Compliance, Learning, and Special NeedsPosted: August 30, 2013
Well, world, Mouse had her first week of school. I’m…. troubled.
She seems perfectly happy there and is going through only minor adjustment issues, it seems. We need to get her to bed earlier, that is very obvious. The poor girl is worse than molasses in the morning. She’s more like frozen, crystallized, petrified molasses.
It isn’t the adjustment I’m worried about. It is the System.
As was expected, her four-and-a-half year old recall of events isn’t the most accurate. Add that to the sudden change and adjustment, I wasn’t surprised that the first couple of days, she could tell us nothing about her days at school.
Yesterday, however, I got a lot. I’ll just list all the things here that Mouse told me, you’ll probably see where this is going:
- “Mommy, we can ONLY sit in criss-cross-applesauce, ever, even if we are quiet and hands to ourselves. That makes me mad.”
- “We read a book about a boy who couldn’t do anything right. He drawed on the tables, couldn’t sit right, and always was in trouble. Then he cleaned the tables and got a star, then the teacher liked him again.”
- “Being on the color blue is BAD. That means you get a sad face and you are in trouble.”
- “I don’t want to play with the kids who don’t act right. You know, like who can’t be good.”
- “Evan got a sad face in school. [Evan—not his real name—is Mouse’s friend; we are friends with his whole family. Then I asked Mouse why Evan got a sad face.] I don’t know why, but the teacher said he had a sad face.”
Yup. I’m pretty sure I’m leaving a bunch out that I can’t even remember, but you get the idea. While I absolutely understand the need for limits and behavioral expectations, I am very concerned with the intensity with which it is being handled in Mouse’s class. She’s in a transitional kindergarten class. That is before kindergarten. The kids all have fall birthdays, so they are all about to turn five. They are young!
From what I can gather after talking to a couple other parents, there is a color coded behavior system. It sounds like (and here I’m not completely sure) there are emotions that are attached to the colors. This would explain why blue, the “worst” color, is equivalent to a sad face in Mouse’s mind. Interestingly, there are two “good colors” and three “bad colors”. Truthfully, I’m not ok with any colors having values attached to them like this. Just look at the havoc that black/white imagery wreaks on us. Is my kid going to start not wanting to wear blue to school?
What bothers me the most is that all of these evaluations are public. The kids apparently need to go up, change their color status, and stand on a designated color. This sounds like the equivalent of a dunce hat in the corner.
The thing is, the public shaming seems to be working, but not in its intended way. Mouse could tell me each kid in her class who had ever got a sad face, but when I asked her why those children got sad faces, she didn’t know. All she knew was that those kids had gotten in trouble. Where is the learning there?
This is just the behavioral management concerns, there are others as well. When I dropped Mouse off this morning I saw that there were cups with the kids’ names written on them. I asked her what they were, and she told me that each kid has a cup for water in case they are thirsty. Ok, I’m down with hydration. On closer examination, however, I see that the cups are divvied up into two groups—boys and girls. Argh. Really? Already, we need to teach kids that there is some kind of definite gender line that divides society?
There’s more. The teacher completely forgot that I’d told her that Mouse can’t have dairy and wheat, and gave her goldfish crackers for morning snack. The school newsletter had a very frustrating line in it about how every child’s goal should be to go to college (I do not think that college is the only way a child can succeed after high school). Mouse already knows how to write letters and is being asked to trace her name (apparently she asked to write her name by herself and was told no).
What bothers me most is that with each story I hear, each small observation I make, I keep wondering, What happens when you can’t comply to the behavior standards??? The standards seem so narrow, it is no wonder that kids are pulled out and labelled as “misbehaving”, but it just seems so wrong. Take the “criss-cross-applesauce” business. If a kid is sitting in circle time, not bothering anyone, not disrupting the activity, what does it matter how the kid sits? Suddenly, by creating this arbitrary behavior standard, if a kid is unable/unwilling to comply, then they’re probably labeled as having difficulty behaving.
This just seems so wrong. Most every young child I’ve ever known has some kinetic movement needs. I can see how a kid could easily fall out of this narrow range of “good behavior” without ever actually negatively impacting the learning environment of the class. Then they’ve got these sad faces and “bad” colors on their names, and how is that supposed to create a safe learning environment? While I can easily grasp the intent of creating a behavior management system such as this, it seems completely misguided. It makes rather arbitrary behavior that is very counter to a child’s natural tendencies a gateway to learning. According to that logic, if a child can’t comply and model the behavior, then the child can’t learn. They’re not “ready”.
As a mother of a child who will undoubtedly come under the “special needs” designation, this horrifies me. What if LP needs extra time to get from one place to the next? What if he engages in “stimming” and it is seen as disruptive? What if, what if, what if. If this is in any way indicative of how other schools operate, it is no wonder that schools are so often hesitant to put kids with special needs into general education settings. It isn’t the kid, however, it seems like the classroom itself is an impossible set up.
I’m trying very, very hard to keep an open mind. It is the first week of school, the stuff that Mouse may be telling me might be incorrect, what I’ve seen might have been observed out of context. I also completely admit that I’m coming into things with a skeptical mind, and try as I might to stop it, I’m sure it has a filtering effect on my perceptions. I’m going to talk to the teacher next week, and we are trying to keep open minds. I know it isn’t easy to be a teacher. It just seems like the system is rigged, that’s all. Mouse did teach Chipmunk how to count to three in Spanish the other night, so there’s that. I’m just not sure about the cost-benefit analysis.