20 April 2010

To be content…

Gretchen Rubin, a writer who started the Happiness Project, posted the other day on her Facebook page: Happiness is a choice: Agree or Disagree. Reading the comments was an enlightening experience for me. I tend to agree with the statement, mostly because you can make a choice to accept the circumstances in which you find yourself – in other words to accept the status quo, or you can make a choice not to accept them. If you choose not to accept your circumstances, do something about them – don't just wallow! In this way, we choose whether or not the circumstances of our lives allow us to be happy. Many people expressed the same idea, but some brought up the bugbear of unchangeable negative circumstances and physical/mental ailments that restrict our happiness. After thinking about it for the last few days, I have concluded that being happy is less about a euphoric feeling and more about a deep feeling of rightness; a contentment if you will.

I have suffered more than half my life with major depression. Even with medication, I tend to be more sad than most people I know. Despite this, I consider myself a "happy" person. Why? Because the really important things in my life – my husband, my son, my parents and siblings and friends, serve to remind me that I have been given great things. Right now I am finishing my doctoral dissertation. It's been very tough for us these last few years – my husband left a job that was enough, financially, for us to make it, but too much, psychologically and emotionally, for him to thrive in. This left us with great uncertainty in our income. I learned from this uncertainty that the important things are not what house we live in, but that we are here to live at all. It is not the car we drive, but that we have the ability to get where we need to go. It's not about what we have, it's about what we do with what we have. Five years ago, I made a choice to go to graduate school. It has led to great sacrifice in our family (I want a vacation!) but will soon result in my PhD. Has it been worth it? I think so.

So about happiness: choice or not? Absolutely. Yes, you will undoubtedly experience circumstances that make you feel unhappy. You may even experience physical or emotional ailments that make it hard to be happy. Someone once said bravery is not the absence of fear, it is perseverance in the face of that fear. Happiness is not the absence of negativity, it is perseverance in the face of adversity.

Thanks for reading.



19 April 2010

Good kids/bad kids

Or maybe it should be good parents/bad parents...Did you ever get the feeling that despite your best efforts you are a bad parent? Or sometimes wonder, "why did I end up with such a bad kid?" I do. I don't know if this comes from the accurate diagnosis that I am a bad parent, or if I truly have a bad kid, though I tend to think neither of these is really true. I am beginning to think that (except in certain truly exceptional cases) most of us aren't "bad" parents, and most of our kids aren't "bad" kids. I think we are just doing the best job we can with the resources we have - and sometimes we mess up.
What led to this today? Jay had one of his "bad" days - days when it is a struggle just to write a few words or (God forbid) sentences. Days when it is like pulling teeth to get him to participate in his own learning. Days when I wonder if we are doing the right thing trying to keep him out of government run schools. Do we expect too much? Do we incorrectly assume he knows things that he doesn't know? I don't know, honestly. I think his problem is lack of "want to" rather than lack of knowledge, but what if I am making a mistake?
I guess the point of today's post is to remind everyone to try to be a bit more understanding. Everyone around you is going through something difficult. Maybe a bad home school day is not much in the grand scheme of things, but right now it feels pretty big. I *know* it will be better in hindsight, but right now it feels pretty bad.
Thanks for reading,

15 April 2010

Thoughts on standardized testing

As my son prepares for his CRCT ( Criterion Referenced Competency Tests) I ponder the question of standardized testing. In general, I am opposed to it. Why? Because it really doesn’t measure what we want it to measure. In Jay’s case, the state wants to know if the first graders are learning what they need to be learning in order to proceed to second grade. In the case of Jay’s school, the state wants to know if a virtual academy leaves students as well prepared for grade advancement as a traditional brick-and-mortar school. However, there are problems with the method. Jay’s classroom is the kitchen table and his teachers are Mom and Dad. How does this prepare him for three days of testing, 3 hours per day, in a room full of strangers? One of the reasons we chose to do the virtual school from home was his difficulties in sitting still in a traditional classroom setting. How can his educational achievement be measured in that setting? My fear is that he will not do well on the CRCT – not because he is not smart enough or does not know enough – but because he will not cope well with the environmental change. We have done our best to prepare him, but how exactly am I to find a room full of strangers in which to place him for practice?
Moving on from the ludicrous idea of testing first graders, I contemplate the standardized testing woes of my students. As a tutor, I work with students who are preparing to take the ACT, the SAT, Georgia’s CRCTs, and Georgia’s EOCTs (End Of Course Test). While I think the EOCTs are perhaps the best of the bunch, do they really address the underlying issue – is the subject being taught to the state standard? When did we stop trusting our teachers’ ability to adequately test our students in the classroom environment? Was it when we stopped allowing failing grades? Is the answer to the issue of failing grades really a standardized test that every student must take? I don’t know. I know from my own work experience that many students who prepare for these standardized tests are not learning material from the curriculum for the sake of learning; they are instead learning material from a test-prep booklet in order to pass the test. They know just enough to pass the tests, because passing the tests has become the be-all, end-all.
My college-bound students fare no better. Preparing for the SAT and the ACT gives them ulcers and migraines – not to mention what it does to their parents! Too many students are convinced that a good score on these tests is the only way they will be admitted to college. Yes, many colleges do look at these scores as part of their admissions process, but the student’s application is more than the sum of his or her scores! Colleges consider all aspects of the individual – their grades, their class ranking, their extra-curricular activities, their community involvement, and yes, their test scores – in making that admission decision. Frankly, students who do wish to prepare for standardized tests would be better served spending 10 minutes per day reading and practicing math problems than spending 10 hours over a 5 week period being tutored twice per week. Just don’t tell that to the parents that hire me! ;-)
In the end, what can we, as parents and educators do? Not much. We prepare our kids to the best of our ability, and remind them that they are so much more than their score on an exam.