School Daze

May 21, 2014

             With SOL tests happening right now, it seems like an appropriate time to talk about school. Right now two of my three are students; Seamus and Duncan both attend a local public school – Seamus in third grade, Duncan in pre-K.  It is fair to say that at this point, the public school system is failing my children in spectacular and disastrous fashion.

TestingKids.jpg            The list of grievances at this point is enormous, so I will start with more general and move to more specific problems to illustrate my points.  To begin with, the vice principal at their school is one of the sourest, surliest, most miserable people I have ever met in my life. This is Seamus’ third year at the school. I have seen the man in question at least once a week for those three years and never once seen him smile. He snaps at the children, berates the teachers and belittles the parents and does all of this in front of crowds. In discussion he is pompous, smug, condescending and vicious. I have found myself wondering frequently what made him choose a career path in education, as it is obvious he doesn’t want to be around children.

            The teachers are more of a mixed bag. Some are genuinely interested in the welfare of the children and can be engaging and helpful. Others take their cues directly from Mr. VP and attempt to bully children and parents alike into compliance.

            The poor attitude of Mr. VP also filters into the majority of the office staff, all of whom (with one very notable exception, a sweet and charming woman) are casually dismissive of any concerns raised on the part of parents. This superciliousness has led to several procedural changes that serve only to increase confusion and chew up more time – think picking up and dropping off for starters.

            The pick up policy has been an especially sore subject. In past years, parents came into the school and collected their children directly, before the buses left. On the days when I had the kids, the school had a standing notice that Seamus was to be a “pick up.” Additionally, I made a point to call and verify with the office every week that I would be there to get him.  Still, Seamus had to be fished off the bus roughly once a month.

            This year the pick up procedure was changed, so now the parents are forced into a line of cars that waits for the buses to leave before the children are brought out directly to the cars. Regardless of when you arrive, you will be forced to wait upwards of 15 minutes. If you are the first in line, you’re waiting for the buses to leave. If you’re not, you’re waiting for the people in front of you to get their kids first.

            If you’ve already made the cognitive leap here, congratulations. Seamus and Duncan were split up five times by mid January – that is, one was sent home on the bus, while the other was waiting for me to pick him up. The bus rider in each case was dropped off at their mom’s house with nobody home.

            The most infuriating instance happened in November, when the four-year-old Duncan was delivered to a locked empty house in the freezing rain. Of course the mistake wasn’t found in time for me to beat the bus home (I was only in the middle of the line), so Duncan was just waiting on the front step, wet and cold. I cannot imagine a more obvious breach of the school’s responsibility to keep the kids safe.

            Staying with Duncan for a moment, he has received in-school suspension twice this year. Most recently for not doing homework. He is still four years old. Who thinks it’s a good idea to give homework to kids this young? The first case was for hugging a classmate. Did I mention that he’s four? Since when is it against the rules to be a child at that age?

            Seamus’ case is a little different. Seamus is the kid in class who reads all day, never listening to the teacher, and still gets straight As on his report card. His mother and I both make sure he does all of his homework. However, his attention surely wanders, and that can be infuriating.

            From all available evidence, though, I have to think the school system itself bears some culpability for his inattentiveness. He hasn’t gotten a B (or lower) on a report card yet. His reading group assignments, supposedly the most advanced group, are dramatically beneath his actual reading level. When I check over his homework, I frequently find word problems that make no sense, questions that have nothing to do with the topic at hand, and repetitious busy work that reinforces little actual knowledge. The system appears to cater to the slowest students in any given subject, while actively hindering the brighter children. It’s like Harrison Bergeron in real life.

            All of these difficulties (and more) have led the former Mrs. Warshaw and me to the obvious conclusion: public school is not for our children.

            After several lengthy discussions, we have decided to pursue a home school education for them. I was initially against home schooling for many reasons, but without a plan that makes sense I cannot subject my children to Mr. VP and his lackeys anymore.

          There is a group that meets every Friday at a local church and does the weekly lessons with the children. I attended a session and saw it in action. They are teaching real information. They are respectful to the children and the parents. They are getting the job done.  My own responsibilities will of course increase with this decision, but nobody ever said parenting would be easy. Seamus is excited to have a schooling environment that challenges him. Duncan just likes the toys they have.

          All things considered, (former) Mrs. Warshaw and I are thrilled with our decision and new direction.

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