In the Real World, Spelling Counts: Helping Kids Get Past Invented Spelling

Once I got over its blatant cuteness, it occurred to me that this little essay about our now deceased parakeet, Dundee, is a good example of “invented spelling.” At this time of year, when parents are just getting used to teacher expectations, I thought the subject would make an interesting post. As the parent of four grown children and former remedial reading teacher, I think I’ve got the street cred.

Invented spelling is what young children generally use once they have learned some phonics, but have not yet had enough visual exposure to words to memorize spellings. In addition, they have not yet learned (been taught) to think through spelling at a meta-cognitive level, applying conventional spelling rules and generalizations. 
When they invent spellings, children simply write the sounds

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Betsy DeVos: Inexperienced and Unqualified – and Anti-Public Schools

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has not one day of experience as a professional educator and has never held public office. Not a good sign.

She and her children all attended private schools due to abundant family resources. She therefore wants to give poor children the same opportunities. The same options. Or so she says.

Break out the violins.

In this teacher’s humble opinion, the best thing for most children – almost all, I would say – is a good neighborhood public school. One they can walk to, if possible. A school where children have friends that live nearby (remember when kids didn’t require a two week-in-advance play-date appointment?).

Parents need their kids’ schools to serve as a hub for the community. To be places where they can meet neighbors at a rummage sale or pot-luck supper. A place to build friendships. And where they can pick up a sick son or daughter in a matter of minutes, without traveling across town.

If one of her privatized schools doesn’t work out for a family, I heard DeVos say in an interview, they can select another one.

Is she serious?

Changing schools is traumatic. The parent – usually a mother who’s already got her hands full – needs to spend time doing research before school-hopping. But privatized schools are not accountable to anyone except themselves. If a parent has a problem with anything, tough nuggies.

Teachers’ unions are up in arms about Trump’s pick for the nation’s top educator. Why would a president pick someone who wants to destroy the most important vehicle for elevating the masses? I think the answer is plain enough. 

For corporate giants who require cheap labor, the masses need to stay where they are!

But teachers deserve to be paid what they’re worth and have sufficient benefits. They want schools that are regulated and accountable for students’ progress. Schools that won’t close down, tossing both teachers and students out on their ears when the profiteers call it quits – which has happened in DeVos’s state of Michigan, where a high percentage of schools have been privatized, due to her influence.

She makes it no secret. DeVos’s real aim is pushing for-profit schools, which she couches in beneficent terms like “school choice,” “charter schools,” and “vouchers,” making it seem as though poor families deserve what families like hers can have in a heartbeat.

But I for one am tired of hearing conservative Christians promote ministries-for-profit while posturing as saviors of mankind. Next thing we know Chick-Fil-A, the Christian Conservatives’  favorite fast-food restaurant, will be running the country’s school lunch program.

I can’t help but question: Is it really the gospel of Jesus Christ that’s on her family’s mind, or the funneling of tax payer money into corporate hands? To me, for-profit education reeks of a philosophy steeped in social Darwinism. (A nasty old bugger!) This 19th century albatross perpetuated the idea that the highest social and economic classes should take advantage of the less fortunate due to their “evolutionary” flaws. It promoted a racist agenda that encouraged the cream to stay at top of the social pyramid – while the masses floundered at the bottom.

In the past, however, public education, like the military, has been the source of upward mobility, moving people into the middle class like a great equalizer. But it has not been doing a good job of it in the past quarter-century. The effects of globalization required that our children not have quite so much general knowledge, and much maneuvering has happened on the pedagogical front, pushed into schools by non-profit-funded educational gurus like the late education-reformer Ted Sizer. His “less is more” mumbo-jumbo required massive teacher reeducation on the nine principles of his “Coalition of Essential Schools,” which became widespread in the 1990s.

It was then that I learned about the new paradigm. No longer was the teacher the teacher. She was a facilitator, and the student was to be in charge of his own learning. This changed everything. Yet no teacher or administrator offered me this information. I had to dig it out.

In my view, education reformers threw the baby out with the bathwater. Under Bill Clinton and Goals 2000 there were many reform models. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Pew, among other foundations, provided the grant money to fund the change-agents.

But here’s the thing: Children need to know what they don’t know. Otherwise they end up an arrogant lot with inappropriate levels of self-esteem and weak basic skills. In some schools, a third-grader may know what a simile is, but see no reason to copy a word correctly when it’s placed in front of him. A class may be taught about primary sources, but be clueless about capitalization and punctuation.  A cut-and-color worksheet featuring gingerbread houses and gingerbread men is presented to kindergarten children who have never tasted gingerbread. Is nobody minding the store?

When children in elementary school are given developmentally and cognitively accelerated learning concepts, they are pushed too quickly into abstract thinking before they are ready for it. Some middle school children are so lacking in fine motor skills they cannot hold a pencil properly. Why is this? Textbooks are no longer viewed as essential learning tools, which only adds to the confusion. I wince when I think how little factual knowledge students will have when they graduate.

But DeVos’s pay-for-play leadership is not the answer to these problems. What we need is an understanding that children cannot learn when they are under stress at home. Parents and other primary caregivers must gain an understanding of how abundant positive interactions build brain circuitry and bonding, for healthy cognitive and emotional development. Parents and teachers must also understand effects of childhood developmental trauma that stems from a lack of such interactions, leading to neglect, and how such neglect negatively impacts brain development. That’s just for starters. Then we need greater empathy in the classroom.  More eye-contact and compassion. And the belief that every child should develop to his or her highest potential. But teachers must also understand their role in polishing these diamonds-in-the-rough. A diamond cannot polish itself.

My term for it is sweet striving. It’s when a child is encouraged to make something beautiful and not give up, but put in their best effort.

DeVos’s realm is wealthy indeed. And vast. And it is hard to stop anyone whose money wields such power.

Quoted in this Jan. 11, 2017, Cosmopolitan article, DeVos said, “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.

“We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.

“People like us must surely be stopped.”

I’m not sure what she’s implying in her last statement. Except that it’s a projection of what she believes people would like to do to her and those who support her. And she would be right. FFG

Surprised by Snow

We never seemed to know when a snow storm was coming. Back in the day we didn’t have Doppler Weather Radar. Or maybe we just didn’t care.

But no big deal. Most mothers were stay-at-home, and expert in the science of unjamming snowsuit zippers, and pulling on leggings and mittens.

My siblings and I cheered when we heard the hoped-for announcement over a local radio station. We couldn’t wait to set out for Frenchy’s Hill. Somehow, all memories of frozen fingers and toes from last winter had been erased from our minds.

As we loaded up on french toast or scrambled eggs – whatever Mom had on the stove – we’d hear the early scraaape-scraaape-scrape of snow shovels on the sidewalk. Someone clearing a path. Chester Smith, the old man next door, used to yell if you stepped on his grass.  Once I shoveled his walk as a favor. He poked his head outside and grumbled, “Come here and I’ll give you a quarter!”

I didn’t even want it.

Today, once again, we have a snow day.

I was notified of the mini-vacation by the school district’s website. Red letters flashed at the top of the screen: CLASSES CANCELED TODAY, FRIDAY, JAN. 6, 2017.  Now I can hunker down, instead of substitute teaching a bunch of seventh graders whose lack of understanding about what it means to “read” anything can only be described as a gaping hole. Continue reading

Alt-Right Son Needs Reminder of Christ’s Message

As the oldest of six children, I was forever trying to make everyone to get along. “Let’s play Monopoly,” I’d offer when our parents went out. But they were a wild bunch, my siblings, and basically out of control. I couldn’t do much about it. But I didn’t know any better, being a kid myself.  Maybe that’s why I’m such a peace-lover today. I worry when parents do stupid things to hurt their children, and when children hurt their parents. And I worry about the new trend of unmasking hatred, a horrible omen unveiled by our president elect.

That’s what’s happening in a little ski town in Montana, where cheerful Christmas lights strung between rustic shops belie the fact that a son’s alt-right political organization, which is based in that town, stands to destroy his family and the peace of its residents.

The son is Richard Spencer, a prodigal if there ever was one. The man ought to hang his head in shame. A building his parents own in the resort town of Whitefish, MT, is the scene of local protests, especially due to Spencer’s anti-Semitic views.

While the parents, Rand and Sherry Spencer, seem to be trying to separate themselves from their son’s alt-right opinions, evident in a Dec. 17 op-ed letter published on the Daily Interlake’s webside, they fall short of disavowing him. “As parents we love our son. We are not accustomed to the spotlight. Furthermore, we feel we are not part of the story, nor do we wish to be a part of this story, as our son is a grown man.”

Spencer, or course, thinks he’s doing his patriotic duty. His views, which are fringe Right Wing, make the Tea Party seem innocuous by comparison.

As a result, his parents’ names and reputation have been tarnished, and their tenant business-owners have suffered financial consequences.

Is it fair? I think not.

I remember when my younger brother paraded around the high school stage waving a sign in support of the George Wallace during the 1968 presidential race. The late four-term governor of Louisiana was avowed supporter of segregation, even calling out the National Guard to keep black students from entering a university. That year Wallace ran against Richard Nixon, a Republican, and Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat.

I never felt more embarrassed, sitting in the auditorium that day. My best friends were of different races, and I was proud to know them: one was Jewish, another an Estonian immigrant, and another black. We ate lunch together every day for three years.

To add fuel to the fire, a Neo-Nazi site, The Daily Stormer, is doing a “human flesh search” on the Whitefish protesters, many of whom are Jewish, and publishing their personal contact information and photos.

Where will the hatred end?

This is Christmastide, so let’s look at the truth, and the reason for Christmas in the first place: Christ said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

Love your brothers and sisters. Even if you don’t want to. Because each of us needs to be the change we want to see in the world. FFG

Four Ways to Value Friends and Family – Without Buying A Single Thing

I used to think I couldn’t visit a friend without taking along some little gift – a loaf of homemade bread, usually.

Fortunately, I got over it, eventually realizing that most of the time, my humble presence was sufficient. I learned that what happens during our visit is far more important than my latest recipe.

What counts is giving people value.

In making others feel valued, we reflect how God sees them – beautiful and perfect. So – what we do and say when we are with loved ones matters. It matters a lot.

I must admit, I haven’t always been great at this. Not even what I’d call “good.” (But thank God for neuroplasticity. The brain – and our habits – can change.)

In my experience,  it’s important to consciously zero in on what truly makes people feel loved and respected. Or at least try.

Here’s my short list:

  1. Making eye-contact. We all know people whose eyes roam around the room while they’re talking to us. They’re distracted. Unable to focus. And how does that make us feel? We wonder if they’re even listening to what we have to say! Believe me, I know about distracted people.  I used to be one of them. Making eye-contact conveys respect. It says, “I appreciate you.”
  2. Being still.That means being present, especially when someone needs us to listen. You’ve heard the saying, “We are not human “doings,” we are human “beings.” (Although I will be the first to support good works.) Remaining still makes us mentally available. It allows someone to “empty their cup”and tells them they are deserving of being “heard.” Even a small child. Especially a small child. We simply give the other person our time and attention – and listen with empathy.  When my older daughter was trying to choose a college, she’d visited all the schools where she’d been accepted, and already attended a departmental event at one school. But she was still undecided. Then another invitation arrived in the mail, for a special meet-the-department chair event on a particular Saturday. But she really wasn’t excited about going.  So early that morning, I went into her room and lay down beside her. What a tough age – and a tough decision! I mentioned that we could go, and be there in two hours. Would she like to take another look?” In our time on the bed, she revealed that the first time she visited the school, students had led the discussions. She’d been disappointed in their presentation. But she’d never mentioned any of that. Now, with this bit of information, I proposed she give it another shot, because an actual professor would be speaking.  We went. She loved it, and now it’s all history. Remember, you can never tell what impact your being there will have on someone’s life.
  3. Touching. Touch is the earliest form of connection. It’s what babies feel in the womb, even before they can hear, around four months gestation. For babies and young children, touch is not optional, but essential for weight-gain and physical growth as well as social-emotional development. I carried all my children in a red corduroy Snugli, keeping them close. I recall one night when my youngest, then three, tucked my hand under her cheek as she fell asleep. She wanted me to stay with her and my hand gave her comfort. With teens, we need to take our cues from them – never forcing it – but responding in a way that respects boundaries and is comfortable for their personalities. In some cultures, men openly hug in greeting. Women are seen walking arm in arm. (Two of my husband’s cousins do this and I love it!). Reaching out to touch another’s arm or shoulder while talking, or hold a hand, shows the person we value who God made them in the flesh. And there’s nothing more accepting than that.
  4. Saying their name. Yup. Pretty simple. You can give someone value just by using their name – albeit in the right tone. I was recently touched when my mom casually inserted my name into a sentence during a conversation. To me it meant, “I am speaking directly to you, no one else.” Doing this brings the conversation into the present moment. It’s a powerful way of telling someone you really “see” them.

Valuing the people in our lives is what we are meant to do – lifting them up, helping them become more. And we could all do a little more of it.  FFG.