This is the end of my multiple posts about education and our family. The previous ones are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

On Awarding Mediocrity

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 1

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 2

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 3

Since this is so long, I will review and cover the rest of the story differently than usual. (Thanks Reluctant Farm Chik for your help on getting my complaint to the school onto one page.)

We were in TN over the New Year. The first part of our journey was ice-covered highway in NM... in the dark. It is interesting to note that NM does not really get worse snow than other places, but they apparently don't get enough to budget snow removal equipment/supplies. Interstates close a lot here when the weather is bad; we were lucky it was not closed when we went.

Historical Facts (as seen by me and elaborated on in the above posts):

  • We live in a region of the country in which education is not a top priority.
  • At Chic’s school, she was one of few scholars.
  • Chic attended a private, parochial school.
  • Chic was ahead of her class in most, if not all subjects.
  • Many in the class ridiculed Chic because she was “smart.”
  • There was little/no teacher intervention regarding the ridicule.
  • Chic has not been raised in a pop culture environment, thus she is “different” from most of the other students in her school, despite its parochial nature.
  • Chic’s social structure for second grade has been difficult because a 4-some of friends turned into a 3-some, and Chic, being different, was the one usually left out.
  • Chic’s teacher/s did not notice that her friend structure had changed.
  • Parent-teacher conferences were not a place to get real information. Teacher/s usually took the approach of keeping parents happy without divulging any real information. Real issues were avoided.
  • When real issues were addressed with teachers, the observations of the teachers changed. (From “she’s doing fine” to “she’s immature.”)
  • Teacher/s were not demanding, teaching, or modeling life skills such as kindness and getting along.
  • Teacher/s were allowing students to dictate classroom environment.
  • Teacher/s punished tattletales inappropriately unless tattletales were pet students, in which case the behavior was encouraged.
  • Teacher/s modeled disorganization and disrespect.
  • Classroom/playground supervision was inadequate.
  • Teacher/s were biased in analysis of students and their academic abilities.
  • Teacher/s flip-flopped on significant educational plans. (“Your student should be placed in advanced classes for certain subjects” to “Your child is too immature to handle advancement.”)
  • Teacher communication was ineffective and unprofessional.
  • Prince Charming and I, as parents, are not perfect. Neither is Chic. We approached this for three semesters with an open mind realizing that not everything could go our way.

When in TN, our friends had a flying squirrel in their house. It had been there a while--behind the fireplace--but they couldn't get it. It came out while we were there. Very cute. (The foggy picture is because it was SO COLD, and this was taken when releasing it.)

Things we did about the above:

  • Discussed concerns at length with teachers. (No results.)
  • Discussed concerns with trustworthy, knowledgeable friends not involved in these issues to better ground ourselves and assure our objectivity. (A very few were unsympathetic saying that schools will always have problems–we realized that already. Most were shocked it could be so bad and made us realize we had put up with a lot more than we should have.)
  • Discussed the issues with the school Principal. (This was ongoing. Many of the incidents did not seem “big enough” to report until more and more happened. The big picture was disturbing, so the Principal knew the whole story by the end of the semester and was extremely supportive.)

Things that could not change:

  • The teacher/s could not be removed. Apparently though I have heard various complaints about Chic’s primary teacher for several years, there was no documentation. (This was the current Principal’s first year and without documentation could do nothing, though she had wished to remove a teacher before I ever talked to her.)
  • The attitudes of the teacher/s. Apparently though counseled on specific behavior problems, issues addressed to them by parents, the Principal or School Board members resulted in: flat denials, blaming others and often subtle retaliation against students of specific parents.

Our Options:

  • Send Chic to another school.
  • Homeschool Chic.

We saw neither of these as viable options since removing Chic from school would be seen by other parents as a huge blow to the school. (Small environment.) We had no quarrel with the school or the Principal, but with specific teachers. The school is small and has financial difficulties, so any blow to it, large or small, could potentially end its life.

Although it was bitter cold for our visit, there were a lot of pretty skies. I was going to save many of these for SkyWatch Friday, but I thought they would go with this post.

Our Solution:

This was not our idea. It was Reluctant Farm Chik‘s. She is my educational/parenting mentor. She is SO with it in those areas. Most people think I am with it (except that I shield my children from a lot of pop culture which many think is cruel), but those people have not met Reluctant Farm Chik.

When she first suggested it (on my voice mail), I thought she was joking. She knew our reasons for not sending Chic to another school or homeschooling her. She said her idea was different.

On December 30, 2009, the four in our family and a minivan packed pretty tightly headed on a tw0-day trip east. On New Year’s Eve we arrived in the-middle-of-nowhere-way-out-in-the-sticks Tennessee. (It was overcast and we missed the New Year’s Eve Blue Moon.)

We spent January 1 and 2 in Tennessee and three of us left on January 3. We left just-turned-8-year-old Chic there to go to school for a semester. This is what I meant when I said in an earlier post that many of you may think we are unfit parents by the time we get to the end of this story. (Who leaves their 8-year-old two days drive away for five months?)

Why we did this:

  • We did not think our options allowed for home school or a different local school. (That was not a permanent decision. We will not continue to let that stop us after this semester.) This option let us tell people that “Chic got this really great opportunity to live on a farm with a horse with great friends–something she’s always wanted to do. We couldn’t pass it up.” No damage to the school, although if we did not have thick skins, there would be a lot of damage to us from people who think we are absolute idiots.
  • We have complete faith and trust in Reluctant Farm Chik and her family. They are treating Chic like one of their own. She has a new “brother” and “sister” (both older–a dream for her). She has 8 new cousins (one who realized he could not have a crush on her because she was “his cousin.”) She has a new set of grandparents and several aunts and uncles. She is in a loving, family environment.
  • Although kids will have bad times in school and bad teachers (I had bad teachers from grades 4-8), the early years are too important in setting the stage for school satisfaction and learning. My first three years of school were perfect which is why I came out of 8th grade not completely despising education. Chic has had a horrible start which is crazy for someone who excels at school. She was starting to hate school AND hate learning. Something had to change.
  • Chic is balanced and mature enough to handle it. (Despite what her teachers said.)

I tried to take pictures of these several times on our trip to and from TN, but going down the highway at 75 mph meant that most of them were not that great. My kids (living in a desert) were amazed by these. They look just what I grew up with in MO.

How it is going:

  • Chic loves school. She is learning at her level in all subjects. She is a little intimidated that her math education here was so far behind that she’s only at the same level of her second grade class (and not doing as well as the 4th graders which is what she expects), but overall it is good.
  • Chic had instant friends.
  • Chic loves her teacher.
  • We hate Skype. (Not really, but it usually leaves us feeling unsatisfied.)
  • We miss her like crazy.  (We already have two visits under our belt.  Ahead are Spring Break and two more visits.)
  • Chic has only cried a couple of times–when we left her, and when I left from a visit. She was fine both times right away.

What the future holds:

  • We don’t know! I wish we knew! Chic will not return to her old school unless there are dramatic changes. (Probably two teachers would have to be gone for her to go back. It is a small school, so unless they are gone, she will have the same teachers next year. If they had major attitude changes, that would be OK, too, but so far they do not even acknowledge that there was a problem.)
  • We might home school.
  • We have even thought of moving. Someone asked if we were living in the right place. No, we are not. Well, I think we are in every way except social culture (which means little to me because I am too busy for much socializing, and we do have some very good friends here. I am referring to the society in general.) and education. We love it here otherwise. Also, Prince Charming’s job is here, and his job means I am a stay-at-home mom. That is why we moved here in the first place. But moving is not out-of-the-question, just not on the immediate horizon. (And giving up my skies would be a tough thing indeed!)

This was the favorite picture I took while on that trip. It includes the "Pondwatch" pond.

It boils down to we are responsible for our children. Our school is not. Our church is not. God forbid if society was! We will do what is best for them.

We are looking forward to May, but we do not regret a bit of what we did. It is changing all of us (mostly for the better) forever. All of us are growing. Experiences like this cannot be bought. And Chic is happy. (And I got the best hug she has ever given when I visited last month.)

So full of innocence and promise. We must take care of her, even if it means someone else is taking care of her right now.

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For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

Ms. A came in and told us that the kids made fun of chic, and she was too immature to handle it, so they could not move her.  We were more than a little shocked by this. First, it was Ms. A’s suggestion in the first place that Chic be more challenged in math. Second, we had been talking to and working with Chic to prepare her for this. And also, in our nearly 8 years of being Chic’s parents, we had never, ever heard the word “immature” coming out of the mouth of any adult relating to her. We have only heard “extremely mature, ” “well-behaved,” etc. even if we questioned deeply to make sure they were not saying that just because we were her parents. I do not say this as a blind parent. Anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely objective about my children.

At this point I was tired of the fake smiles and general crap that manifests itself in these PT conferences, so I explained how we had worked with Chic on this very topic and she WANTED to do something more difficult. Ms. A spoke very little, just nodded her head in agreement with Ms. J who told us again how immature she was and how she got in so much trouble. WTH?????? Why was I learning that my child was a trouble-maker in a PT conference? (Upon further investigation, this was a smokescreen.  Chic did indeed get in trouble for hitting a boy, but she and the boy were playing around and just play-punching each other. (The boy did not get in trouble.)  The teacher did not even see this, but this was the result of a tattletale.  I told Chic this was not appropriate and did not undermine the teacher, but I was more than a little angry this was the incident (singular) that labeled her a “trouble-maker” by Ms. J.)

I asked what the solution was if my child was bored with classwork and there was clearly a general unwillingness to modify it. Ms. J then said that she had tried to have Chic help other students, but when she sent them to help, she did not teach them; she just did it for them, so Chic was not good at that AT ALL. (By this time I wanted to punch her in the nose for insinuating that we had failed as parents because our then-7-year-old daughter was not a qualified teacher.)

We discussed the social problems and the ridicule and asked why teachers were not doing anything about the ridicule. I stated that I realized we do not live in a perfect world, and I teach Chic that, but for a 7-year-old to bear it bravely 100% of the time without any intervention from teachers might be asking too much. I also mentioned the social problems that I had discussed before (regarding Chic’s friends leaving her out when Ms. J’s answer was “Oh, I didn’t notice.”) and said that I understand Chic’s position because her personality is much like mine. If kids are repeatedly excluding her, she is not going to make a nuisance of herself and continue to push herself into their circles. All of this was met with no response other than “she is not mature enough to do more advanced work in math.”

After I had made the comment about Chic and me having similar personalities, Ms. J said (in a sickly, patronizing voice), “Now, Mom, are you going to be OK? You said you were like your daughter and I don’t want you to be upset because you are hearing unhappy things.” Yes, she said that.

We got back to math. The truth started to surface. Ms. J said that if Chic did 3rd grade math, she would miss her reading class. I really did not see this as a problem as she was so far advanced in reading. I told Ms. J we were fine with her doing more advanced reading. “But then I would have to change this or that!” she whined. Yes, she whined. So we realized that the real reason for not challenging Chic was that it might require a little extra work for the teacher. And to be honest, probably not actually extra work, just different from what she was doing. And the thing that got me the most is that Ms. A, the teacher that suggested the change in the first place, had totally reversed her position to support Ms. J.

Prince Charming had had enough, so he changed the subject to the awards from the previous year in light of the ridicule. He mentioned there seemed to be little/no incentive for succeeding in school (using the awards as an example) and no deterrents for not succeeding and for bad behavior. Ms. J side-stepped this with “I give awards for fruits of the spirit, not necessarily scholastic achievement.” It was a good thing I was walking out by that time and did not hear this response.  First, she DID give scholastic achievement awards, of which my daughter got NONE though being the top student in at least 3 subjects. And she was saying my daughter had NO fruits of the spirit?????

The fifth parent-teacher conference lasted 63 minutes. We left feeling angry and dejected. The teacher/s had done all possible to make us feel like bad parents for raising a girl who was different than the others and who got her 7-year-old feelings hurt when severely ridiculed for being successful.

Yes, I believe there needs to be a class for an entire semester devoted to holding successful parent-teacher conferences. And if an education major fails that class, maybe s/he should not be allowed to even hold PT conferences.

Now what? I hope the next post on this topic concludes this series (for now). It may be extra long to avoid breaking it up into parts like this and so many others in this series have been. Right now I cannot see how that can be told in parts.

Part 1 is here.

These photos are from the 2007 Mother's Day hike as the prequel post.

The spring parent-teacher conference for Chic’s first grade year was also useless. We got Ms. J’s fake smile and the fake “she is a joy to have in class.” I am sure not everyone thinks these things are fake, but I have really, really good perceptive powers, and I know. I did ask a question about Chic’s best friend who I knew from art class to be a complete airhead. I was concerned about this friendship because Chic is NOT a complete airhead, and I did not want her to be trampling someone (even unwittingly) because that someone might not have the wits to not be trampled. Ms. J assured me that Chic’s friend was one of her brightest students.  This seemed quite strange to me because the girl was only somewhat creative in art class but could not follow a simple instruction to save her life.  I chalked it up to my not being properly perceptive when it applies so close to my life. (Which is not true, but I often do not trust my powers of perception when it involves me or those directly related to my life.)

Now to the fifth parent-teacher conference, October 2009. Chic was not-quite-8 and was in second grade. We had 20 minutes of the fake smile and fake “she’s a joy to have in class” garbage, but Prince Charming and I had other issues to discuss, so we said, “What is going on with math class?” Ms. J sputtered, then said Chic was much too immature and that she would have to call in the math teacher to explain. (We have 2 teachers for grades 1-5. Ms. J is Chic’s main teacher, but the other teacher, Ms. A teaches math, science and social studies.)

Let us back up to the school Open House in September. I had to be in the art room the entire time, and Prince Charming had a prior appointment (the date changed), so at the end I asked Ms. J how Chic was doing. “Just fine,” she fake-smiled. So I asked Ms. A, the math/science/social studies teacher, who I respected much more (at least at the time). She said she wanted to talk to me because she wanted to move Chic to 3rd grade math; she was completely bored in 2nd grade math. I do not know how much math has changed since I was in 2nd and 3rd grade, but I remember 3rd grade math being a LOT more involved than 2nd grade math, so I expressed concern about the concepts missed in 2nd grade affecting how she would do in the 3rd grade class. (Mind you this was not accelerating her, but just advancing her work in one class. I have no problems at all with this. I really have no problems with accelerated work in most classes, but keeping them with classmates their own age is important to me.) Ms. A assured me that neither the 2nd or 3rd graders were where they should be (there was no team teaching before, and Ms. J does not excel as a math teacher), so Chic would not miss anything. She was already as advanced as far as the current 3rd graders. I said I would need to talk to Prince Charming, but unless I spoke differently in the next 2 days, I was in favor of it. Ms. A said she had not discussed it with Ms. J, but she would.

This picture in dry, dry New Mexico could pass for one taken in wet, wet Iceland.

After a week I started asking Chic about math. She made no indication that anything had changed, so after two weeks, I asked Ms. A about it. She said she had talked to Ms. J who said that the students made fun of Chic for being so good at reading, and it really affected Chic, so she was not in favor of moving Chic up. Ms. A told me she would wait until the quarter was over. I again expressed concern about 3rd grade math and starting too late in the year with it and was again assured that the 3rd graders were so far behind that it would be just fine.

At this point I started talking to Chic about the problems at school and also about math. She was bored with math, and she was a little afraid of how the other kids might treat her if she moved, but she wanted to move anyway. We talked about how to deal with bullies and why people make fun of other people, and she was prepared for the change. Also I spoke to the principal about the problem (since talking to Ms. J is useless and often detrimental and Ms. J seemed to not be curbing the ridicule in the least), so the principal singled out Chic a couple of times to call attention to and reward her academic excellence. All systems were “go.”

I knew the quarter was over because I had to turn in art grades. Nothing changed which is what led us to ask about math at the PT conference in October.

To be concluded… Tuesday, February 2. (Yes, February is almost here. Maybe I should take the Christmas flowers off my front door.)

This post is a continuation of my series about some things going on in our family right now. Those are posts are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

On Awarding Mediocrity

As usual for this series, the pictures in this post have nothing to do with the post. These are from a hike our family took at the extinct volcanoes near us on Mother's Day, 2007. But before we could go, we had to wake up Chic who would have been more than happy to sleep in longer with her favorite cat.

You teachers and education majors, is there a class on how to pull off an effective parent-teacher conference? I am inclined to believe there is not, but if I were in charge of an education curriculum, I would make sure there was some such class.

Prince Charming and I have attended five parent-teacher conferences in our short history as the parents of a 2nd Grader, and I can promise you that none of them were much worthwhile.

Our first experience in this new world was October of 2007 when Chic was almost six and in Kindergarten. We walked in, the teacher was beaming and asked us to sit down and have a snack. (Do parents of Kindergartners need a snack for a 15-minute conference???) She had a folder in front of her with all kinds of stickers on it. Before she opened the folder, this teacher, Ms. S, started pointing at the stickers, still beaming. She then read each sticker to us: “Well done,” “Good Job,” “Excellent,” etc. My mind was reeling. I cast a sideways glance at Prince Charming and nearly choked at the look on his face. Wisely, he did not look at me.

We got a brief look inside that be-stickered folder to see that Chic’s work was indeed worthy of such praise, but that is something we already knew, and my guess was that every other student’s parents who arrived got the same beaming presentation.

A hill of very busy, giant ants.

I wanted to know how Chic was behaving in school.  Was she being nice to the other students? Was she getting along well with the others? What was the teacher’s perception of the whole school situation since, well, since she saw her 7 hours a day at school and I only got a couple of hours of which approximately 13 seconds could be attributed to Chic’s report of the school day.

So I asked questions. (The folder was closed by now.) The answers to my questions were actually the beaming teacher pointing to the stickers on the outside of the folder. “Her work is ‘well done.'” “She’s doing ‘excellent.'” You get the picture.

Since I knew Chic was a pretty well-adjusted girl and learned things easily and this was only Kindergarten, I decided to not let this bother me. She loved school, and I have come to think that loving school is the biggest key to learning.

In the  Spring we got exactly the same  useless thing, so I asked, “But I am guessing that every parent gets a folder like this with all these stickers on it, riiiiight?” “Yes,” admitted Ms. S, a little of the sparkle fading from her beaming face. “Well, what I really want to know is how CHIC is doing, not the same thing you tell everyone.” She was taken aback, but we had somewhat of a reasonable conversation after that. It did leave me to wonder if we were the first parents to think that the folder covered with stickers might not exactly be what we needed to know. (See the posts on education rankings for my opinion on this.)

Chic had a different teacher, Ms. J (referred to in Awarding Mediocrity) for grades 1 and 2. (She is still in 2nd grade as I write this.) I must admit that Prince Charming and I went into that first parent-teacher conference beaming. Part of that was because we knew Chic was doing so well, but most of it was because we were just excited to be going to a teacher we were pretty sure was not going to throw a folder covered with stickers in front of us. We sat down. We were offered snacks (apparently not limited to Kindergarten parents. For the record, we have never taken any of the offered snacks at these PT conferences.) We waited for an awkward moment, then Ms. J said, “We usually do not like to accelerate kids in first grade.” Prince Charming and I lost our beaming faces immediately as we searched the faces of each other to see if the other had ever said anything to anyone about Chic accelerating. It was easy to see that we were equally confused.

Now let’s point out that I do most of the talking at these events. Prince Charming steps in when I am totally fed up. He is not timid about these things, but we save his words for the really important times. So I said, “I was not aware we came here to talk about Chic accelerating. As a matter of fact, we do not wish her to accelerate in school. We wish her to be challenged and not bored, but we have a few reasons that make us want to not pursue acceleration, at least for now.”

Ms. J responded, “Oh. Well. Most parents with children who do ‘this well’ want to move them up.”

My response was, “We came here to see how ‘this well’ she is doing, and we are not most parents.”

My memory of the rest of that useless interview is gone. I have mentioned in a previous post that this teacher has trouble putting together two coherent sentences. (You may wonder why we sent our daughter to be taught by such a teacher, but we are open-minded, and just because a person cannot communicate with adults does not mean they cannot teach children. And someone whose opinion we trusted much told us this teacher was an excellent one.)

To be continued… (Friday, January 29)

This post is a continuation of my series about some things going on in our family right now. Those are posts are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

The pictures are a continuation of my trip to Disneyland with Chic for her 5th birthday.

For the most part I am opposed to school awards. It somewhat ties into the same reason I am opposed to allowances for very young children or for children who do chores around the house. To me, every family member has work to do in a house, and giving my children money to do their share of work teaches them that they should be paid for everything. When my children are a couple of years older, I will start with allowances in order to teach them money management, but it will not be tied to chores.

Similarly, it seems to me that school awards have often devolved into awards for things that should be expected, not for anything truly meaningful.

At the end of last school year, Chic’s school had an awards ceremony. As the art teacher, I was instructed the day of it that I needed to give awards for art class. I asked what the criteria were. “Whatever I want.” With so little time, I gave awards for “Excellence in Artistic Ability” and “Excellence in Attitude.” Not more than two people in each class got an award.

One of Chic's favorite rides was "Dumbo" because she could be in charge of what happened to it. (My stomach was better if I was pointing the camera at fixed objects.)

But many think today that everyone needs an award. Awards for showing up to school. Should everyone not be expected to show up to school? Why would there be an award for that? (This only translates to people thinking they need special treatment later in life at their jobs because they did the job for which they were hired–the one they were expected to perform.) So I cannot think of a reason why I would support the idea that “everyone wins.” If everyone wins, it takes a lot of the steam from the person(s) who really won, and in my opinion does nothing to promote initiative. If everyone must receive something, I am not entirely opposed to getting recognition for participation, but an award is extreme.

So back to last year’s awards. Before the event, I talked to Chic’s teacher about it and asked her how she meant to handle the awards. My reason for this was that as a first grader, Chic was ahead of everyone in her classroom (including the second graders) in reading, spelling and math. From my dealings with parents or art class students, I knew that if Chic got awards for all the areas in which she excelled, other parents would be angry. A large part of me does not care about that, but that anger comes out in their kids at school. So I asked. Her teacher, (from now on, Ms. J) said that she gives awards for all kinds of things, not just academic performance, which assures that everyone is included. I did not discuss this further as I thought that would satisfy the masses (even though I do not necessarily agree with it).

This ride made me so sick that when Chic wanted to do it again, we had to find some people who would go with her. Her stomach is made of sterner stuff than mine!

So awards night came. Chic got four awards: Presidential Physical Fitness, Principal’s List, Science and Art (Excellence in Attitude. I realize it seems like I was favoring her, but I am not kidding when I say she has the worst class for behavior in the whole school. She absolutely does NOT cause any trouble in art class and always has a nice attitude. I gave the award to one other girl who was rotten all year but really improved the last month.) The first 3 awards were completely objective. The first two were from the school, and the third one from the Science teacher who apparently awarded it to her top students. But Chic got no awards from her everyday teacher.  As I listened to the awards being listed and students going up, I was shocked. Yes, the teacher gave awards for spelling, math and reading, but Chic, although ahead of the grade above her in all of the subjects, got none of them. Then the teacher made up awards to cover the less studious people which included things as irrelevant as “nicest smile” (SO not kidding), and  Chic got none of those. But get this, some of the other students got multiple awards from Ms. J.  I was taken aback, but decided I was not willing to address the issue. I will discuss this teacher at length in a later post, but the short story is that it is difficult impossible to have a coherent conversation with her, and because I knew I would have to deal with her at least one more year (Chic’s 2nd grade) and possibly another 3 years (also Chicklet’s 1st and 2nd grade), I did not want to anger her.

This was on a 25+ - minute boat ride. Chic found a friend right away.

But Chic noticed. She asked why her teacher did not give her any awards. Although I knew the answer, I thought she might not, so I asked, “Were there not other children in your classroom that did not get any awards from the teacher?” “Only Hunter,” she said, “but I know the Ms. J does not like him.” To me those are profound words coming from the mouth of a 7-year-old. I personally knew Ms. J did not like Hunter because I had heard her complain bitterly about him (I personally like him. He had some issues, but was willing to try and learn, and he was kind.), but for my daughter to notice that was quite another story.

So what was I to do? My daughter wanted to know why her teacher did not see fit to give her any awards. I lied. I said she probably was so busy she just did not remember to include everyone.  I will admit it is not the first time I have lied to my daughter about what goes on in her classroom. She has never once complained about her teacher, but she has asked questions on several occasions or told me scenarios that make me realize she is quite astute at assessing situations. I want her to respect her teachers, so I lie because if I tell her the truth, there is little room for respect with this teacher.

So why are awards so important? What is gained by them? Does the person who was doing just OK in spelling but got the award have an incentive to do better in spelling? Does the person who got the “nicest smile” award have any incentive to do anything better? Does my daughter have any incentive to excel in her own classroom? Seems to me not a lot of incentive was generated on any front.

Note:  This year we have a new principal who has a different view of awards. There will be specific criteria based on having maintained a certain grade for each of the first three quarters of school. I am grateful for this change, but I do believe the other award mentality is more prevalent among most of the other teachers (excepting the science teacher) and definitely among most of the other students and parents. What a battle we seem to be fighting almost every single day.

Chic was only 5, so we did not stay for the fireworks every night. The night we stayed, the weather did not allow them to go, but they made it snow for us instead. I would love to show you the picture of Chic's face full of wonder catching the "snow," but I do not post such pictures on the internet. It was beautiful.

For Part 1, go here.

These pictures are from three years ago when we were at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Since we do not have piles of leaves in our immediate area, it was like an amusement park for my girls.

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A short story about the half-Hispanic/half-Iranian boys from the last post. The girls were more rude to them than the other boys in class. The boys were not actually rude to them, but just avoided them. One day for their art class, most of their class was late except for the two boys I liked so much. As people trickled in, the seats filled up, and of course the last seats available were the ones by the two. The most obnoxious girl of all came in last, and there was no place for her to sit except beside one of the twins. She made a HUGE scene. Not being a “real teacher” and having little “teeth” last year to effectively manage problem behavior, I told her to sit down or go back to her class. But those nice boys got someone to trade with them so they were next to another more unpopular student so the mean girl could sit with her friends. I do not know if she thought about that, but I hope someday the memory is at least a small wake-up call.

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Chic is the top of her class. Last year she was in 1st grade and was in a classroom with 1st and 2nd graders. She was ahead of everyone in reading, spelling and math. We knew long before Chic ever went to school she would be a star scholastically, so we have worked with her since before Kindergarten to help her understand that although she understands school subjects better than a lot of people and is ahead, she is not better than anyone. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and just  because she can do some things  better than most kids does not mean they cannot do some things better than her. She understands this. We have made every effort to assure her humility, and it seems to have been successful. But this does not mean other parents have done the same. Chic is mocked severely for being ahead of her class. This happened a little last year, but to a greater degree this year.

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Although Chic easily overheats, she does not like wearing shorts to school because they show her muscular legs. She has not a bit of fat on her body, but her legs are bigger than all of the rest of the girls, and they make fun of her because she is different than they are.  Yes, she can run faster and jump higher than any of them, and she is chosen for teams right away, but because she looks different, she is fodder for derision. (And seeing other behavior in the children, I sometimes wonder if part of it also has to do with her pale skin and red hair.)

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Forgive me for being irritated that I am doing all I can to raise well-behaved, good-mannered, kind and caring children who do their best to excel at whatever they attempt (at least the first one–the jury is way out on whether the second one will even care about excelling) when it seems like the parents of my daughters’ peers are not bothering to raise them much at all and are apparently modeling inappropriate behavior. As parents I feel like Prince Charming and I might have failed Chic because we taught her humility, not how to face the bullies. We wanted to make sure she would not be a bully. We never dreamed one so successful in everything she does would be treated with such disrespect. (We are diligently working on this now.  Should we tell her when people make fun of her legs to say, “At least I don’t have skinny bird legs like you!” No, that is not how we believe anyone should be treated. But it is difficult to teach a child  humility without putting them in a position of getting squashed in school.)

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When I was in elementary school, I remember my parents talking about a relative who married an African-American. (Let’s go back more than 30 years to near the very center of the United States.) During the discussion these words came out of my mom’s mouth: “It doesn’t bother me what they do, but it’s the kids who will suffer.” That caught my attention. I said, “Why does it hurt the kids?” Both of my parents explained that they would be neither “white” nor “black,” so neither family or race would fully accept them. I asked why. They explained how people do not accept people not like themselves. I said, “But your making the statement in the first place shows that you think they are different.” I loved my parents, and I truly think there were not much better ones put anywhere in the world, but potentially a filter in what they said in front of my brother and I would have been wise at such a time. Statements like that in front of children would likely encourage children treat the “unfortunate” children differently in most cases. It is no different today.

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My belief is that most parents — if they even think about it — want their children to be replicas of themselves; they want them to have the same opinions and beliefs. (Maybe deep down I want that, too, but if it happens, I want them to arrive there on their own, not because I told them to or showed them no other options.) Most parents in my realm (I can only speak for my small corner of the world) have not been educating their children to accept all people as I attempt to educate mine. Maybe in more cosmopolitan areas there is more tolerance for people not like oneself, but I have not seen much in the places I have lived.

But I am going to say that from my experience in Blogland, there might be tolerance for people who are different in ethnicity, but not a lot of tolerance for differences of opinion. No, not everyone is like that, but I really am amazed at the statements I see coming out of blogs with abject criticism of people with differing opinions–not just criticism of these opinions, but also of the people who have them. (And if you are reading this, you are likely not the writer of one of the blogs to which I refer.)

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I am much too cynical realistic to think the lack of tolerance in the world is ever going to dramatically change. But I can assure you, it will not even budge if people cannot handle a viewpoint that is not their own without attacking (even mentally) the person who holds it. And if people cannot refrain from attacking people not like them, no matter in what way, I do not see a better future for anyone.

This is the end of my “tolerance” post. It was originally one, but it ended up way too long, so I cut it in half. There will soon be more on things that I believe relate to this topic and society in general and how all of that relates to our family.

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Note: I have no pictures for this post, so found some old ones of South Dakota and Colorado.

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Much of what I think I will say in this post has been in my head for months, really for at least a year. It started to gel into something I wanted to write about last October and November near the elections. Chic’s school held their own elections, and it was not a pretty thing in my opinion. I mentioned this last year, but as a reminder… they voted on the actual presidential candidates. My personal opinion is they should have thought of another way to teach about the election process because all the kids did was ask their parents for whom to vote. When Chic (age 6 at the time) asked Prince Charming and I, we did not tell her. We instead told her as much as we thought she could understand about the positions of the two main candidates and let her decide. We believe it is our job to shape the values and principles of our children, but not necessarily their opinions. Yes, values and principles will affect opinions, but we do not believe in telling our children what to think about every little thing. Long story short, Chic got her voting preferences from her best friends at the time which happened to be for the losing candidate. Being a volunteer at the school, I knew she would be very much in the minority, so I told her to keep her “opinions” to herself. She did, but the other “party” was pretty belligerent about getting others to tell their preferences. Ridicule was rampant for those with whom they did not agree. Chic kept quiet, but it still bothered her that being a supporter of “her” candidate would cause so much ridicule. After the election it was even worse. Because she was quiet about what she did, it should not have been as bad, but the bullies (which was pretty much everyone who voted differently than she–from 1st grade through 8th grade) assumed that people were quiet because they were the losers, so she was harassed anyway. (Had her candidate won, I do not believe the tables would have been turned for those children are among the very. few. well-behaved ones in art classes.)

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That attitude lasted ALL YEAR LAST YEAR.  Students continually asked me for whom I voted. I would not tell them for many reasons, not the least of which I do not think it is the responsibility of teachers to try to form political opinions in their students. So because I would not tell them, they attempted to ridicule me. Of course I did not put up with this, but it just made me wonder what in the world goes on in their homes that they have nothing better to do than disparage people they perceive to be not like themselves. And it did not end there; it continued into the first six weeks of this school year. Intolerance clearly starts at young ages.

Chic goes to a school that is affiliated with my church. About 30 minutes from my house is another similar school sponsored by another church of the same religion. Many members of my church who believe in Christian education send their children to the “other school.” When we first moved here, Chic was nine months old, and we almost immediately started getting hit by the people who sent their kids to the other school telling us why we should do the same. There were so many reasons why it was a “better” school than the one actually sponsored by my church. But I have to tell you the biggest reason. People actually said OUT LOUD to me, “The new school is sort of known as the ’white school,’ — the one sponsored by the church is the ‘Hispanic school.'” Seriously????

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Now if these people knew me at all, they would have known those were the wrong words. If I had no other reason whatsoever (which I had plenty), I would never send my kids to school where the parents of the students (which would show in the students of themselves) thought they were better and elite because they were “white.” OK, I am white. I am pale, lily white. As far as I know, I have little else besides Irish blood running through my veins. My daughters are paler than me and have strawberry blonde and red hair. But I would NEVER go to a school because there was more of “my kind” there; I would prefer to have diversity. Last year in Chic’s classroom, there were 16 students, and she was one of the two who did not have beautiful, smooth, dark skin (were not Hispanic.) Did that bother me? Not in the least. I never even thought about it,  unless I remembered those idiotic words people said to me and sat and looked at the kids. Then I smiled.

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During last school year, two new students entered in the fall. They were twin boys in 8th grade. I loved them because they were so polite and well-behaved (as opposed to the other 8th graders.) But they were outcasts to their class. Why?  Because they were not fully Hispanic. The 7th and 8th graders were in one classroom.  There were 17 of them, and all but those boys were Hispanic. They were half-Hispanic and half-Iranian.  Sometimes I wonder why I can still be so shocked by people, but I can, and this was one of those extremely shocking things.

To be continued… (Friday?)

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