Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wake Up Call

ROFL. My head is in such a spin that I have forgotten why I chose this title, when I first decided to 'do a quick post' over an hour ago.

Oh yeah, maybe that's why.

I really need to start carving my time into chunks again.

The kids are getting antsy at the time I spend on the computer (I wouldn't slope off to the darn thing if they weren't totally involved in their own stuff in the first place - but no, I guess I'm meant to be on call.)

I have all these T-shirt slogans whipping round my head (and yes my mind works in a way similar to Zilla's), so I'm imagining innuendo so the T shirts can be worn in front of the pure of heart without causing offence, yet aren't so tactful that nobody at all gets the point.

Have you seen the one with a lollipop on it and the slogan 'It aint gonna suck itself'? Marketing genius. Thats the level I seem to be aiming for.

Then I joked with ME Strauss that I wanted to be an honorary member of the SOBs and she offered me full membership. I feel neither successful nor outstanding (least of all successful) so in the past two or three days I doubled my readership. Bloody Statcounter went on the blink and didn't pick up the figures, but Webstadt did, and they are picky. They only list figures for individual visitors, not pages views nor return visitors.

I've got enough out of them to know I doubled my readership and enough out of statcounter to know that I seriously reduced my returners and page turns.

So. It wasn't worth it, but heres how you do it, if numbers are worth more to you than friends: Go to MSNBC Newsweek, read the top story, read a couple of the related front page stories, and do a post linking to them all. Newsweek has a Technorati link page showing what bloggers are saying on the subject and as long as you are among the earliest or most recent to post on the matter, people click through in tens and hundreds. They don't stay, they don't come back, but they click through.

Meanwhile, if your indepth political hot potato of choice doesnt suit all of your regulars, you slowly lose the guys that matter - especially if you have a brain warp like I did and post on the exact same subject three days in a row. Hic dur blurble and sorry.

Anyways, I feel equipped to take advantage of ME's lovely offer now, because I've done 'successful' as defined by page ranking systems etc - I just didn't like it.

The BIG NEWS today (and the reason I went off on one about education) - I got an unofficial phone call from the County Council this morning, to tell me that, owing to additional information provided by the Educational Psychologist, panel had looked again and were going to give my son his special needs statement after all. WHOOPEE!!!!!

Of course it has nothing to do with me standing in the school office for two hours yesterday, photocopying evidence for a tribunal. Of course not. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we are all happy to breathe a sigh of relief and put the last three or four years of shenanigans down to a communication error, because that ways its nice to everybody and everybody can be nice to each other.

Well I say that, but theres no way in hell that I am going to let go off my right to tribunal until I see what support they have put in place. If it still runs short of what the school thinks he needs, then I may just keep on keeping on.

So - T-shirts, visitor numbers, accolades and the bizarre sensation akin to putting down a heavy bag (my brain and my arms feel all floaty) are the things that have amused me today. Them and eating constantly, for something to do, to contain the excitement.

OK so I COULD have written a formal letter, paid a couple of bills and filled in a couple of essential, date-specific forms by now. For could, read 'should'. I guess I will have to do all that in the next two hours, so the kids don't berate me for still being on the computer when they come home.

But I think I'll just go and have another cup of coffee and another slice of toast, first........................

P.S. The image has no relevance AT ALL. I just like it. It makes me feel better.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Sausage Factory Mentality

Husband had a day off work today.

Maybe you think its a little early to be speaking of that in the past tense, but its now half past three and the children are home from school. Life is noisy and structured again and complete freedom of choice is gone for another day.

I know too many mothers who outperform the men at work yet still joke that they go to the office for a rest. If you ever happen to hear that line, believe it.

I went to collect the children on my own - after all it's freezing cold out there and Husband took them to school today in the first place.

Our son has Asperger's Syndrome - aka Absent Minded Professor Syndrome and for that he is different from many. Daughter, in spite of emerging from the same gene pool, is his polar opposite; neat, structured, willing, tidy, pleasant, conscientious, patient. I love them both to bits although neither is representative of their home environment - I keep joking that Daughter is a throw back to my Mother In Law, who we visit as infrequently as possible. Nonetheless, all things considered my two seem to represent the extremes being highlighted by the recent article The Trouble With Boys, ie the way that the current school system is ignoring certain learning styles, speeds and needs.

I'd argue the toss with Newsweek about that title - the trouble isn't with the boys at all but with the schooling system. I'd also dispute the byline that boys are any more kinetic than girls. Girls have just as much desire to act on things, its just that the female brain seems, by training or inclination, to run an audio digital checklist somewhere between the opportunity and the decision to move. A checklist that goes along the lines of 'would the teacher like it, would mummy tell me off, have I been told this is appropriate.' That's exactly what they are saying the boys do, come puberty. "Would I be laughed at?" is a terrifying thought that runs constantly through the heads of most teenagers, whatever gender, and I think that in all cases the supposed opinion of the immediate peer group holds more sway than that of any adult, male or female.

I leave it to you to discuss whether girls are more sensible or simply more biddable and whether or not the two conditions are the same. Girly girls are certainly easier to educate (as in, not so much work), but you can decide whether being able to rationalise before acting, when that process relies on considering the opinions of others, makes the young female brain more inclined toward leadership, or servitude.
Perhaps we should even be training/freeing females (take your pick) to be more impulsive; not that this would please any educators who have reveled in increasing classroom structure and less need for creative thinking on their part.

Back to my own children. As an example of how male and female brains are built differently (and they are, females form multiple slim connections between left and right hemisphere whilst males tend toward one chunky connection like a fibre optic cable), we have had to give up on family conversations on the way to and from school. Instead we have half way markers, and speak on the topics of choice for one child, then the other.

This morning on the way to school, Daughter, 9, spoke on the pom-poms her class is making at school, using two circles of card and some wool. Son, 11, wanted to talk about renewable power sources, cold fusion and eliminating greenhouse gases, nothing remotely related to the day ahead.

On the way home from school after a day of input, Daughter recounted how she sat next to her best friend at lunch, how she got a hug from the first aid lady after getting a football in the face during (soccer) practice, and how I would need to wash her muddy school plimsolls.

Son made a minor comment about a girl who wrote him a love letter, but that was the end of any feedback from his school day and then he wanted to design memory downloads so you could 'remember' how to fly a helicopter, (like on The Matrix, except he hasn't seen the movie) and wondered how we could train people to access every memory they have ever stored so that the right ones could be copied, zipped and downloaded.

We are all on several sliding scales between extremes and there is no definitive male, female or even human baseline for attitudes or learning styles, independence, tastes, values or opinion. Some of those factors are hardwired and some aren't, but that's not the point.

The scale of relevance here is that some of us will always see the detail and some will see the bigger picture and most will be somewhere between the two. The fact that these inclinations fall into two camps broadly comparative to gender does not in any way make the correlation a rule.

It is the job of the educator to make the material of interest to the extremes and to everyone in between, to appeal to those who need first to be enthused that this is relevant to them, as well as to those who pay attention unquestioningly.

To suggest that an entire gender, let alone children in total, should automatically be of the latter persuasion is unbelievably crass.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Trouble With Boys

I've found a brilliant article over at Newsweek about boys failing at school.

It's really very indepth and goes on for a few pages, but made me reevaluate the problem with linear schooling as I saw it.

Right now I am fighting for a statement of special educational needs for my son who has Aspergers Syndrome. If he is eventually awarded the assistance that the Educational Psychologist says he needs, the likelihood is that he will be given a female teaching assistant, but now I have read this article I wonder if that is such a good thing.

I especially loved the observation in the article that young men starting out at senior school, 11 to 13 or older, are entirely preoccupied, like teenage primates, with finding their place in the pack. Their world view is totally wrapped up in whether this or that activity makes them look weak. If asking for help appears weak then they just don't ask.

I am fascinated by the amazing effect, in one study, of providing every boy on one program with a male mentor, because somehow then, academic success ceases to be girly, weak, irrelevant and becomes something that earns them the respect of a 'strong' male.

Yes ok so it goes against the pc view of all people as equal, but this is about teaching a child in the throes of testosterone addled misconception. Sometimes you have to step into their world to reach them, and that doesn't mean admitting defeat or in any way subscribing to the male superiority theory. It just means accepting that, during puberty at least, male and female hormones result in you effectively trying to teach the same thing to two different species.

Its not fair to penalise them for not being girls.

Addendum: A feminist view, here.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bl**dy Men

Or rather more specifically, one bloody man.

Husband has blogged a very short but completely true conversation from last night. Do NOT ask me how my Aspie Son's mind graduated from the torments of true love, via the intricacies of Star Wars on his Gameboy, to the potential pleasures and dangers of masturbation. It just did. This is the kid who looked up from playing 007 over Christmas to thoughtfully comment that "James Bond, he's a bit of a sex pest really, isn't he?"

Apparently wooing a girl in every port is amoral, in Son's world. Its not enough of an issue to stop playing the game; just an observation, so it seems I have a deep, romantic little soul here, with an inbuilt tendency toward (at least serial) monogamy.

Anyway, here's the latest as reported by Husband (the evil swine):

This evening my 11 year old come out with a classic…..

Sitting playing his X-box he looks up at me blogging and the conversation proceeds as follows.

SON “Dad if you wank can it kill you”?

After picking myself off the floor…….
ME “it will make you go blind”…..
SON “Your joking”.
ME “Look at me I have to wear glasses”
SON “ No honestly can it harm you”?
ME “ Every time you do it God kills a kitten”!
Daughter (9) screams “it was you that killed my kitten”! to her brother running crying from the room….
Taken ten minutes to calm her down and apologise.

This is mostly true. Daughter also screamed that she hated both of them, wailed all the way to the other end of the house then wailed her way back to just outside the living room door, to a position suited to shouting sobbing protestations from a safe distance. Scarlett O'Hara, eat your heart out. I was cracking up. My ribs hurt.

Husband in sweet, helpful voice: Oh, darling, its not true, and look, mummy's crying too! (I was, sort of)

Daughter, enraged: She's not! She's bloody laughing! Waaaah!

She lamented her way up the house again but slowly came back. Once I had her by my side to talk to, this is how it went:

Me: Darling, rotten daddy was just winding Son up. Do you know what wank means?

Daughter stares blankly

Me: It means playing with your private tickly bits.

Daughter stays wide eyed

Me: And sometimes when boys are growing up, they wake up in the morning and their willy sticks out and feels even more tickly, and then sometimes they play with it.

Daughter (with a big smile like she's got the point): Oh! Daddy does that!

Me: Eh? What? When?

Daughter: You know, when he's lying on the sofa with the telly button (does action of one hand clicking button, other hand defensively clasping crotch)

Me: Oh that! No, thats a bit rude, but wanking usually involves going into your pants and getting it out so you can tug on it properly. Its private.

I have to say that there was more to the earlier discussion, specifically I had remarked that fiddling about can only make little boys go blind if they poke their own eyes afterward before washing their hands. Because of this, Daughter led our current conversation on to wonder, in hushed and gossipy tones, whether her brother had washed his hands recently.

She then forgot all about her lost (and presumably deceased) kitten and skipped off happily (smugly, even), pausing only to eye her brother up and down and point at him in a "haha you're mucky and rude!" kind of a way.


Friday, January 13, 2006

The Love Letter Saga Continues

From here.

Son went back to school yesterday and like a secret agent tried desperately to find a chance to palm his reply to the young lady without anyone noticing. He never found his opportunity, in spite of her finding three or four non-reasons to hover quite close in unspoken hope during breaktimes.

They were in each others breathing space, in public, unable to say a word, and apparently it was torture.

He and his letter of reply went back to school again today, but, somewhere along the line, parted company, and this is where he realised quite how expert he had been at speaking in code.

The letter was handed in to his teacher who saw it was addressed to "?" and saw the self effacing way he had belittled his move up to the top maths set. In truth his admirer had been on the same table as him before he was moved up and had made a lot of how clever he is and how sad she is. He had replied that her handwriting was wonderful and that the silly maths test might have made him 'look like Einstein' (sic) but that top set wasn't all that wonderful.

Teacher asked him about the letter. He dared to make a lunge for it and insisted it was very private. She concluded, from that, that there were deep feelings involved, and that these were to do with top maths set not being wonderful.

There followed a very long (if one sided) heart to heart while she tried to get him to talk about his fears, stressed that he should bring worries like this to her attention, but managed to get no feedback from him at all barring a Bart like insistence that it 'wasn't him'; that his mother (me) had written most of it anyway, entirely against his wishes of course. Thanks Son.

She didn't buy that and so it went on and she was reduced to examining possible scenarios out loud. "Well now, if....." and all that.

She was doing her best and in the end gave him the letter back, saying he wasn't to bring any more like that into school but was to talk to her, instead.

After school he told me all about his thwarted love life and his annoyance at realising someone else must have found and read the letter, to find his name on it and give it to the right teacher. He was imagining worst case scenarios and generally cringing, but by the time we got home I had a rough picture of what really happened.

I've just got off the phone from speaking to Teacher, who was mercifully still in the building after hours on a Friday. It took quite a while for her to come to the phone although the secretary who went to get her was back in the office almost immediately, and I suspect she steeled herself by completing other things before picking up the handset, expecting a different tone of conversation.

Meanwhile son was furious that his business was being spread to all and sundry, but once Teacher realised that the whole thing was to do with respecting the wishes of an admirer from the lower maths set who had sworn undying love and also sworn him to absolute secrecy, in short that his total lack of cooperation was to do with a lady's honour, she started expressing relief, then laughing, and ended up aww-ing and cooing about how sweet it all was.

Son currently remains stony faced (may he never discover poker), trying to decide whether to admit his own relief that his teacher isn't even more angry (to him, plain speaking of concern/forcing him to listen = angry), or to berate me for the next 48 hours solid that now the entire teaching staff will know and it will be all my fault.

I think I got away with it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Email #22

Dear Mrs School SENCo (and whom it may concern)

At the provisional planning meeting you mentioned the urgent need to plan transition for Son to go to Senior school, particularly the stresses of a lunch hall as an unstructired situation, came up.

I have put Son on packed lunches. I know that at this time of year, each class eats packed lunch indoors in their own classroom, and this is probably the ideal time to begin to introduce him to practice eating with larger groups, before the weather improves and they are all outdoors with even more pupils.

If there is an adult in with class 6G at lunchtime (or if there could be) could we please allow him to eat lunch in with his peer group (instead of in the special needs room) in rehearsal for transition? I know this is an experiment.

Many thanks


P.S. Son seems to insist on learning the hard way, in anything, so if he wants to leave part or all of his lunch I am fine with that. I understand this is a current bone of contention.

Oh The Drama

Son is 'off sick' today. At eleven years old and in the final year of junior school, he has received his first secret, 'tell no-one or I'll die' love letter. In very flowery lettering, after all the warnings to tell nobody, she declared that she loves him from the bottom of her everlasting heart. Quote. He is to find out who she is and then come and see her about going public.

I've had two days now of him veering between demanding that her wishes be respected, and sitting there staring at it mumbling things like 'Oh my God this is shit scary.' Yesterday he realised that even the paper was scented.

I've watched him procrastinate as hard as he possibly can about writing a letter back, although in his worldview it would be unthinkable to just walk up to the girl that he has been told (but can't prove) wrote the note. A written reply it has to be, and he hates writing.

Yesterday, inspite of her warnings, word had obviously crept out from her side of things and he was inundated with pupils, even from other years, asking him if he was in love with Ms X. With no written reply to pass via her friend who is playing postman, he decided to fend them all off with 'That's private information and I can't tell you.'

At least the fear of being bullied and belittled by some of the nosier boys in his class has abated, albeit only under the new sensation that every pair of eyes in the school will be on him until they meet and hold hands; or not.

Today, waking to realise that he still hadn't put his thoughts to paper, he developed the kind of angst that goes to the stomach. Grey, listless, panicky and veering constantly between wanting to go to school and wanting to hide under a rock whilst doing an excellent impression of a drama queen throughout for a solid hour and a half, he wore me down. I sent his sister to school by taxi and phoned in to say he had stomach cramps and was off sick.

I was looking for the picture here, which about covers it really, when he asked if he could use his dad's computer. That was it.

There is now a 208 word love letter ready to be printed off, composed, corrected and completed in under half an hour. School would be so proud; he certainly is; being decided that he has stated his feelings plainly. Well plainly enough that if the letter gets stolen he won't be a laughing stock.

It starts with a smiley, ends with yours happily and tells her how impressed he is - that it 'took a lot of guts'(sic) to write the first letter, which remains secret as requested.

Well, not that secret obviously, now his rotten mother has blogged it - but he doesn't know that.

The stomach ache is gone and replaced by a silly grin. He can't wait to get to school but at this precise moment feels it will have to wait until tomorrow because going in late, today, would be 'too obvious.' His words.

Meantime he has gone in search of his personal CD to listen to some music - something fulfilling and uplifting and levelling, something that makes him feel like things are all working out. In his case, that's Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches (Crazy in the coconut - that boy needs therapy.)

I love him!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Email #21

Hi Mrs ISO

Yes please, I'd like a little help. I expect this to go to tribunal because really I think that if County were going to look again, word would have got out before Christmas, but I am waiting for a copy of the letter to County from school, and also to find out if/when the Ed psych wrote in with her own statement, so those items could have delayed things a little, if Mrs New-caseworker waited to receive them.

I was told I could have a copy of the meeting notes that my advocate wrote up for your files, and would appreciate that as soon as convenient. If tribunal involves attending a meeting (I don't know whats involved) then I would definitely appreciate advice and possibly moral support/company, in short as much help as I can get.

Many thanks


Email #20

Dear Cheryl

Thanks for the copy - please let us know if you require any further support and if not what the outcome of the appeal is

With best wishes

Information and Support Officer

Email #19

Dear Mrs New-caseworker

Christmas and form filling got in the way, but I want to personally thank you for attending the meeting late last year, about Lewis. I appreciate it was quite a way to come and ran on outside office hours; so, thank you.

I also want to let you know that I now have a receipt from the SEND tribunal team for my application, although an appeal number is yet to be advised.

I was unable to take a copy of the application for myself (no shops in Seaford with a photocopier and school was closed), but the initial form has a very small box for reasons. For your information I said in as many words that:

Lewis has Asperger syndrome with attendent dyslexic/dyspraxic difficulties

This is the second time application for assessment & statement has gone to stage 2 yet received a note in lieu

Lewis is about to go up to senior school.

Both the Ed Psych and Senco at his current school have said and are prepared to say again that he needs a statement.

The note in Lieu was apparently awarded based on some sign of academic strengths

These are unlikely to be shows of true potential, compared with the 98% certainty that he is actually a gifted child

These improvements in a restricted area of the curriculum would not in any case have become evident without the school consistently helping him at a level well beyond SEN+, including, this year, 12.5 hours per week of paid one-on-one, plus at many other times being the primary focus of the TA supposedly in attendance for the benefit of whole class.

I have recorded the Ed Psych and SENCo's opinions that this level of support is in itself not enough - their opinion being that he needs even better provision than that in a primary school setting, and yet more to access any education in a larger, freer senior school setting. In other words, I guess, that if his current statemented-style level of provision were actually sanctioned by a statement, it would still need a better one.

I do hope that if it comes to tribunal we can handle this amicably, as you can see from my wording (6, 7) I would love this to be settled with no blame apportioned.

It would delight me if we could avoid this necessarily adversarial process altogether and I know your department will have received a subsequent letter from Chyngton School, so I have to ask, did you manage, yet, to convey the strength of the Educational Psychologist's statement to your superior? Or the extra information that came up concerning Lewis' so-called strengths and the levels of support the school is going over budget to provide for him in order to keep him in a classroom setting?

Was there any possibility at all that the committee might look again in light of this information rather than going direct to tribunal?

I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Wishing you a Happy New Year


P.S. Personal FYI - It seems the photographs mentioned at the meeting are working. Last time I checked he has come a lot closer to finally knowing all the names of the thirty children he has shared a classroom with for the past six years, but still has a mental block about one of the two Teaching Assistants, although she has only been in his classroom since September. (I would imagine he still hasn't got the first clue who many other staff are, or whether they have related to him briefly in the past.)
In an ideal world this kind of basic support wouldn't eat into his academic day, but then in a really ideal world, he wouldn't need it. I just hope its written in to his provision for senior school because classes and teachers change so fast there that he won't have a clue.