July 05, 2014

Back in Time and Off to Scotland

One of my favourite authors, Diana Gabaldon, has a new book called "Written in My Own Heart's Blood".  

I was introduced to Ms. Gabaldon's Outlander series several years ago by one of my friends, another avid reader like myself.  The series follows the life of a woman who, post World War I, steps through a break in time while visiting some standing stones (think "Stonehenge") in Scotland and steps back two hundred years.  She meets a man and marries but returns through the stones before the great Highland battles.  She returns to live with her present-day husband up until his death, raising her daughter by her Highland husband of the ancient past.  Through several books we follow the adventures of this couple and their family.  It's been a few years now since the last book, so the new one is sitting in my living room, singing its siren call as it waits for me to finish up some other projects so I can devote some time to reading it.  

Finally there is to be a television series based on the book series.  I can only guess that with the tv
show due to start, the decision was made to do a tour to coincide with the tv show and the release of the book.  When I saw a link recently on the Outlander facebook page that connected to Ms. Gabaldon's home page, I followed it.  Consequently I signed up for her blog and discovered that she would be signing autographs in three cities within a three-hour drive of where I live.  I decided to go to the closest one (a mere one and a half hours away) and asked one of my coworkers if she wanted to go, too.  I'd introduced her to the Outlander series a couple of years ago so she was also keen to go.  

We drove to Barrie and had no idea how long the line would actually be before we were able to meet Ms. Gabaldon and have her sign our new books.  It was touch and go for a while because my co-worker drove us there and she had to leave by a certain time, but we made it and we got our books signed. 

Me and Diana Gabaldon, June 22, 2014

June 02, 2014

The Shocking State of "Modern" Education

In the Fall my son’s school conducted some standardized testing.  A few weeks later the results of these tests were mailed to us and I read them, filing the document away afterwards.  In the early Spring we got a phone call asking us to come in for a meeting with the principal, the teacher, the school’s proctor (my son’s French teacher), and a rep from the Board of Education.

At this meeting we were informed that our son is gifted, according to his test results.  While this result was not really a surprise to me, what did surprise me was that the school had called us in for a meeting about it.  I was surprised because being a small rural school, they have no facility for effectively dealing with or managing gifted children.  I think the days of promoting kids beyond their age level have gone by the wayside.  It’s probably just as well because since it is a small school of only 130 kids, any kid that was either failed or promoted would have to endure endlessly being singled out as “different” by their peers.  This would doubtless continue right up until high school graduation as the friends made in kindergarten are the same kids he will eventually graduate with. 

The school’s proposition was to create an “Independent Education Plan” which would outline ways in which to challenge my son’s strengths while providing remedial attention on his struggling areas of learning.  At our request, further more in-depth testing was effected in order to determine what my son’s strengths and struggles might be.  A few weeks after that testing was completed, a further meeting was set up to discuss the results.  This was the “Identification, Placement and Review Committee” and included the same people as before. 

At this IRPC meeting the list of identified strengths and needs once again didn’t really present any surprises to me.  Never fear, though, as there were a number of things that not only surprised me, but some completely blew me out of the water. 

One of my questions to them was about spelling in the curriculum.  The answer was that beyond the primary grades (1 to 3), they no longer have spelling per se.  Rather, and this shocked me for several reasons, they have a computer program that allows a child to type in the first few letters of a word and the program makes a list of several suggested words.  The child scrolls through the list, clicking each one, and the computer says each word as it’s clicked.  Then the child simply selects the right word by its sound and it is inserted into their document.  WHAT?  I mean, WHAT??  How on earth will children learn to spell if they aren’t taught to? 

Then I asked about cursive writing.  I know that email and typed communication of one form or another has pretty much taken over writing, but I believe this skill is still necessary.  Imagine my surprise when I was informed that they no longer teach cursive writing!  I asked how my son would ever sign a marriage certificate or a mortgage application if he couldn’t write, but there was no answer.  I’m still gobsmacked over this one and have decided I will teach my son this summer. 

The list continues:  the teachers say my son is having a hard time with research.  I dropped that one right back in their laps.  I said that they should not assume that every child has free access to a computer or that they have developed the skills the school deems necessary.  I told them before they plunk a kid in front of a monitor with the Google page open and tell them to research something, the school should first make sure that those same kids actually know how to use Google!   

Now I realize why so many young people are heading off to college and university so ill-prepared for it.  In September when my son's teacher asks, "What did you do on your summer vacation?" my ten-year-old son will reply, "I learned how to write, how to spell, and how to multiply and divide."  What will your child say?  Take action now so they can say the same.  Our children's education is no longer provided by the educators, it's provided by us.