Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kid Stuff: The Education Gap

It exists, people.  The education gap that the media is so fond of referencing.

It exists in my house.  

Specifically, between my children and me.

C's school has figured out a way around the age-old dilemma of "do we teach the kids what we think that they should actually learn, or do we teach them the [insert name of current state-mandated skills assessment test]?"  They carve a short class period of out of each day (the "Star Period") that is devoted to test-teaching.  At the beginning of the year, they administer diagnostic tests and figure out who is behind in what subjects.  The students are then assigned to a Star Group that focuses on their weaknesses.  So, the kids who need math and science enrichment but are doing just fine in English and social studies get additional practice in math and science only, and so on.  Result is that actual class periods are used for actual learning, and no one gets bored to tears by being forced  to sit through remedial instruction that has no applicability for them.

C is one of the students whose tests revealed that he didn't need no stinkin' remedial instruction in any subject, thank you very much.  So his Star Group utilizes Star Period to work on individual and group projects that are designed to keep their creative brains engaged while benefiting the school community and Fort Worth in general.

(Are you starting to understand why we love our middle school?)

Currently, C and friends are planning a flower bed in the shape of the school mascot.  Geometry is involved, as they had to grid out the bed and figure out how many black and how many white pansy plants they are going to need.  Mom actually was able to contribute a solution to the problem of how to make the Yearling's mouth and nostrils stand out without utilizing plant materials that would blow the scale.  (Answer:  white marble chips for landscaping,  $15 for a 40-pound bag.)  Next step was to create a Power Point presentation that evidently C's group plans to send to a local nursery as a follow-up to an initial request for a donation of plant materials.

So, let's review:  my child is already proficient at community fundraising, which is an avocation of mine, but he is WAY BETTER AT IT, because his "ask" is presented as a FREAKIN' POWER POINT. 

Mom doesn't speak Power Point.  If I litigated, I probably would speak it - but I don't, so I can't.

Midway through work on the Power Point the other night, C asks:  "Mom, can you download an image of our mascot to this flash drive?"

Me: "Sure.  All you have to do is go to Google Images . . . ."

C:  "No,  I know HOW to do it, Mom, I just can't do it.  Dad installed an image blocker on my laptop, so really I just need to use your hardware for a sec."

Oh.  Um, points for Dad.

After downloading an image, we discuss where the plants ought to go, versus the rocks,  and I draw him a crude sketch.

C:  "Cool.  [Grabs my digital camera.]  Can I take a picture of your drawing and include it in my Power Point?"

Me:  "Fine with me, but it has my notes scribbled on it, and it's kind of messy. Maybe we could generate a similar drawing using Paint?"

C:  "Good idea."   [Dashes out of the room.]

I play with the image that we downloaded earlier, erasing the background around the Yearling and superimposing circles to represent the individual plants.

Me:  "Hey, come in here, and I'll show you what I'm talking about with the Paint thing."

C [from another room]:  "Did you save the image to its own file, erase the background and use the ellipse tool to draw circles where the plants need to go?"

Me:  "Um. . . yeah."

C:  "Already did it, saved it and plugged it into the presentation."

A few minutes later, I'm in the kitchen, he's curled up in a living room chair with a computer on his lap, and I hear a disembodied robot voice begin to read aloud the text of his Power Point.

Me:  "Um, honey, what's that?"

C:  "I thought it would be cool to automate the presentation to read  itself to the listener, but the free tool that I downloaded is worse than Dragon, and to get it to read some things correctly I would have to type a lot of the words phonetically.  Not worth the time, since I have to take an Accelerated Reader test tomorrow, and I need to finish the book that I'm reading - oh, wait, I just thought of a book that I read over the summer that is worth 30 points.  I could just take a test on that.  I think I remember most of the plot."

Me:  "Okay.  What book was it?"

C:  "Catch-22."


C:  "Is there another one?"

Me:  "Explain."

C:  "I checked it out of the library."

Me:  "Does Dad know that you read Catch-22?"

C:  "I think so. Maybe not.  Why does it matter?"

At this point, I am trying to remember if there is anything objectionable in Catch-22, or if I ever actually read it myself.  In high school?  Definitely not in sixth grade.

Me:  "Well, if memory serves, you were ELEVEN last summer, and Catch-22 is more of a high school book?"

C:  "Mom, it's a war novel.  It's really good.  A classic, actually.  A character says W-H-O-R-E in it, but that's as bad as it gets."


Before I can offer a rebuttal, the first grader inserts himself and demands my attention.

PJ:  "Mom, are you online?  Can you Google mangroves?"

Me:  "???????"

PJ [talking extremely slowly]:  "MAN-GROVES."

Me:  "Like the tree?"

PJ [sighing, still taking slowly]: " No.  Trees, plural.  Mangroves are a type of FOREST.  We're studying BIOSPHERES, and I want to show you a picture of a mangrove, because they are really cool."

Me:  "???????" [while dutifully Googling mangroves]

PJ:  "THERE. See that?  The trees grow out of the water, and fish live in the space between the tree roots, and these cheetah-looking cats - what are they called? - OH, YEAH, THEY ARE ACTUALLY CALLED FISHING CATS - THE FISHING CATS EAT THE FISH."

Shouldn't you be learning about colors right now?  And eating paste?

I try to recover.

Me: "Hmm.  This picture looks a lot like the river at Grandma's, where it passes under the bridge."

PJ:  "Um, yeah, Mom.  That's where mangroves are located - in river beds."

Recovery attempt #2.

Me:  "Makes sense.  I've never seen a fishing cat in Grandma's river, though - or one of these monkeys that they mention?"

PJ:  "Riiiiiight.   Because the monkeys are native to Brazil."

We're in good hands, people.  Really.   The next generation, THEY.  GOT.  THIS.

All I've got is a slight headache.  And a dawning understanding of where I stand in relation to the education gap.  Clearly, on the disadvantaged side.

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