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Just Another Brick In The Wall

I have a rather mixed history with education.

I attended, as well as I can recall, some school in Bellflower CA; a military school in France; a French school in Royan whose name I forget; Ecole Zola in Rochefort; a couple of schools in the Florida peninsula, maybe something involving Mary Esther and another involving Eintsein? Some kind of Lutheran school, somewhere; Deer Park elementary in Newport News; Warwick junior high also in Newport News; Hayfield High in Alexandria; Urbandale High in Iowa; Some school in Maryland where I dropped out in a dispute over what door I should use to enter the lunchroom; and the Eberhard school, a gifted school my parents tried to deploy as a last-ditch effort to keep me in school. I'm probably forgetting some.

Then I went on to drop in and out of a community college in Maryland, in and out of San Francisco State, and in and out of San Jose State.

Now, along with my wife, I'm in charge of picking an educational path for our two kids.

We have too many choices, none of them exactly right. The boy is a certified genius. Big-time IQ. 99th percentiles. Started taking high school level programming classes at age 8 -- three years younger than any other kid in the program's history. He was installing operating systems when he was five. He blogs. He bids on eBay, picking up classic Apple gear and Google paraphanalia. He reads Gizmodo all day long. He has contributed to Wikipedia. Watch him using Photoshop and you can't see his hands move he's so fast.

He's also obsessive-compulsive and anal and eats only Nutella and has only the most marginal interest in . . . um, what are they called again? Oh, right: humans.

He goes to a very good private school with the children of academics. (We are the dumbest parents there.) The school is unable to keep him engaged on math, where he's one of those irritating people who only needs to be told once, and then never forgets it. He's bored out of his mind. Surprise!

Our daughter had a rather different life. Born in th ass-end of China, abandoned at 8 months when she developed a hemangioma that, one guesses, the parents couldn't pay to have removed. She spent three years in an orphanage because she carries a scar and was thus "special needs." In her picture we saw a bold and defiant expression. I said, "She looks like trouble. She'll fit right in."

So at age three she moves from orphanage to the US, from rooms full of nothing, to an obsessively enriched environment.

She has what seems to the rest of us borderline Asperger's cases to be a weird genius for making friends with humans. My son and I have sat at times and studied her, like anthropologists. Or maybe like members of some lost Amazon tribe trying to suss out a cell phone. Trying to figure out how she does it. You could parachute her into the emptiest part of the Mojave and ten minutes later she'd have a friend.

She's a natural jock. She has cartwheeled across Saint Mark's Square in Venice, right through the pigeon shit. She does the soccer and the basketball and the gymnastics. She's loud and dramatic and combative and has more energy than can logically be contained in such a small package. She's a tiny nuclear device.

But she also has ADD and learning disabilities, the classic letter-reversal kind, and she started off behind by three years. She also went to the private school but private schools don't do LD's, so we were given the heave-ho. This year we're home schooling her. She's making progress. She's catching up. But it's anyone's guess whether she'll be at grade level come September.

Our son would like nothing better than to blow off school and stay home, there to plot his almost inevitable rise to super-villainy. Our daughter is starved for the company of children, she needs school if only for the social aspects. But I won't have her made to feel stupid. And so, now, with the ability to pick from every school in this area, and for that matter, the entire United States and indeed the western world, we cannot manage to find one school, or two schools in reasonable proximity, private or public, that can handle the brittle genius and the resilient LD kid.

Complicating it all, of course, is me. Because I think school is roughly 90% bullshit. The way it works the bulk of the time is moving from here to there, standing or sitting, lining up, putting on dog and pony shows for the parents, peeing, handwashing, lunching, recessing, learning crap you'll never have to know, getting ready to take George W. Bush's "See, I did something about education!" tests, dodgeball, inept language teaching, backward music classes, and homework whose essential purpose is to impress parents.

Jaundiced? Moi?

I see the time spent on teaching handwriting and I think, "Have you people not heard of the keyboard?" And I sigh at the time spent moping about the always-endangered fate of the earth. And I read about high school kids doing 3 hours of homework a night and I think, "Are you fucking crazy?" Kids being pushed relentlessly to read in first grade, and I think, "What in the hell is the hurry? It's not a race." Gigantic classroom projects that chew up weeks in order to teach a paragraph of history. Songs that they waste days memorizing in order to sing on parent's days so we can ooh and ahh and write a bigger check. It all seems so beside the point. It all seems just like it did when I was in school: a massive waste of time and money. A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

And, of course, I worry because my son is bored, just like I was. And he's becoming dismissive and condescending, just as I was. And, unlike me, he's not a flake writer who doesn't really need college, he needs and is destined for a Stanford or an MIT, so I want him not to follow my so-bored-I-gotta-get-outta-here educational track. I need to find a way to get him through the stupidity of the next seven years of school, so I can deliver him to the collegiate promised land, where he will, at last, be surrounded by his fellow geeks and be, well, not happy, maybe, but well-occupied.

At the same time I can feel the allure of the Heather clique for my daughter. She's dramatic, fashionable, status-conscious, highly social, pretty and in possession of the one thing no one else in our family can even imagine owning: cool. She's cool. But I need her to read and write and do math and not be dependent on being cool, because that's a dead-end Paris Hilton trap. Unless, of course, she ends up in show business, in which case, okay. I want her to have options. She has the brain, she has the capacity, she has the energy, she just has a big LD log blocking her path.

Thousands and thousands of schools, and I cannot manage to find a solution. Yes, I know about IEP's. Yes, I know about pull-outs for GATE kids. It all feels like more b.s. to me. Am I wrong? If you have the magic answer, let me know.

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“Just Another Brick In The Wall”

  1. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    The fact that I know virtually nothing about schools these days won't stop me from commenting. I do know that my sister's kids all could have benefitted from a more individualized private education and didn't get one. My brother's boy,OTOH, has always attended private school As he could get a fine education at even the most dysfunctional public school in California (he'd probably have been running the damn thing by 5th grade), this has, in my view, been a complete waste of $100,000. Next year, he'll start high school, and another $60,000 minimum will be wasted in getting him the exact same education he would get at his local high school (the finest public school in the metropolitan area). Too bad, could've paid for a nice degree from a premier ivy league university if he wanted it. Oh well, not all of it was my money and none of it is my business.

    Speaking of things not my business, back to the original subject: WRT your daughter. I do understand your dilemmna as I've a friend who mainstreamed her boy who really does have Asperger's. As you say, children can be incredibly cruel. She ended up being a teacher's aide in his classrooms every year. Not a model solution, I think.

    If you can't find a place where she is accepted as "normal" by her peers, and given her delight/need for lots of social interaction, it seems your best option involves lots of participation in after-school social activities like sports, where she can really shine. Once they know her in that situation first, and accept her as a "regular," its been my experience that kids ignore the things they would have picked up in the classroom setting and caused them to shun or taunt her. I'm sure you thought about this, but I'm tossing it out in the unlikely event you didn't. Makes a lot of work for you and your wife, though, because it entails running around a lot to after-school sports, etc. but I hear almost all parents do that these days anyway.

  2. Anonymous Kevin Says:

    Some unsolicited advice from a former 99th percentile math nerd who was perpetually bored in school. Find something your son wants to do well but isn't instinctively good at. School will still be boring and your kid will still be dealing with the fact that he's smarter than his teachers but it helps with the whole human interaction thing.

  3. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    As to the boy, its a private school, so ADA is unimportant, right? (average daily attendance). As long as he gets his homework done and tests well, who says he has to be there every day? Let him follow his interests on his own a few days a month, particularly those things he finds genuinely challenging rather than comfortably entertaining. You might find it keeps him a little more interested in class when he is there. That's what my parents did with me. Others might argue if I claimed "I turned out alright," but I did get a damn fine education, much of self-directed. (These days, because of their desperate need for ADA money, the schools would have been all over my mom & dad for my lack of attendance. IIRC, my sister was in deep shit if one of her kids missed more than 5 days a year, even if they were sick as dogs, and threats made that the child would automatically fail should they miss another day.)

  4. Blogger reader_iam Says:

    I see the time spent on teaching handwriting and I think, "Have you people not heard of the keyboard?"


  5. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    In my first response, I left out the part about home-schooling:

    it seems your best option involves home schooling andlots of participation in after-school social activities

  6. Blogger reader_iam Says:

    I am totally cynical at this point in my son's (private school, btw) education. You'd think 10 grand a year (not counting extras) would you buy some level of individualization.

    You'd be wrong.


    (Three hours of homework a night in high school? Hell, there are some nights when we have darn near that in second grade.)


    Two parents who were both excellent students and we've got a very bright kid who hates school (except for the social aspects--he appears to be a mix of your kids) and we appear to be completely incompetent at finding the "key" to get him to work to his ability level, at least in the structured sense. Endlessly frustrating and stressful, and life is rarely fun around here during the week.


    IR: Attendance & etc. is hugely important at my son's school, and far more emphasized than it was for either my husband and I in our respective public schools ... but then, that was a long time ago, so no doubt things have changed.


    There is almost no chance he'll be returning next year. But what we're going to do--or even in what state--is entirely up in the air.

    Advice? I got nuthin'. As is obvious.

    But I can sympathize ... .

  7. Blogger reader_iam Says:

    Hey, what the hell. Maybe we should move to North Carolina and we can start a school for the terrifying trio. My husband's a geek and a techy (with an engineering degree), and he would love hangin' with your boy. And he likes fine single malts. Son would enjoy socializing with your daughter and doing geek stuff with your son (and could learn from him). You and I could trade insults over cigars. If your wife has the sense of humor I suspect she does, she could laugh at all of us.

    As I said, what the hell.

  8. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    Reader: I feel your pain. (Hey, its political season and Bill Clinton is in the news today). Your line about hours of elementary school homework reminded me that the same was true for my nephew, except almost all of it seemed designed to more to impress the parents then educate the child. Otherwise, all the students should be testing at 8th grade levels by 6th grade, having completed an additional 1/4 year for each they attended. They don't (and the testing standards haven't risen since I was in school eons ago, so...).

    [Note: my Word Verification: eggoi]

  9. Anonymous GN Says:

    Been a long time since I commented in blogs, but I can't resist this one.

    Michael ... having some knowledge of your thoughts regarding structured education from your first blog and a healthy respect for your thought processes, I am somewhat baffled that you are troubled about this. Your daughter will find the help with the LD ... from school, Mom and Dad, or brother. Be thankful ... natural social magnetism is a gift as valuable as technical genius ... maybe even more so.

    I have a graphic visual of a beam ... with Einstein on one end and Chatty Kathy on the other ... tilting on a fulcrum of Micheal and a frantic wife! You are a lucky dude, indeed!

  10. Blogger Ruth Anne Adams Says:

    This might help your daughter. It's rigorous, old school and one of the instructors said that after having thousands of students diagnosed with dyslexia, she only found one who really had it.

    As for your son, have you considered 'unschooling'

    I apologize if I have overstepped. There are myriad Christian homeschool curricula, but I know you're not into that.

  11. Blogger bucyrus Says:

    Sounds like you're a bit torn between maximizing your children's gifts in the areas where they are most talented and focusing on filling in the deficits.

    I lean your way of being a bit of an outsider and a disdainer. A poor sufferer of "fools." Yet I'm considering a career shift into teaching. Go figure.

    Have you considered having your son do some tutoring of the less able kids? That will improve his social skills, his patience, his empathy for the less able, his emotional maturity, if any of those are an issue.

    Having your daughter do the after-school stuff to give her a place to shine socially makes sense, as others have suggested. As far as her academic deficits, esp. in reading and math, how much have you looked into the testimony of adults who deal successfully with it? I wonder what they say about the extent to which it's something to overcome/fix versus something you manage by flowing around obstacles...life holds so many avenues that it is perhaps not the end of the world to consider that some may have to be foreclosed due to the roll of the genetic dice.

    kranky critter

  12. Blogger amba Says:

    Hey GN, how the hell are you??? e-mail me . . .

    I was good at the school con, yet I still think of it as little more than training for 9 to 5 jobs. The physical regimentation is so sad, especially now that they're eliminating recess. Sick!

    Your boy sounds like he could be taking classes in math and tech stuff way beyond his age level. Since (as you describe it) he doesn't care about people anyway, why not do the basics in homeschooling and arrange for him to take high school or even early college computer classes, or work with a private tutor/mentor?

    It's more work for a parent than you maybe want, but think about the way kids naturally used to learn, before there were schools. They hung around the adults, watched, kibitzed, were put to work, learned skills, felt useful, and then ran off and played with their friends.

    Your girl is a tougher nut because school is social much the way work is. She needs the water cooler. School it just where everybody is.