I already believe

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Being in Canada, I watch the cable news networks.

We have them too, Americans. I get CNN, MSNBC, the regular networks et al. I read Daily Kos, and my old local New Hampshire newspapers online. I check in with my hometown newspaper once a month of so, just to make sure that Rutland hasn't been washed away by some biblical deluge.

As an expatirate, I had to organize myself to get an absentee ballot quite awhile ago. When it arrived in early October, I voted and mailed it back in plenty of time to have my vote ready and waiting for November 4th.

The one thing I have not been....is in the US. Until this past week, when I came to visit my dear friend.

I saw signs for both candidates for President scattered pretty liberally on my meandering drive. New Hampshire tends to be a fairly politically active state, so it looked to me like the other multitude of Presidental years I spent there. Nothing horrifying like I had seen photos of and read in some accounts of people hanging effigies of Senator Obama in their yards.

Now it will not shock any of you reading that I don't tolerate hate speech well. Especially in code. I had, in fact, written to my own State Senator (Republican) and expressed my deep concern over the tenor of some of the "approved" message of the Republican party. Here is, in fact, my letter:

I am writing to express my deep concerns with the behavior which is being witnessed at Republican rallies across the United States.

As a New Hampshire citizen, I must believe that if this behavior ( yelling out Traitor - or Kill Him) happened within the Granite State that swift and complete renouncement would occur.
Furthermore, as the wife of a Black Man ( registered independent) and the mother of a bi-racial child ( age 10), I worry that there is more than a little racial hatred simmering beneath some of this reaction.

One of the reasons we chose New Hampshire to settle down and begin our family was the understanding that racism and hatred would not be tolerated.

I would ask you to speak with your party leaders and urge them to STOP or DENOUNCE this behavior Now. I can not tell you how sick it makes me to watch Republican rallies and witness such repugnant hate filled rhetoric.

Running a tough race is one thing - but this is stepping WAY over a line.
And we are better than that - I hope.

A little much, I know...but I felt I had to say something.

So imagine my surprise when checking out of the local Wal-Mart this week in the States while visiting my friend... (You really can't beat the 6 pairs of underwear for 6 bucks deal and the cheap Halloween candy, I mean - Come ON!)

It was maybe 2 in the afternoon and not terribly busy . I had stocked up on real Sudafed...and socks and undies and all the things I refuse to pay a fortune for in Canada. The cashier leaned over and said:
"At least it will all be over in the next week..."

I was half dreaming as I was waiting to be checked out. You know that dreamy kind of tired you get after the shopping hunt? Yeah, That was me.

"I'm sorry?", I said. My tone indicating that I hadn't been focused on her words.....but had merely half caught her statement.

"Over", she said, " In a week all this election stuff will be over."

"Oh - Yeah", I said. "I live in Canada now so I already mailed in my absentee voter ballot ages ago. I'm just down here visiting a friend."

"You probably don't get CBN up there do you? Well, you know that Obama was really born in Kenya and so he can't be President - He won't produce his birth certificate to prove he is an American. He is really Kenyan. "

Her inflection on the word Kenyan infuses the word with unsaid meanings. I hear them although she doesn't say them out loud. They are BLACK and FOREIGN and probably MUSLIM. They are TERRORIST and SOCIALIST.

"I don't believe that is accurate", I say. "He was born in Hawaii. His mother is from Kansas. So even if he was born in Kenya - which he wasn't - he is still an American citizen. "

She fixes her eyes on me.

"Why won't he produce a birth certificate? If he's got nothing to hide then he should show everyone his birth certificate."

"Well", I say. "He is a Senator. I have to believe if there was an authentic concern regarding his citizenship then it would have been fully investigated long before now..." I trail off. I am not sure what else to say.

"Well, if Pat says he isn't American then he needs to prove he is - If he's got nothing to hide, then he should show his brth certificate..."

I am at a loss for words. I mean I saw the woman tell John McCain "He's an A-rab" on CNN. I saw the woman in North Carolina yell "Socialist"and "Get out of here" when Barack Obama visited the restaurant. I saw further when he offerred his hand to her with a "How are you today Ma'am" and she refused to shake it.

And now here it is. A person making MAYBE $6.00 per hour, a woman who most likely does not have access to health insurance, a woman who does not benefit from the policies of the Republican party as far as I can see - and she has been made afraid by Pat Robertson. Someone who claims to speak for God is making her afraid of a potential President by playing on not even subtle veins of Racism and hatred that fly in the very face of the Religion for which they suppose to speak.

I wish I could tell you that I changed her mind. That I had a witty zinger that fixed everything.

But I didn't and still don't. I feel helpless and angry and sad.

But Hopeful.

It will Change.

Special Ed, Lite - pt 1

Thursday, October 16, 2008

As many of you know, Emily has had her share of educational struggles.

We certainly noticed that she wasn't a "typical" baby - the hyper-alert state, the lack of sleep, the constant nursing without weight gain, the chronic constipation of the exclusively breast fed baby....

And then she started to crawl. Full tilt crawl at six months. By mid October of 1998, she was a maniac - terrorizing the cat, pulling things off of shelves, eating magazines. Not long after Christmas that year...she walked. This minuscule hellion, not even 12 pounds of baby, was a running fiend. I had to go to a special store to find walking shoes for her, as even Stride rite didn't make them for feet as small as Emily.

Then she didn't talk. Which was strange to both Terrance and I. I mean, sure - it could have been an issue with the ear infections, but I had cared for lots of babies with chronic ear infections, and they were talking ( or at the very least beginning to) by nine months of age. She was a baby in a highly verbal environment. She was in a good child care. She had books and music.

High energy spazmo baby aside, her lack of most talking struck me now - and then - as the most telling light being shown into my daughters developing brain. But we, like most parents of babies with chronic ear infection, were told to wait. Wait. Wait until we could have her surgery to insert the ventiliation tubes and clear the fluid out of her ears.

As an early childhood person, I understood this. I too had seen toddlers come back after this surgery and have amazing gains in verbal ability. Once the can hear clearly, it becomes much easier to respond and make sure others understand you. All right, I thought. I can wait.

Did it get better after the surgery. Yes...a little. But her speech remained garbled and uttered at a rate that only the people who spent hours with her every day could understand.

Speech therapy that is covered by insurance is nearly impossible to attain. Speech Therapy for a two year old?..Insurance people will laugh you right off the phone. Wait, they told us. It doesn't interfere with her learning. It has to become a barrier before anything can be done.

So at age three, I called the County early intervention people. I wanted her assessed. And they complied. But honestly, with all the children with much greater special needs than Emily's, they could not make space for her. They patted me on the back, and said that she might yet grow out of it. She was not bad enough to warrent speech therapy.

So I tried the insurance company again. More laughter ensued. Speech Therapy? For a three year old? Hell to the nizz-o. It wasn't interfering with her education...and even if it was, it was a "custodial" issue and therefore under the authority of the school district.

I waited another year...and no improvement really in Emily's speech. She moved to Hopkinton Independant School for pre-K, and I called our school district for a re-assessment. By this assessment, she was deemed "impaired enough" for services to be offerred. It WAS affecting her learning, her teachers told the assessors. Other kids told her she talked like a baby, or they simply ignored her since they couldn't understand the stream of muddled words flowing from her mouth. Other things were noted. Her extremely low level of coordination, despite her constant movement. The way she put her mouth and body on things and people. Her refusal to write or draw. The tantrums that would leave her on the floor rolling and screaming. She was in Pre-K but beyond a scribbly "E", there were no letters being formed by her hand, and no interest in anything involving letters or writing.

No problem, I told myself. Some kids just aren't "into" writing. This isn't her strength...which is why we had chosen a private school based on the multiple intelligences theories of Howard Gardner.

Two times a week, Emily would have speech therapy with her therapist Anne. The district's early intervention staff truly believed in involving families and worked with us to find days and times that worked into our work schedules. Anne spoke with us after each session, and gave us "family homework" that we needed to work on with Emily.

Em made good progress with Anne. It was a good match.

But early intervention only goes until the child goes to kindergarten. Then the case is moved to the larger shool district. While they won't tell you this upfront, there is a concerted effort to get the child "released" from under the IEP ( individualized educational plan) during the EI . A child who goes INTO the public school with an IEP in place? That child is going to cost the district money. Oh, and there are no home or off site services after EI. You get services through the public school. End of discussion.

What's that? You are sending your child to a private school out of district. A school which has a ratio of two teachers to 12 children...and offers a full day kindergarten with after school care?

So you don't plan on sending your child to the 3 hour, half day public K - with 25 students and one teacher? That is unfortunate. ... for you. We, the district, aren't sure what to tell you then. We have to give services to the students enrolled in OUR school the priority. Yes, we respect your right to send your child to this fabulous school and spend the equivilent of what Dawn paid in tuition for her entire Senior Year at UVM - but we don't have to do anything to make it EASIER on you or your child.

And so my grudge with the Strafford School was begun....

What I do when I disappear

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Oh that crazy Dawn", I hear you all say in my imaginary place in my head....

"She puts something good up and then disappears for weeks! What in the name Canadian Thanksgiving is she doing!"

I am sitting in a chair. Reading. And Typing. And Reading some more. And walking around looking for a pencil that isn't broken or mysteriously out of lead (Damn you ten year old child using up all my pencils!). And then buying more coffee. And sitting down to read. And write....or pretend to write. But really play "farmer jane" on my computer.

What is it about these damn virtual farming games that turn my crank?

And sometimes....yes, sometimes, I do write something.

Lately, my professor has been looking for ways to break me out of a bit of academic paralysis that I seem to be experiencing. My comp questions, which were approved at the end in July, should have been mostly written by now. But with family stuff, and parenting, and then school starting and the US economy tanking ( and ergo Terrance's client base)...I just sort of froze up.

Teresa ( my professor, supervisor and now research lead) looks for ways to get me to say what I know.

Bizarre, I know. Getting me to shut up is usually the problem. But good Christ - you should see my amazing disappearing and silence act when Teresa starts asking me about Vygotsky. So she has broken this into smaller tasks. Dawn must read and produce an abstract of a chapter of her reading every week. 2 or so pages. Written with an eye for my research topic. Looking to clarify and pull out the minute threads of what it is I am saying - what I know.

I owe her 4. She has gotten 2 so far.

Some of this is an odd fear of assuming the grown up mantle of professor. I think that I have a fear that I will be expected to know everything... and I don't. I never will. So I freeze up. My bar is set so high for myself that it becomes impossible to jump.

I also ( and we don't need to tell Terrance) don't want to leave Montreal. I fear that finishing will make Terrance uproot me again - and I am not sure my psyche could take another move...not when I am still in love with Montreal. Not when I am finally comfortable. But he is restless and itchy. Wanting me to finish so we can move on - he can move on. We joke that I will stay here and he will go south and the more we say it, the more I am thinking it is not so much of a joke. That possible ending scares me terribly too. Even if it may be for the best.

So. This is what I write - in these in-between days.

This is what Academic Dawn sounds like:

While the author, Margaret Grendel, does an excellent job of trying to synthesize Vygotsky's 2nd and 3rd Laws of the Development of Higher Psychological Processes, it is the issue of culture that I find of particular interest. While Vygotsky states that Yes, Humans have some “primitive” or “elementary” cognition which is biologically driven and universal across cultures, he also emphatically states that it is the “higher mental functions” that develop within a specific cultural context. These functions, Vygotsky asserts, are NOT universal and therefore, one would not expect to see the same types of systems develop in every culture. The developments of higher mental processes would be , by definition, culturally constructed.

Every function in the cultural development appears on the stage twice, in two planes, first, the social, then the psychological, first between people as an intermental category, then within the child as an intramental category.”(Vygotsky/Grendler pg.80.)

Vygotsky was one of the first theorists to extract the cognitive development of a child out from the sole domain of individual development. The idea that from the Social comes the Cognitive is, and I posit, remains a bit revolutionary.

Vygotsky states that each mediation of symbol use in higher mental processes was once an interaction between people. This is a bit stunning. The implications are that every system that we have in place – as humans, as academics, as individuals, can be distilled to initial interactions between people. To extrapolate, this would mean that without the support of the social, one could never develop the knowledge base needed for higher complex thinking.

Furthermore, Vygotsky noted that the importance of complex symbol systems are on an equal footing with the internal mental processes. These symbol systems, for the child, represent an immersion and by-product of the social system in which the child is growing. Writing, for example, represents an external line to watch the development of the internal systems. It is not, and should not be thought of as, a finite skill set which once learned can be tucked away in the dusty attic of things one knows.

Technical knowledge is not enough. If you consider a fairly abstract line of thinking, such as writing dialogue between characters, the technical knowledge of writing words or that quotation marks must precede and follow spoken statements is not enough for a child to construct the meaning of dialogue. The child must be able to conceptualize a discussion, project outwards as to personality, character and theme of discussion, and then distill it out into a cohesive piece of writing. It is far more than checking off “competencies” in a classroom.

The other most important piece that I clarified from this chapter was around Vygotsky's ideas of teaching and learning.

Vygotsky's assessment of most traditional designs of curriculum was that it was designed with a child's weaknesses in mind rather than his or her strengths. Without an initial individual assessment of each child's baseline problem solving ability, Vygosty contends that the core curriculum then must be designed to meet the needs of no one in particular. Furthermore, this curriculum does not challenge those students who may be ready and waiting for more nuanced information, nor does it provide the atmosphere for the children not yet ready to gain more than a memorization ( or surface, primitive) understanding of a concept.

Vygotsky wrote that memorization was a very immature cognitive way to learn something. It did not reflect a true understanding of a concept, but rather a mid-step, somewhat lower than the idea of spontaneous imitation. At least with imitation, the child shows that he or she has absorbed enough of the surrounding culture to reflect an action as dictated by situation. Memorization, on the other hand, reflect no absorption of surrounding culture of the problem to be solved, but merely the ability to parrot an answer.

Finally, within this chapter was the first discussions of the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD). Vygotsky wanted to be clear that his view of the ZPD was not in line with Montessori's “sensitive periods” or Piaget's definitive spans of cognitive development (pre-operational, operational). The concept of ZPD does not lie in lock step with developmental stages.

However, the ZPD does form a major cornerstone of Vygotsky's theory of education as it pertains to a formal instructional environment. Through observation of a child at work, a sensitive teacher can determine the level of problem solving ability in the individual child. It is from that observation of tasks that the child can complete with assistance (emphasis mine)that a teacher can determine how to structure the curriculum in order to stimulate the upcoming growth within the child. Imitation, as mentioned before, is an important cue in this development, as it signals the integration of certain knowledge being brought to bear in particular situations.

Produce Porn: Season End

Monday, October 06, 2008

I love Jean Talon Market - Still. After three years, I get as excited now as the first time I walked through the stalls.

Magical Reality - The Final Chapter

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Her eyes narrowed. Her lips pursed She stared at me.

"What?", Emily said.

"I am the Tooth Fairy...and Daddy too, just like My mom was MY tooth fairy and Grandma Emily was Daddy's tooth fairy and someday you'll be your own child's tooth fairy...."

The silence in my car was killing me. I have never in ten years felt my child so angry with me. It washed over me in waves as I watched her face tighten and the tears begin. She silently turned her back on me and faced the window. With her back to me she said, "You lied to me."

"Yes", I said, "and it is all right if you are angry with me - I accept your anger, sweetie." I gripped my steering wheel. I reached out and touched her shoulder. She shrugged me off. I hesitated and put my hand back out onto the middle of her back.

I needed to touch her, to reassure her - to absolve myself somehow, to make her understand that we lied because we wanted to make the world magical for her, that all my parenting fears and dreams all collide into one jumbly mess that is the beautiful terror of being a Parent.

But I said none of those things. I merely said again, "I accept your anger with me, you have a right to be angry."

The drive to the Second Cup was silent. She opened the car door and stormed out, up the walkway. I reached down to hold her hand and she pointedly snatched it away. Her face was a thunderstorm.

"Two lime Italian Sodas, Please."

I mean - come on. There is no reason to be dehydrated in the midst of a family crisis.

Emily took hers from the counter and stormed back to the car.

She had still not gotten to the next part of the reveal. But I knew it was coming. I feared it more than the tooth fairy revelation.

I got back into the car.

"I just have to stop at the market for veggies for Coco - and the Trattoria for dinner for us, then we can head home - Ok?" I attempt to sound as if I am not on the verge of bursting into tears myself. I sound, I think to myself, like generations of mothers attempting to hold it all together. When the day is done, children and animals still have to be fed, watered and put to bed. There is no escaping the mundane.

She takes a few sips of her Italian soda. She says nothing to me.

I can feel her brain working - running the memories of the tooth fairy, reaching out, making connections....until it clicks.

For the first time, she turns to face me. She stares right at me.

"Santa?", she whispers.

I inhale. The raw hurt on her face is killing me. I have to cauterize the wound.

"Yes.....me.", I say.

More Silence. This time deeper and darker than before. We are both being sucked into it.

"I don't feel good", says Emily.

"I know honey - this is alot of information for you to take in. We'll be home after I make these two stops."

"No", she says, "I Don't feel good." Pause. "I think I am going to throw up..."

As she vomits -heartily - in my car.

And I deserved it, really.

That seemed to even the score in her mind. I was forgiven shortly afterwards as I held her in my arms and answered her stream of questions:

Would I still be her Santa? Could she still put out wine and cookies for Santa? Would I still take her teeth when they fell out?

Yes, Yes and More Yes.

Nothing about those things have changed, I explained - except that she knows it is Mom and Dad who are guarding the magical gate.

Protecting her.
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