Once Again: Learning Perspective

Bobby, age 4, and Rick

I delayed enough on the guardianship papers last year that I got an extra month to fill them out this time, so instead of having to face checking boxes and listing deficits in December, around Bobby's birthday, I spent a half hour last night doing it as we sat together as a family watching Big Bang Theory, which we're recycling through again, much like we went through Thomas the Tank Engine and Barney when Bobby was four.

I compartmentalized to fill it out without breaking down or feeling anything too heavy, and Rick had picked up a copy of last year's paperwork so I could look from it to the new one and simply copy where appropriate.

When it was through and I handed it over to Rick so he could drop it off today, it hit me, that wave of sorrow and heart break and it lingered the rest of the evening. One of the questions is whether anything had changed that made guardianship no longer necessary followed by a question of the reasons why guardianship was still needed. I hate those questions. One's just a simple check, but the other I have to list why we can't let him manage his own life. 

And that, whether I want to feel that way or not, cuts me to the core.

I talked with Rick afterwards, trying to articulate that pain and why I felt it should be something I could let go of, not feel.

Alright, he needs help managing his daily life, reminders and prompts from all of us to get through the day, even though he's learned to set alarms on his phone to remind him (he doesn't always have his phone on him and he's an expert at turning the alarm off and forgetting to do what it was he was supposed to). 

You know what, lots of us need some help with things. Okay, he needs a little more, and all of our lives are perhaps more interdependent than so-called normal households. Interdependent. I rely on him and the girls and Rick for help with things I can't do anymore because of health issues. They gladly and freely help, just as I gladly and freely help them where they need help.

Is this really such a sad thing? When I'm not filling out crappy paperwork, I resoundingly say no.

So Rick and I talked through our feelings to get to the other side--we don't like this yearly ritual, and it hurts, but I think, maybe, it's getting a little easier to let that sorrow go.

We went through our definition of a successful life for our children.

Are they happy?
Are they of service?
Do they have what they need?

And the answer is yes.
Abundantly yes.

When Bobby was nine he had a stroke, and we learned he had a blood clotting disorder, and that Rick did too. And we had to redefine what we considered success and what mattered most when living with a disorder that could and does cause sudden death.

Is he happy? Is he of service (because everyone needs to be of service, to feel needed)? Does he have what he needs? 

We brought him home from school and home schooled him. We focused on his areas of interest. We worked at giving him a rich and fulfilling life that had challenges but that avoided negative comparisons of typically developing peers and any chance of being bullied.

Here we are, fifteen years post stroke, blessed to have not had another episode, and the answers to those questions, to our beliefs about what makes a good life, are answered in the affirmative. He is happy. He is of tremendous service. He has a good life, the life he wants.

And I, looking at his sweet face, cannot feel sorrow over that.
And will not.


Innovating Education at the Individual Level

Get a group of educators together and ask them about state-mandated testing and what it does to teaching, what it does to innovation and creativity in the classroom, and what role it plays in making students hate learning.

Do the same with a group of parents and the same with the students themselves.

I'd bet most of the three groups would at least achieve agreement on one thing: that standardized testing sucks the energy and excitement out of teaching and learning.

Instead of becoming more daring in our teaching methods at the K-12 level, we are bogging teachers down, insisting those grades being tested spend too much time on mock tests, too much time teaching students to circle this, cross out that, and bubble properly. It's make-work and it's tedious and does little for students or teachers. It makes my job as a college professor harder, too. At least so far, there's no circling this, crossing that out and bubbling in my class room. Yes, there are goals and outcomes and assessments. But so far, there isn't state mandated testing.

Students come to me ill-prepared to think, to create, to innovate. They don't know how to read and synthesize materials and they have the belief that all the work they do is tedious make-work with no real goal besides the college credit.

President Obama may pay lip service to the idea that we can "educate to innovate," and put focus on the scientific, mathematic and engineering fields and raise money and partner with businesses, but the trickle-down effect of this lip service has not manifested in the elementary classrooms where math has been turned into a meaningless, disconnected ritualized process, where science is not a challenging subject but instead a series of worksheets and vocabulary fill-in-the-blanks.

It's not education. It's warehousing. It's bureaucracy run amuck.

Lowell Milken, an educational advocate who puts his time and money into making sure that teachers and education are truly innovative, wrote, "There is something inherently optimistic about the fact that we can create and foster what our society most needs in order to flourish. And in this age of uncertainty, it's a good thing to know that far from being finite and nonrenewable, the world's most important resource—human capital—is limitless and generative. It is up to each of us to make the most of this opportunity." 

This optimism is only possible if one looks outside the traditional educational settings where governmental bureaucracies are currently strangling innovation and handicapping caring, innovative teachers by burying them under state and federal mandates that are more about filling out bubbles correctly than they are about educating the next generation.

What are frustrated educators and parents to do? Some of us reach the point that we walk away from the public school system entirely. Having tried to work within it, we realize that we don't have the time to lose. We need to change how we educate our children now. Parents turn to private schools and to home schooling. According to HSLDA, in the 2002-2003 school year, around two million school-aged children were homeschooled. And according to the HSLDA, it's making a difference: "Home school students do exceptionally well when compared with the nationwide average. In every subject and at every grade level of the ITBS and TAP batteries, home school students scored significantly higher than their public and private school counterparts" (emphasis mine).

Homeschooling, both by creating an educational plan for the child at the personal, individual level and by supplementing by using commercial products like K12 which offers a variety of plans, from online public schools, to online private schools, to individual courses allows parents and their children to innovate their children's education at the individual level.

It opens the world to the students and the freedom to explore it at their pace and to go where their interests lay. It speeds up learning and all but guarantees that they'll continue to seek out education opportunities.

Obviously, for public education to truly innovate, to create self-motivated, creative learners rather that bubble-filling automatons, the state and the federal government are going to have to back off mandated testing. Instead, long term outcomes need to be put in place. Assessment is still possible, but it ought to be meaningful assessment. It ought to be looking at students' abilities to innovate, create and self-teach. It ought to be looking at divergent thinking and problem solving. Testing has its place, but let it be done at the classroom level as the material is covered and let the material truly build on what has gone before.

Give teachers and students back the power to decide what their classroom looks like, how it functions and how it's going to achieve its goals. If we don't we're going to continue to lose our ability to compete with other nations who have embraced innovation and exceptionalism.


Sunday Morning White Noise

I've been up for awhile--no sleeping in. The first hour or so, it was me and the critters, but now it's me and Lil, side by side in the recliners with laptops properly in our laps. While I read articles I've opened from facebook links (best way to keep up with what friends are reading--a shared collective of what is interesting and passing for news), Lil does webkinz, engrossed in her game and redressing the current webkinz character she's using.

Meet the Press is on--I only occasionally watch this as no one else likes it--and I occasionally look up and listen in on the talking heads before looking back at my screen. I've got about twenty tabs opened, along with several pdf articles I've sent my American Lit students and powerpoints, too, looking for nuggets of gold to sprinkle my lectures with.  All these tabs and files open at once occasionally makes the computer hiccup and all the pages go blank and I have to refresh each of them. I would bookmark the articles, but I've learned I never come back to them and that using bookmarks, given the thousands of them I have, is a waste of time.

Rick, who worked till four in the morning, still sleeps in the bedroom, Sammy snoring softly next to him. Valley barks outside the back door. She's been in and out a half dozen times already. She can stay out for awhile. I can live with the barks. Rosie's still sleeping--she needs a couple more hours a night than Lil, who is in the middle of a sneezing fit beside me, and her sneezes alternate with Valley's barks, with Meet the Press providing the white noise.

Sometimes, like this morning, as I try to multitask, reading, writing, watching tv, listening to Lil who likes to ask me how I'm doing every five minutes, directing Bobby, who is  doing his morning chores,  the noise (both literal and figurative) is just below my threshold for pulling a Rosie, clapping my hands to my ears and trying to block it all out. (Bless her, it'd be more fair to say Rosie's pulling a mommy as I've got a few decades on her).

Rosie was thrilled with these pink hearing protection earmuffs at Christmastime
 and kindly shares them with me.
She carries them in her purse with her laser pointer (you never know), a stuffed Chewbacca, an extra headband, fingernail clippers, and chapstick. She's far better packed than me.
Classes start tomorrow. My dreams this last week have involved the classroom, dreams where the class is out of control and I struggle to get control back...it beats those dreams where I'm in my last semester of college but forgot to go to a class and now I won't graduate...but just barely.
Sometimes I wake up from my dreams worn out from all the activity and go ahead and get up for the day because it's less work. I don't know what that says, really, or what this hodgepodge post says, either. Maybe I'm practicing stream of consciousness ahead of teaching it. If I think to teach it. Or I'm working all these loose ends out so that tomorrow when I stand in front of a brand new class of students, I'll stay on task for awhile. Maybe.
I wouldn't count on it, though.


Crazy in Love with Our Critters

Yesterday morning, these best buds shared my lap while I drank my coffee.
Sammy and Hammy.
Another day it was Hammy and Valley Girl.

But Hammy also likes Mabel.

Hammy is a friendly kitten and all the critters enjoy his company.

Mabel out looking for Hammy.


Sammy and Hammy.

Valley Girl and Sammy.

Hammy wanting company.

Sammy posing.

Hard to believe how little he was last month.


Valley wanting to know why I favor the kitties.

Rick making it up to her.


Sammy sitting on Hammy and freaking him out.

Jackie and Hammy.

So spoiled.

Hammy is getting long.

Wanting to be one with the screen.
Dude even gets some company.
Lucy (who is people friendly but not critter friendly).

My Sammy and me.

Stole Rick's chair.


See, we're friendly.

Posing for attention.


Whatcha reading?

Reading with Lil.



 We might be fond of this critter.
Teacup yorkie, not.

Table time.

Danny deep in thought.

Hammy chills.





I was going to cite my increased posting of late as proof that I'm coming up from the dark places. And there are definitely moments and hours that's absolutely true, that I laugh and love and enjoy my time with my kids, my husband, and my critters.

And then, as I typed the title of this piece, the heaviness settled back on my shoulders as if it had never gone away and my nose started tingling and I could cry, and I can't help but feel that's so messed up. Unfair to everyone around me.

We have a wonderful family life. We enjoy being together, we have common interests and we spend most our time together. And this togetherness is evident in our home, especially our living room, where we all have our nests (Bobby's nest is in the kitchen--he prefers to sit at the counter on the stool so that he can still see what we're doing or watching, but have the physical space he needs).

My youngest brother came by the other day, and with genuineness rather than snark, asked if we'd ever thought of less stuff, more space. I've had friends ask the same.

How can we think in all this stuff? We just can. And when we need a break (the kids do their schoolwork at their couches and I do my work from my recliner when I'm at home), we look up and fix on a display and it's fun, it's silly, and we smile.

We like to mash up different shows, different themes. We like to quote dialogue and see if the others recognize it.

We like this space, this crowded, toys everywhere space. And even though I dropped to heaviness as I typed the title of this piece, stopping to look around this room, my spirits lifted and I was reminded again that fitting in silliness to our lives is essential to staving off the heaviness that sometimes threatens to swallow us.

So, in hopes you, too, will find reasons to smile, here are some of my favorite silly things.

Who couldn't laugh at turtles riding chickens and roosters?

Or Chewie on a rooster?
Or Daleks, K9, and borgs, Oh my?
Or Jar Jar in the back looking a bit like he should be in a private place?

Or minions?
Although the skeleton does look a little overwhelmed looking
into the living room...
May you find the silliness today that will lift you up and make you shake your worries off.


Letting Go of Certitude

In March, I'll have been blogging about autism for five years, although autism/the community/divisions posts have lessened considerably over the last few.

I've tried a lot of different approaches over the years. I started out with the certainty that my position on vaccines was THE right one and calling out anyone who differed. I started out with fire and snark and felt it was incumbent on me to call out misinformation and to deconstruct posts by anti-vaccine sites.

I realized that this approach was great for making enemies and creating page views. It changed no minds and only  served to polarize the "other side." There's so much information out there that's wrong but is packaged as if it was credible. It's easy to understand how smart people can make mistakes. Wading through the information online, slogging it out, cognitive dissonance became a constant feeling. And that led to the loss of certitude and empathy for people trying to find the truth. The truth may be out there, but it doesn't mean it's easy to find or as black and white as those who live with certainty would like to believe.

And so I apologized, quit looking at those sites and decided those people had enough on their plates without adding to it posts that attacked them and mocked them and questioned their right to be parents.

So we set up the autism blogs directory several years ago, with the idea that community over cacophony was not only possible but desirable. It's grown over the years and all sorts of people and opinions and beliefs are represented. To date, there's been over 600,000 page views, so hopefully people find that it fills a need. Truthfully, though, I've come to think it's cacophony over community most of the time.

People, a fair amount, like it that way, feel it should be that way, and are able to create a group that works for them by defining themselves in contrast to other groups. If it helps them, more power to them. Some drama is group building.

It tends to come, though, at the cost of inclusion.

I see no way around that, though. We align ourselves with our in group and identify people according to whether they are part of our in group or not. That's human and that's not going to change.

It is perhaps unrealistic to hope that people would define their in group as the entire human group. And I can immediately see exceptions people would want to make. Pedophiles? No way.

So, certitude about human relationships at the macro level have to be let go of. Communities are living organisms of which the only thing that is certain is constant change and friction.

Okay, then. What about aiming for respect for all people? Treating people with dignity and cordiality?

Yup, not gonna happen when we've got an out group we've aligned ourselves against.

Well, crap.

We're human beings and we're flawed. We are emotionally volatile concerning topics that are of vital importance to us and we believe that our way is the only way. Anyone who lives in opposition to our way is against us. We are black and white creatures.

Us versus them people. People who are certain.

Certain because uncertain is scary as hell and creates a nebulousness that we are uncomfortable with. We need our tribe. We want our tribe. We want and need to fit in somewhere. And we feel betrayed when we realize that the tribe we've chosen isn't a cohesive whole.

Why we expect our in groups to be full of certainty and solidarity when our prime in group, our family, is often divided is human beings' hopefulness transcending reality.

So we make choices. We may opt to hold onto certainty at all costs or we may surrender certainty, or ping pong back and forth. We're people, so there are as many choices there as there are people.

There's no one right answer or option, and it's okay to ping pong. We're human. That's the only thing I'm certain of.