Thursday, October 8, 2009

I am going to make a little list of some astonishing scenarios of long-discredited pedagogical techniques. The hope is that some of my OUTRAGE will be lanced by lashing out in words rather than speech. No good is likely to come of my confronting the ISP about whom much venom is spilled in the daily debriefings of my innocents.

Gym pants. Evidently school children have been raised here with a cultural, learned-evisceral understanding of Gym Pants; of this my children are ignorant. The gym teacher is not, however, and relayed his dismay of my children's garb repeatedly ... in French. He does not speak English though he teaches at an EMSB (English Montreal School Board) facility -- these are the institutions tasked with teaching children permitted to learn in English.

So I had been receiving frequent reports indicating that my children's attire was inapproriate and that proper shorts were required asap, only what constituted 'proper' was entirely unclear, mutually contradictory reports being relayed by both children jointly and separately. I simply gave up trying to understand and aquire the right thing for them as I could not for the life of me understand what the right thing was: pockets or no? Over the knee or below it? Running gear or sweat-clothes or something else? And then: where would it even be gotten should it be possible to discern what was to be gotten? I gave up and got nothing.

Until one day it comes to pass that the littlest is excluded from participating in gym class because she is the possessor of inadequate gym pants. Her shorts are evidently of the "cargo" variety excluding her from play, though others in the class have nearly identical shorts. I am highly confused as to what is wanted of me. As anyone reading this knows, I am a Good Girl I Am and would race to aquire the required dress immediately were it made known to me what that were. Preferably the bearer of said news ought to be someone of the adult persuasion. But it has not been and now, suddenly, my children are put to public shame and loss by being sidelined for a gym class: she wasn't allowed to run with the rest, simultaneously depriving her of needed exercise and embarrassing her in front of her peers. To what end? Well, it got mom moving, but this goal might have been accomplished by simply sending home a note (the preferred method of communication) regarding the issue. Or phoning. Whatever.

I halt the post-school hike up the hill in favor of visiting the ISP to ask for clarification: what exactly is the dress code? Where do I aquire it? How do my children attire themselves in it?

I am treated to a lecture: Where is your agenda? Me: Agenda, what agenda? I have no agenda apart from figuring out what you want from me and my children. But it turns out "agenda" is a technical term -- who knew? It means 'calendar' in this culture and rather than being made to pay separately for it as a treat worthy only of exalted 5th and 6th graders as had been the case in my kids' school last year, every child appears to have been given one of these nifty organizers. And inside of it in the front few pages are the school's rules; the school handbook in my native parlance. These instructions evidently include language about the permissible garb, including a description of the elusive gym wear.

The ISP reads this to me in rather a rude tone, exuding astonishment at my unwashed ignorance of the agenda, its contents and the matter at hand. I am gratified to discover that even when the appropraite section has been located and read aloud, still it does not contain enlightening language: now we both don't know what is required of my children as far as gym clothing goes.

So I'm told that this will all be gotten to the bottom of the next day and in the meantime I should just go and get some gym pants. But what kind? And where???? "Oh, anywhere". Me: could you give me a hint, just a name? "Walmart". Me: Any other suggestions? I would never shop in that store in my own country. Why should I go to a foreign country to enter this politically reprehensible establishment? "Oh, there are lots of other stores all around". sigh.

I give up and go to Walmart and even manage to get something suitable. But in the meantime, the next day each child is called out of class individually, and asked to come to visit the ISP separately. There they are told, literally, "this is a Good School. Your mommy is very busy. I don't want you worrying her with your complaints. You shouldn't go to your mommy with these problems. This is a Good School. Don't bother your mommy with this sort of thing anymore".


Fortunately, to my infinite relief and even a touch of pride as well, both girls came to me with the same story, laughing. We spent at least an hour doing damage control, laughing about the matter, trying to make light of it so that it would stick. I tried not to Utterly Flip Out externally though inside I was shrieking in outrage and terror. What am I if not required by definition and job description to be a sounding board for my children? What if something, say, physically problematic were going on at school, or abusive whether physical or otherwise? It is beyond-imperative that one's children feel comfortable telling such things to their mother (or at least some adult). It's my job, it's my privilege, it's my purpose to be thus available. How outrageous is it that someone sholud insinuate otherwise, that someone, a stranger, should try to come between me and my children? It's incomprehensible what the ISP said.

Further, exactly how is it going to work that they should ever get the proper attire if they weren't to trouble me with it?!

Like, wow.

Take home message: Stay well away from the ISP.

Tale #2. Ther eis evidently a 12 yo in the older's class who is behaving very like a 12 year old. This in and of itself is not news and it is not shocking. Though I suppose it is of some passing interest to wonder why the 12 yo is being "12" with a teacher, but she is. She is playing proverbial power games, refusing to answer a teacher's stupid question. Why? Dunno, perhaps because the question is stupid? Because she is stubborn or wants to win the fight or wants to engage (aka "get attention") or doesn't know the answer, trivial though it be? Who knows, but this much is certain, scorching the earth because a 12 yo is being stubborn is not sound practice.

The teacher asked a stupid math question today which the 12 yo refused to answer. Literally; nothing at all was said by the child. So the rest of the class, knowing the drill as this was at least the third time this sort of thing has happened, took out their homework and started working on it. For in response to the child's silence, the teacher halted all classwork. Nothing happened. For hours. The teacher was waiting for the child to answer. And guess what? The child wasn't going to answer. Nothing; no sound; not at all. So everyone sits and waits for an answer from a 12 yo who has decided not to give one.

If there is a point to this particular power struggle it is hard to see it or know it. But what of the rest of the class? There is evidently no responsibility to them evident.

It's hard to imagine a more pointless lose-lose-lose-lose situation.

Or really, pedagogically inexcusable one. The nominal excuse being "she is going to have to learn sooner or later that she can't just refuse to answer questions". Umm. Can't she learn that not at the expense of the entire 6th grade class???

Never mind that it always has been suspect, this notion of "better learn now because later....". God how I hate that argument.

Scenario #3. There is one play structure for 500 kids at lunch simultaneously. Previously the equipment had been so crowded that children were forced off at the expense of the integrity of many a limb. Hence the structure has been scheduled for certain classrooms during the week. Only the schedule doesn't get stuck to. And children just run up and bully others off it regardless of the scheduled day. Further, when not on the structure, what are the rules? No ball playing. Tag may be played but none of the playground structures such as, say, trees, may be utilized. Etc.

Hence, my kid is bored at recess. She is bored during English days (half the school week class is conducted in English, the other half of the week it is conducted in French) because the lessons are too easy. She is bored during French days because she can understand nothing. I belive this is how kids come to hate school.

I try to tell her that I don't really care whether she learns any scholastics this year; just surviving the new culture will be lesson enough. She doesn't really understand and I can hardly blame her.

Scenario #4. A teacher goes home early having been hit in the head by a ball while on the playground (hence no balls are subsequently allowed on the yard). The remaining 5 hours of the school day are spent teacherless; the children color. all day long. they are 12.

Scenario #5. Imagine a class where one's name is written on the board if materials are forgotten at home. And one's name stays there, forever. If materials are forgotten a second time, the principal gets visited. A third time, parents get called. I'm not sure how the progression evolves from there. But I am certain this is called public humiliation, with no chance for salvation. Ever. This is a pedagogical technique? I thought this occurred only in bad Hollywood charicatures of bad schools. And we're trying to escape Hollywood?!


  1. Oh my heavens, what are my children in for?

  2. They'll be fine. It's not for such a long period of time after all. And truthfully, it is, I think, a good exercise to learn to deal with bureaucratic nonsense and well-meaning stupidity. Not to mention malicious versions of same. Frankly, having a 'safe, supportive' atmosphere (relatively) in which to gain some practice at all of this is probably not a bad idea. This sort of stuff is truthfully the stuff of life, and further, dealing with it is probably a learned skill. This might actually be a good opportunity? d'nno. Maybe that's just Pollyannish claiming that, say, being laid off from your work is an "opportunity". ya think?