Monday, October 14, 2013

The Monday Rant: Reading Levels and Bother

I must apologize for my unannounced hiatus, but that's not why I'm here today.  Today, I need to get this rant off my chest and out into the world, because this is something that has been bothering me for a very long time.  And I'm sure all my friends who live near me are sick of hearing about it, so now you get to.  This is a long and complicated rant, so please don't feel required to read all of it.

You may or may not know that until this year, both of my younger siblings have been homeschooled other than band, art, gym, and computers.  (What their local school system calls "Encore" classes.)  And before I go any further, I must add that this is not a homeschooling vs. public schooling argument.  I believe that different kids thrive in different environments because they're different.  I also believe that different home or school environments make one or the other a necessity rather than a choice, so we should all just shut up about one being holier or something.

Anyway, back to the point.  So, I don't know if it's a state law or a local school policy, but once a student reaches 7th grade, they must be a full-time student at the school ('full-time' meaning at least all but 2 classes) in order to participate in sports.  Have you met my brother?  If you took him out of sports, you might as well cut off all his limbs, too.  So my parents made the decision to put him in public school full-time.  (They were originally planning on sending him full-time starting in 9th grade before they knew about this rule.)

He was excited.  He's played on sports teams with many of his new classmates for years and wanted to go to school with them, too.

My parents were nervous, but hopeful.  He's a good kid.

I, having actually attended this school and knowing my brother's personality (smart, quick, sensitive, slow-eater, germaphobic, cares deeply about honesty/truth/justice), was dreading it, but tried not to let my brother know this.  Sometimes expectations rule his brain more than actual events.  Maybe it would be okay.

But for the record, here's what I thought would drive him nuts:
1. Kids who can't do math in their heads.  (Like me.)
2. Germs.  Everywhere.
3. All the time wasted in class with busy work.
4. The incredibly slow pace of the class compared to his quickness in certain classes...
5. ...And not being able to keep up in the classes with which he struggles, because he is too shy to ask for help.
6. Foul language and general bad behavior.
7. People not treating each other with justice and fairness.
8. How long school is and there's no recess (or basketball breaks like there were at home).
9. Short lunch periods.

Well, after his first couple days, he described how he felt about school in terms like 'despair', 'depression', and 'awful'.  They don't give the students enough time to use the bathroom between class, and they are only allowed something like 7 hall passes a semester if they need to go during class, so he usually doesn't get to use the bathroom all day. The math class in which he got placed?  He's done it twice already, but his teacher doesn't pay enough attention to notice that he's miles ahead, so he'll be stuck there all year.  The short lunches were bothering him, too, but he was learning to eat more quickly.  And he was surprised by the amount of foul language being used by kids his age, but thanks to me and my driving skills, it wasn't actually anything he hadn't heard before.

There were a few bright spots.  He had one teacher who didn't feel the need to fill every second of the class with material.  Once the lesson plan was completed, if there were 5 minutes left in the class, the teacher would tell kids they could work on their homework, read a book, or talk quietly to each other.  Art class wasn't as horrible as he had expected (this is as raving a review as art class will ever get).  He actually liked his science teacher.  And of course, he had classes and lunch with some of his friends.

But the big negative kicker was his language arts class.  This teacher had the students write a blog about school.  The teacher would create parameters for the post, and then check them later.  Now, of course Jacob feels he can't write a whole lot on there.  The teacher can see it, so he doesn't feel he can complain about the teacher.  The other students can see it, so he doesn't feel he can complain about them.  But whatever.  The teacher gave them an assignment for their blog and told them it needed to be completed in a few days.  My brother went home and wrote the blog post that night.  The next day in class, the teacher completely changed the assignment.  When my brother mentioned that he had already completed the assignment with the original requirements and asked if that still counted, the teacher said no, he'd have to redo it.  Seriously?  Let's encourage procrastination and discourage proactiveness!

This teacher also had the students fill out a reading interests questionnaire (my brother of course put 'sports books') and I guess they were tested for their 'lexile' (reading level).  The teacher then sat down with each student and talked about what they were currently reading.  My brother was currently reading one of the books from Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events.  The teacher told him that this was a red flag because it was "outside his reading interests that he'd listed" and it was "beneath his lexile".  Okay, so first of all, we're now apparently discouraging children to broaden their interests?  So, because The Bible isn't a sports book, is that a red flag, too?  And second of all, he shouldn't read a book beneath his lexile?  Okay, yes, if he only read one book a month, perhaps he should pick something more challenging.  But he read that entire book that day.  And he probably read at least 4 other books that week.  He's certainly reading more than their paltry requirements.  This makes me so mad!

The denouement involves my mom taking him out of two classes: math and language arts.  His schedule had to be rearranged a bit, but now he's not at school as long, and he gets to do math and language arts at home.  He's still struggling adjusting to public school, but my mom realized she's actually glad they're doing this in 7th grade when his grades don't stay on his transcript than in 9th grade, when they do.  He is really smart, but he's not used to the manner in which the questions are asked.  Once he gets used to that, I think he'll do fine in public school.

Again, I have to reiterate that this is not an anti-public-school rant.  No schooling environment can be absolutely perfect.  He has some really great teachers.  They have the budget to do things in classes that he couldn't have learned at home (firing clay in art class, for example).  There are things that my mom can't teach as well as they can in public school.  He gets to be with his friends more often.  And he's loving having lunch with his friends.  Mom will often pack him a chicken-and-cheese quesadilla cut into 8 pieces, and they are apparently the gold standard in lunch trading.  He's gotten chocolate milk for just a few quesadilla pieces.  :)

Love and Lexiles,
Leah Joy

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