Who walks in the classroom, cool and slow
If I'd been blogging it all along, cataloguing it day by discouraging day, I wonder if it would seem inevitable. I'm a little bit afraid, instead, that this comes out of the blue: Charlie's changing schools. After three years at the public elementary, this fall he'll go to what I self-consciously call Hippie Do As You Please School.
We've known since October of his kindergarten year that he needed lots of structure and support, and I'm grateful to say that he's gotten it: the 504 plan; the occupational therapy; the physical therapy; the daily social learning; the kindness and heroic forebearance of teachers, staff, and students. (Thank you for pretending not to notice when I tear up in meetings. Thank you for telling me you like my kid — that feels like a gift. Thank you for not shoving back when there was any way you could help it.)
And he's come a long way. If you could stand the six-year-old version of Charlie next to almost-nine, you'd be amazed at the difference. And then you'd sternly tell the younger that wedgies aren't funny, to keep his hands to himself, to stop making that noise, my God, it's boring a hole in my brain. And then you'd have to stop almost-nine from a decisive response — Hey, Charlie, stop hitting yourself — because if The Highlander has taught us nothing else, we know there can be only one.
He's really doing great, our kid. So the obvious question is why we'd want to leave that behind. I guess the briefest way to answer that lies in the comments that bookend his school years so far. As we first started exploring the problem during kindergarten, the principal summed up our concerns: "Some of Charlie's light is going out."
And we ended the final team meeting of this past second-grade year, Paul, discouraged, observed, "All we ever talk about is getting Charlie through the day."
Now, of course that's a prerequisite to learning, right? You can't get an education when you can't move past the bullshit your brain's churning out. And the hard work of his team, coupled with Charlie's growing maturity, our own determined efforts, his determined efforts — God, my kid works hard — and a little pill I like to call You Can Take Our Methylphenidate When You Can Pry It Out of My Cold, Dead Claws That Will Probably Have Big Chunks of Skin Under Them from Fighting You off, You Bastard
...Sorry, I just got lost in a pleasant reverie. Clawed-up Christopher Lambert break.
As I was saying, a lot of factors have helped him reliably — mostly — get through the day, to the point where we feel that shouldn't be the team's main focus. We feel he's ready to take on more. See, Charlie, well, he's smart. I don't want to go all special-snowflake on you, but, daaaaamn, is my child beautiful, delicate, and possessed of a magnificent crystalline structure unique only to him and visible only with a microscope. And we're finding, to our chagrin, that the school has no real plan for letting our snowflake...not melt.
(I could do this all day.)
In our state, in our district, at this school, there's no real vehicle for gifted education. No mandate, no money, despite all the good will in the world. Although the team has made a good-faith effort to differentiate in class, it's not enough. Plans to ship him off to other classrooms for higher-level learning have foundered for various reasons. And although he has great ability in its purest sense, he also makes what I'd describe as errors of attention — answering one problem in the space meant for another, or not answering a question at the end of a longish worksheet — which prevent him from demonstrating the kind of administrative mastery that satisfies a formal school curriculum. He's not failing, not by a long shot, but that doesn't seem like enough.
The upshot of all of this is that Charlie spends his time at school, the biggest part of his day, feeling dispirited, unmotivated, and unseen. His significant gifts go unappreciated and undeveloped. He notices it, and he feels angry. And although I understand (and have myself succumbed to) the temptation to roll your eyes and mutter, "Suck it up, kid," this past spring I bucked my own substantial prejudices long enough to start asking myself, Wait, why exactly should he suck it up?
I accept that, irrespective of the talents, the love, and the efforts of the individuals within it, the public school's first job is to see that our child performs as well as his cohort. By contrast, our job as his parents is to help him perform as well as he can. If there's an environment where he might feel excited about what he's learning, why shouldn't we try it? If there's the chance that a different model could let him feel invested in his education instead of alienated by it, why wouldn't we look into it? If we can let him know that that matters, we're listening, we care — well, I can't see much that we have to lose by trying Hippie Do As You Please School.
This has gone longer than I thought it would. (You've gone old and gray by now, my love, but you still look really good.) I promise I'll be back to talk specifically about HDAYPS, to answer any questions any few remaining readers have, to react defensively to even the slightest perceived criticism — hahahahaaaa, as if a blogger would ever do that — and to freak the fuck out over my own significant ambivalence while there's still time to change our minds.