Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Beware--School Rant

First day of school, so I'm thinking about schools.

I spent many years in education in one form or another and I'm kind of puzzled that when the conversation over the failure of American schools to keep up with other developed countries doesn't address the issues of child poverty.  We have one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world.  Impoverished children, in general, do not excel in school, hmmmm, maybe there's a connection.  Nearly a third of American children are being raised in poverty. A third, it is astounding.  It is heartbreaking.

Maybe it is not the failure of our school systems (though some changes do need to be made, but they do not need to include any corporate involvement, tests or textbook publishers, that is a whole different post) that we need to look at, but the ability of our families to provide enough money to put food on the table and pay the rent, too.  Parents who work low wage jobs often have multiple jobs.  Having multiple jobs makes it difficult to raise children, because they can't be there regularly to help with homework.  They can't be there regularly to get them on the bus.  They can't afford to pay anyone to help with those tasks, as upper middle class parents can.  Notice I said upper middle class, our middle class wages have stagnated to the point where they, too, struggle with these very basic ways to help their children.  People who work multiple jobs cannot spend the time talking to their children, the time taking them educational places.  They are just to darned tired when they do get home to do any of these things or they just need to go to their second or third job. 

Not only are the parents too tired, but stress levels are also highly associated with poverty. If their car dies and they can't get to work, you lose your job.  If they don't go to work, they lose the car, and their home.  If they can't pay the electric bill or the water bill despite working two part time minimum wage jobs (25 hours each, so that the employers don't need to provide health insurance, because that costs money!), a parent might be a little too stressed and tired to read, "The Hungry Little Caterpillar" for the twentieth time, or maybe even the first time. Remember, at the Federal minimum wage, at fifty hours a week a breadwinner can come home with $18,850 annually, working 52 weeks a year, which is about poverty level.

The best way to predict a child's standardized test scores is to look at the family's socioeconomic status and the educational level of the mother.  Maybe we are going at fixing education the wrong way.  More testing will not improve schools.  Paying living wages, and providing educational opportunities with flexible schedules for adults, providing more affordable options for quality child care (remembering that  the people who run the child care facilities are often parents as well) might have a greater impact, but then those textbook and test prep companies wouldn't make so much money.

It's time to look at our schools as a reflection of our society.  If we took child poverty seriously, then our schools would do better.  We need more better paying jobs, not more tests, not more educational initiatives that just scramble the same old stuff a different way. Nearly a third of the children in this country are impoverished.  Impoverished children do not do well in school. Creating jobs, good jobs, and providing better educational opportunities for adult education are probably the best things we can do to educate the children and to create a better prepared workforce for the future.  It's time to stop blaming teachers, parents and the schools, they are all trying their hardest, but they are struggling upstream against the current like salmon. The current is not going anywhere, we need to build a fish ladder.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fifteen Minutes of Peace

We're just back from our vacation, a trip to Seneca State Forest in WV.  No electricity, no cell coverage, no wi-fi, no running water...but there were gas lights and a propane fridge.  We went knowing that it would be an escape from the modern world.

We arrived to find that our cabin was two stories and looked more like a house than a cabin.

Inside was the wood cook stove and sinks with no faucets.  The water needed to be hand pumped outside.

We knew most of this going in, since we stayed there in another cabin two years ago.  The cabin sat on the banks of Seneca Lake away from the other cabins.

Violet came with us, her goofy houndness took a little while to settle in, she feared being taken back to the shelter, so having all her gear, her bowls, crate, blanket, etc. packed up was stressful.

 She followed us around the house as we unloaded and unpacked.  I had noted earlier that she seemed to really have to think to go up and down stairs, so I guessed in her previous life there were no stairs.  She followed us up the stairs and then stood at the top staring down.  She took a few steps and then we heard her tumble down the rest of the flight.  Later, she went up and tumbled down again.  Being no fool, the third time she stood at the top and whined.  We knew it was time for her to go out.  I placed treats on every other stair to help entice her down.  No dice. I called and encouraged her.  She would reach for the treat two steps down, but wouldn't attempt putting a paw on the step.  My husband eventually carried her down, a somewhat damp process, because she really did need to go out.  Late that evening just before bed, she was up there again and needed a walk and he carried her down again.  It was looking like it was going to be a long damp week.

The next morning we were all up and getting breakfast together when we heard a tentative step on the top few stairs.  We all called and cheered her as she slowly picked her way down the stairs, fighting the force of gravity.  Once mastered, she was able to make it down the stairs many times a day (since she is my little Velcro girl) without any further indignities.

On the second day of our trip, the cabin was quiet, my daughter and her friend were reading and drawing in their room, my husband was taking a nap and I was reading down stairs.  My daughter came down the same stairs to get a pen walking in her stocking feet, stepped off the stairs onto the very smooth hardwood floors and executed a perfect cartoon-style banana peel fall.  Her feet went up into the air higher than her behind and she levitated for a moment, before crashing down.   I asked her if she was okay and she immediately replied that she was fine.  Then in three heartbeats, her freckled face turned a funny gray-green as she lifted up her left arm.

I quickly recalled where in town I had seen the big blue H sign, as I calmly walked over to examine her wrist.  Everything seemed lined up properly, good.  She had full movement of everything, double good.  She didn't need to tell me that it really hurt, that was written on her face.  I pulled the blue ice from the freezer and began basic first aid.  I had some sports wrap in my bag, that I had packed since my ankle has been annoying me again lately.  We bandaged her wrist with the bright blue wrap and waited to see if it was going to bruise and/or inflate like a balloon.  All the while I was calculating the time of day, wondering whether there were any orthopedists in the area, would we need to head home to get proper treatment, whether we would have to call her soccer coach to take her off the roster, thinking of my friend who had just posted vacation photos of her neatly polished toes on the beach with blue ice packs around her ankle, and a million other things.  It is now a week ago, her wrist is still wrapped, but functional.  Soccer throw ins hurt though.

The remainder of the vacation passed without any more scary stories.  We slept in, read books, fished, played Scrabble and Apples to Apples, toured caverns, watched wildlife, walked the dog around the forest, canoed and pedal boat-ed.

My very favorite part was walking back from the outhouse at about 2 AM.  There were no city lights to interfere with the stars, it was still except for the sounds of the water and a frog.  It was a type of quiet that just is not possible in an urban/suburban area--no cars, no planes (we live near two international airports and three major military installations, there is always a plane), no voices, no lights.  I would stand out there in my pj's for fifteen minutes or so before going in, but only because it was the mountains and it was chilly.  That was why I went into the woods, for those fifteen minutes or so each night.