World’s Worst Mom Week End, Part 1: School

At the end of this week, I felt I was the world’s worst mom in my treatment of Kelly.

It started out, ironically enough, by my volunteering in Kelly’s classroom. I’ve blogged several times about San Jose Unified’s despicable policy of requiring parent volunteers to be fingerprinted and vetted by the FBI, at the volunteer’s cost, with no due cause, and in violation of California’s educational code. Nevertheless, Kelly told me several times how much she wanted me in the classroom, and her teacher, bless her heart, was happy just to have a helping hand, regardless of whether I’d satisfied a beaurocrat’s fiat or not.

It was an eye-opening experience, but not in a good way. I know a few people who are so appalled at public schools they won’t even consider them, and I thought their horror stories were simply rare anecdotes or exaggerations. After all, Neil had gone to a magnet school, and even though it had its dramatic downs (like fourth grade), it was largely a positive experience that had us impressed with the versatility and capability of teachers and the awesome resources a state can commandeer.

Kelly didn’t get into the magnet school, but I didn’t think our neighborhood school was that bad. Its test scores are almost as high as at the magnet school, and it is the school of choice for several friends and neighbors. It actually happens to be one of the better schools in the district, and its been chosen as an alternative school by some families stuck in the district’s failing schools. Besides, we thought, it’s kindergarten: what can possibly go wrong at such a young age, with such simple work?

The teacher set me to work, with 2 other parent volunteers, in assembling some of the craft projects the students had done. I had always wondered why, when the class started at 8:05 am, there were always far less than the 20 students in the class in line to go to class. As it turned out, the rest of the class showed up in dribs and drabs at random times between 8:05 and 8:35. They simply wandered into the classroom and finally up to the group, each time stopping the group and having it have to start over. Once parent even came in and had two younger siblings playing at the back of the classroom, for no discernible reason.

Later, the teacher split the class into smaller groups. Since I was there, I managed the “math” group. She warned me one of the groups was difficult, and that was an understatement. They simply could not do the simplest of tasks. I (and the other parent volunteers) had to instruct each student, over and over again, individually, to, for instance, draw a ball on top of the nose of each of three seals. Over and over again, they could not comprehend it, even when I said draw a circle, or pointed to each seal and circled the area over the nose with my finger. One apparently didn’t know “5” represented the number five, when asked to choose it from a selection of 3, 4 and 5. It wasn’t a behavioral thing, or a language thing: they were truly too dumb (or spaced out) to do it!

And then there was one boy who was not only incapable of doing the project, he was incapable of behaving appropriately at all. He’d been banned from using scissors–kindergarten safety scissors–because if he had then, he would only slash at others. He could not sit down, and at one point he lunged onto me, with no cause or warning. He stole the pennies he was loaned in order to check an estimate, and threw a tantrum when I had to pull them from his tightly closed fists.

The teacher had asked me and other parents to come in towards the end of the class the next day to help with the class’ art project and help each student get dressed and assembled with their Native American costumes. I was only too glad to help. Some of the students couldn’t figure out how to cut a square into a triangle, but most of them figured it out. The most troublesome boy from the day before came in from the principal’s office a little late, and I tried to get him coordinated onto the project. I thought I would try an old trick and get him to look me in the eyes, so he could focus and get instruction better.

Getting him to meet my eyes was incredibly difficult, since he seemed to want to look everywhere on the floor and away except at me. And when I finally did get him to make eye contact, I felt like I was in a horror movie. His eyes were dead. I was looking at a boy, who at the age of 5, was nothing more that a living automaton, a biological being, with nothing behind his eyes.

Since then, I’ve been appalled that I have put my innocent daughter into this hideous environment. She’s young, and sometimes unfocused, but there’s no way she’s going to get the attention she needs to get herself on track, in a place like this. I belong in hell, I thought, for having put my daughter in essentially the same place.

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