because they’ve got test after test to take.  The goal is to stop punishing creative students because their answer doesn’t fit into the box that Pearson has drawn for them.  The goal is to allow teachers to assess how their particular students will learn best instead of forcing them to follow a "one size fits all" plan that actually fits nobody.  We cannot be distracted by a show firing because what is riding on this is our children’s future.

Demand educational accountability from the New York State Department of Education now!

Backgammon: The Next Generation

backgammonGrowing up, I always looked forward to my grandparents coming over for a visit.  Among other things, it meant that our backgammon board would be taken out.  My grandmother and I would place our pieces, roll the dice, and have a great time.

When I saw that Amazon’s Free App Of The Day was a backgammon game, I was intrigued.  The reviews seemed good, so I got it.  (It’s no longer free, but you can either get the free version or a $0.99 version).  After trying it out, I put it on the kids’ tablets.  After a little instruction on the rules of the game, they were off and running.  Now they love playing.  For now, they’ve played only single player games, but the game supports two players as well.  It’s only a matter of time before the boys play each other or B or me.

What games from your youth have you introduced to your kids?

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