Friday, June 28, 2013

A Case For Teachers

I have no qualms about sharing my discontent about the state of public education.  To be more specific it's not the state of ALL public education, but much of it I think can be improved, revamped and overhauled.  My greatest concerns are the increasing amount of corporate money and power being funneled into education, the push for standardized testing and privatization and the especially treatment of teachers and children.

I recently came across this scathing letter from Congresswoman Liz Pike .  To say that I was appalled and saddened does not even begin to cover the range of outrage this letter instilled.

First of all, I'm not sure I even understand Rep. Pike's letter.  After her initial sarcastic remark congratulating teacher for the end of the school year, she goes one to fret about her career choices, as if for this too we should blame all teachers.  What I really don't understand is that Ms. Pike states that she chose a career in the private sector.  What?  How is being a state representative a private sector job?

She goes on to pat herself on the back for choosing a career where she is a taxpayer that funds salaries and benefits for employees in local school districts, as if she is one of the elites that contributes to society.  I would like to point out to Ms. Pike that most citizens pay taxes that go to fund, not just schools and teachers, but also Congressmen and women, police, firefighters, parks etc.  Even TEACHERS pay taxes, so please don't give yourself all the credit.

She goes on to compare our education system with others (out there) in the world.  This caused me to wonder exactly how familiar Ms. Pike is with global education pedagogy.  Much of the world education system is quite similar to our own, which has it's roots and history in Prussia.  In fact the leader in education at the moment is Finland, a country that has NO MANDATED STANDARDIZED TESTING!  The people running Finnish schools are educators, not business people or military personnel or (gasp!) politicians.  And of course, "Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions."

Perhaps instead of getting all hot under the collar because the people she works for (that's right Ms. Pike, your employers are the very teachers you are criticizing.)  She should listen with sincere concern and perhaps even educate herself in regards to the world and what they're doing to improve things.  I assure you it's not bashing the very people that care and educate our children.  Ms. Pike goes on to attack teachers unions.  While I'm not a huge fan of teachers unions, I unlike Ms. Pike, can see that without them our teachers would be further abused and marginalized thereby further deteriorated the state of education that is already cheating our children.

Ms. Pike goes on to do the unthinkable.  She suggests that if teachers are unhappy with their pay, they should look for jobs elsewhere.  I sincerely hope, teachers don't do this.  I have to admit though, a small part of me wants to call on a huge massive walk out by teachers and my hope would be that the community that daily relies on these individuals to care and educate our children stand in solidarity with them.  Part of me hopes the positions go unfilled, that mothers and fathers have to stay home from work to care for their children.  In my wildest dreams, this action would lead to an economic standstill, it would lead to corporations giving up on their ill-conceived curriculums and stop the Michelle Rhee's and the Walton's of the world in their tracks,  Mostly I hope it would lead to Ms. Pike actually having to find a job in the private sector.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Kids spend day after day asking why.  Why is the sky blue?  Why do birds fly?  You know the drill.  How often do we, as parents, ask why?  Parents come in all types.  There are those that suddenly find that they will be parents without any previous plan.  Some will welcome the news, some will worry or be sad.  Some plan for years.  Some adopt.  Some are young, some are (ahem) like me, a bit older.  What is true for many parents is that there is no real training other than how we were raised.  Some may have carried an egg around in high school.  I think we are all in agreement that raising children is as far removed from keeping an egg safe as you can get.  (Although there are those days that if you kept them safe, fed and changed their diaper on occasion, we call it a triumph.)

What if as parents, we asked why as often as our curious children?  What if the majority of the expectations, lessons, words etc. were prefaced with the question why?   What if instead of going through the motions on auto pilot because it's what your parents did or what your preacher tells you or it's what you do without thought, what if you stopped and asked yourself why you're doing what you're doing?  What if you asked yourself, what is the purpose of this word, this action?  What is my goal?  What do I want to accomplish, teach, gain, learn and why?

Yes, it might get as exhausting as answering your own child's why, but it may also lead to growth and purpose.  We are not striving for perfection, but we should be striving for purpose.  Answering why is what  gets us on that road.


p.s. Here is an unrelated link to a  wonderful "Why" post. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Change Is Inevitable

In just a couple of days Ivy League West Preschool and Daycare will be closing it's doors.  I want to thank all the wonderful children and parents that have been a part of our lives for the past three years.  It's been an honor and joy to share a small part of your lives through play and learning.

My family and I will be relocating back to So. California.  My parents are in their 80's and while healthy and cognitive, they are slowing down becoming a bit overwhelmed by the day to day minutiae of life.  So we are moving in to help and most likely at times to hinder.  Life is messy sometimes, this is one of those times.

Combing two households, four adults and two children (and a stray cat that comes and goes) is no easy feat.  Add to it the stages of life, two elderly, one mid-life, one Peri-menopausal and  two entering puberty (one boy and one girl to really shake things up).  Then there are the other stages; two retired (no schedule to speak of), one working full-time, one stay at home mom who homeschools (something I'm not sure my parents quite grasp), volunteers and likes to grow her own food and two children who are marching to the beat of their own drum (each different).  The challenges ahead are monumental.

If we survive (and I have no doubt we will) the rewards will also be monumental.  My parents and I have had our share of challenges.  I wasn't the worst child in the world but I know I'm responsible for at least half of the gray hairs (not that my mom at 80-something has any gray, thanks to a four week standing hair appointment).  Those two have always stuck by me through thick and thin.  Sometimes voicing their disapproval loudly and well, disapprovingly.  Sometimes biting their tongues until they bled. (figuratively speaking, of least I think).  So the short  story of why we're moving in with them is that I owe them big time.  Of course that's what I tell people who have no time or interest to hear the long version. 

To you my captive audience, to you I give the long version.  (lucky ducks!)

We're moving in because even though I'm raising my kids differently than I was raised, my parents were really wonderful parents.  They were involved but not too much (except during my early 20's, really that was a bit much.)  They worked hard and gave us some pretty memorable vacations.  They weren't just wonderful parents, they are great people.  People I would keep in touch with even if we weren't related.  They shared so much of their lives with me and I view it as an honored that they want to share more.  I think my children will benefit from being closer to them and seeing them more than two or three times a year.  I want them to know that you don't discard people because their old or sick or challenged or too young etc.  People have an inherent value.  These two people in particular who sacrificed for me to have a better life than they did, these two people who love us unconditionally, (even while at time disapproving of my actions)  are especially deserving of our love, compassion and patience.

Leading by example is not always easy but it's the right thing to do.  Wanting to do something (not just to provide a lesson) makes the right thing to do a little easier.  So it's not such a long version after all.  We're moving in with my parents because it's what we want and it's the right thing to do

Ivy League-West Educational Services will continue to provide support to parents, teachers and children.  Details of on-line courses and workshops in So. California will be posted here in the next couple of months.  Our Facebook page will remain open as a source of support and inspiration.  So stick around.  The changes are monumental and so will are the rewards.  I guarantee it.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Better than Preschool

There has always been a lot of buzz around preschool education.  More than ever there is now a push for universal preschool.  I have a better idea.  Statistically, preschool education is great for low socioeconomic groups.  Unfortunately among this group the benefits of preschool has usually disappeared by 2nd grade.  Instead of institutionalizing our youngest members of society, we should in fact be educating the parents.  We're missing out on a great opportunity.  When kids go to preschool and then go home to an environment that is not conducive to learning all benefits are lost.  If however we educate the parents on how to provide a natural environment that allows the child to learn by following their creative nature then the need for preschool for will not exist.  Our society would benefit by having adults who are well educated in the most important field, child rearing.  One more positive caveat would be that we would eliminate the rift that happens between teachers and parents. 

I concede that this is a lot more difficult to implement than preschool.  You can force a child to go to school (but you cannot force him to learn!) but you cannot force an adult to go to a class that will teach them life long skills, which is why we should be teaching this skill starting in middle school!

If the middle school ball of energy could be harnessed into good, we could move mountains.  The middle school curriculum needs to include a child development curriculum.  Every middle school should have a preschool and nursery on campus.  Every child should be taught one on two (a small child and teacher for each middle schooler) how to care for and create an appropriate learning environment children.  These classes need to be scheduled as core units (not electives) throughout high school. 

Let's face it, most people will grow up and have kids.  Those that can't or choose not to will have nieces and nephews or be around kids at some point.  Doesn't it make sense that we should learn to care for our most important resource?  Our future awaits and it's begging for something better.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pills to Help in School

On October 9, 2012, The New York Times published an article written by  Alan Schwarz titled Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School.  The article tells us about Dr. Michael Anderson prescribing Adderall for children, not because he has diagnosed them with ADHD but rather because they are performing poorly in schools.

I first heard about this through The Colbert Report.  As usual I laughed through most of Mr. Colbert segment.  What was unusual was that even as I laughed, I felt that this wasn't at all funny. Now I think it's criminal.  Perhaps at first glance, the thought of drugging our children so they can achieve good grades isn't SO bad, at least it's certainly not a criminal offense.  It brings to mind a dear friend who attended high school with me and would regale us with stories about how her mom would give the kids two teaspoons of Benadryl every night so they would sleep soundly without disturbing her.  Even in this week's episode of Modern Family, Jay informs a classroom full of new parents that children aren't that hard to raise.  "You feed them, change them and give them a shot of whiskey when they're teething."  (loosely quoted)  Of course all the young parents in the class are horrified by the overt ignorance that you would give a baby alcohol to soothe teething issues.

Yet, here we are, in this sad place where a medical doctor feels he has little choice but to medicate a child for a condition he does not have (in fact, the doctor does not even believe that ADHD is a real condition) simply because the child is doing poorly in school.  Reality is a lot like our comedy shows, only very sad.

The world gasps and sits on the edge of it's seat when we find out that a baseball player, a cyclist, a swimmer or a sprinter is taking steroids.  We call then cheaters and even have congressional investigations into the alleged use of performing enhancing drugs.  Across the globe, doctors are tried and convicted of prescribing drugs to their adult patients.  Yet, when a medical doctor prescribes a combination of amphetamines to a child that clearly has no medical condition that warrants taking the drug, we hardly bat an eyelash.  Where is the outrage?  When are the congressional hearings?

Dr. Anderson believes he is a "social justice thinker."  I believe that Dr. Anderson is a criminal.  "Above all, I must not play God."  Ignoring many facets of the Hippocratic Oath, Dr. Anderson is guilty of playing God.  He is delving into a field that is not medical and making an ill fated diagnoses of a condition he admits does not exist.  He states, "I don't have a whole lot of choice."  Let me point out that he actually does have some choices.  He could mentor youths at risk through a Big Brother program, he could prescribe more time in nature for the child, he could prescribe a healthy, balanced diet.  He could make sure his patient is getting enough sleep.  He could financially sponsor a tutor for a child falling behind.  He could spend some time in schools inspiring future generations to a greater cause than just acing the test.  He could petition his representatives in congress about the dire needs of schools.  He could lead a cause. Perhaps Dr. Anderson does these things already, perhaps he does not.  To say however that he does not have a lot of choice is irresponsible at best, criminal it's worst.

"I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." Here again the doctor fails to live up to his oath.  He clearly states that there is no disease, no condition, yet he proclaims a treatment to soothe his social conscienceSo instead of preventing he is exposing a child to horrific possible side effects, the exact opposite of prevention.

I cannot tell you how many parents come to me and tell me their children are "hyper" or are ADHD.  I am not a medical doctor, so I never second guess a medical diagnosis.  I do however always consult with parents over their child's behaviour.  A ten year old that is wanting to jump, run and climb trees?  Completely normal.  A three year old that can't sit still during an hour of circle time?  Completely normal.  A child that gets bad grades at school because he complains of boredom?  Completely normal.  The trick (actually not a trick, just a sane response.) is to engage children in ways that ignites their curiosity and creativity.  Let the ten year old climb trees.  Give him access to the outdoors, fresh air and physical challenges.  Give the three year old "wiggle time" every 15 minutes throughout the day.  Go to your local library and find books that will engage your child.  Look online for new ways to teach the same old boring stuff.  Be honest with yourself, you found lots of subjects in school boring too!  Engage, Engage, Engage!  It's a much better solution than Prescribe, Prescribe, Prescribe!


In part 2 of this series I will address the issues of working parents, single working parents and poverty in regards to medicating for non existent condition.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back to School

I always feel like I must add a disclaimer before I write this type of post.  I LOVE teachers!  I feel they are underpaid, overworked, disrespected by our government.  They are expected to teach, fill in gaps, be counselors, miracle workers and do it tirelessly while expecting little in return.  I LOVE learning.  I think learning is the backbone of our society, our economy, our relationships, our future.  That being said, I really don't like back to school season.  It's the time of year when all kinds of nonsense gets passed around and most of us just accept it as fact, when actually nothing could be further from the truth.  Take for instance, a ridiculous article on Kindergarten readiness published in our local newspaper.  The article states,

"Research shows that a high-quality preschool can help students make large gains in school readiness."

What research shows this, they do not state or mention. This is followed by:

'“If they go to preschool, data shows they’ll be successful,” said Meera Kreitzer, Salem-Keizer’s elementary education director.'

From reading the article I know that Ms. Meera Kreitzer is referring to success in elementary school.  The data she is referencing is not noted or listed anywhere in the article.  I for one would love to read THAT data!

I have some data that I will share with you and I'll even give you the links, so that you don't have to take my word for it.  In an abstract published in 2002 in the Early Childhood Research and Practice Journal, Rebecca A. Marcon of the University of North Florida states the following:

"By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children's later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences. Their progress may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalized learning experiences too early for most children's developmental status"

Then there is this article by Christopher Clouder in which he states:

“If you start formal learning early on, you can actually
damage formal learning later on.” He went on, “Some people believe that the earlier you
start children reading and writing and doing formal instruction the better. All the evidence
we took, from every side, goes against that argument.” Tricia David of the Professional
Association of Nursery Nurses commented, “Over-emphasis on formal education and
abstract concepts of literacy and numeracy before the age of five can result in a sense of
failure. Early failure can lead to long-term underachievement, disaffection and even truancy...

In this article, it does suggest that preschool is important if it "focuses on social and physical development."

What leads me to believe that the preschool program that Salem/Kiezer is offering is inappropriate and not focused on the development of social and physical skills?  This quote:

"Whetzel also sees concerning trends at the preschool level. More and more students have a difficult time sitting and paying attention, getting along with other students and following directions."

It's not concerning if it's at a preschool level!!!  It's completely appropriate!  I'll even go out on a proverbial limb here and say it's appropriate for most children to have a difficult time sitting and paying attention until age 7 or 8!

And then of course there is this quote by Ralph Wisner, principal at Grant elementary school:

"Wisner hopes to create a seamless connection from preschool to kindergarten that will eliminate the achievement gap.  'What if that gap never happened,” he said. “What if they were prepared when they walked in the door?' The seamless transition from preschool to kindergarten is the type of outcome the Early Learning Council hopes its preschool to 20 plan will create in the future."

 On the surface there seems to be nothing wrong with this statement.  Who wouldn't want ALL the children ready for kindergarten on the first day of school?  This is where we, as parents, as educators, need to stop and really think about that statement.  Why does the state of Oregon feel it has the authority or even the knowledge to declare what is developmentally appropriate for my child, let alone for EVERY SINGLE child in the state?  Who does that?  We do not develop in petri dishes.  Every aspect of our development cannot be rated, qualified, quantified and deemed acceptable or discarded for "lack of readiness."

Every child, indeed every person (because a child is no less a person than you or I) develops at their own pace, even when there is parental involvement, even when they live in an enriching environment, even when they come from upper levels of the socio-economic spectrum, even when both parents live at home in a loving nurturing relationship.

Just because a child cannot sit still does not mean he is not ready to learn.  Just because a child cries and clings when his mother gets ready to leave does not mean he is not ready to learn.  Just because a child cannot tie his shoes or zip up his jacket, does not mean he is not ready to learn...although I know teachers love it when they can do this.  Just because a child of five cannot read or count or write his name does not mean he is not ready to learn.  I have news for the Salem/Keizer school district, children are born learning.  We do such a disservice to our children, parents and our communities when we promote early learning programs as if they are the cure to all of societies ills.

Early learning programs are just that; programs.  I find no fault in exposing children to something new, something different, but not with the expectation that they will perform well on an assessment.  A good, quality program will be based on the knowledge that children learn and we should not impede their learning.  It really is that simple.  Is your child ready for kindergarten?  That's a silly question.  The question should be, what experiences will my child have in school that will encourage his already curiously enthusiastic love of learning?

Monday, June 4, 2012


We talk about relationships and socialization all the time.  Usually we are talking about relationships between people, socializing within a peer group etc.  However for children it's important to establish a relationship with nature too.  Planting a garden, caring for a pet.  Becoming aware of your surroundings is one of the first steps a child takes as he matures becoming (hopefully) a bit less egocentric.  Recently I wrote about the long time the kids took observing a blue bird's nest.

To be honest, I had to fight my instinct to tell the children to come back to our activity.  I had to keep reminding myself that relationships cannot be rushed.  I love the way children can arrive at the park and "make friends" immediately, but these relationships are circumstantial and fleeting.  As an adult we interact constantly with others but these are not the relationships that hold our hearts.

As with people relationships, a relationship to nature takes time.  We have to spend time together.  We have to join in a give and take conversation.  We plant and nature responds by bearing fruit for us.  The bird sings and we respond with a smile or a song of our own. 

After spending the day observing the nest, we found this:

This little guy had flown out of the nest and hid among the ivy.  He couldn't fly high enough to make it over the bamboo fence.  Because the kids had spent so much time viewing the nest, they felt responsible for this little guys well being.  They discussed what would be best.  They couldn't put him back in the nest because the nest was too high.  They considered the neighborhood cat.  The considered that he needed to use his wings so they would grow strong.  In the end, they carefully lifted him out of the ivy and placed him in a nearby branch.  They then kept an eye out for him through most of the day.  They happily reported seeing him fly around the many trees in the yard and although he struggled for a little bit he soon found his "wings" and flew off.

I was so happy that I fought my instinct to guide the kids back to our activity.  Had they found this little guy in the yard without having established a relationship with him through observation, I have no doubt they would have been just as kind to him.  Having established a relationship however, made their kind act all the more rewarding.