Friday, September 3, 2010

School as Scapegoat

So I'm going to share a story with you all that I started to tell (rather poorly) in the comments on @Cloud's awesome blog. It's about Ms. R, the friend of a friend here in Podunkville who is someone with an education and resources, who should probably know better...

When I first heard about Mrs. R, she was in the local paper for her newsworthy 'badgering' of the School Board, as she was trying to make a point at their meeting, by applying to them the same techniques used in the school district's discipline policy. (Basically, she put the Superintendent in a time out-equivalent because he forgot some statistic during his remarks, and she tried to draw an analogy between him, and how she felt her son was being unfairly treated in K for "simply not knowing things.") So I thought she was a bit of a badass, and that it is pretty cool to have someone like her disturbing shit in our conservative little hamlet.

Then DH got to know Mrs. R's husband, Mr. J. In the course of getting to know him, Mr. J eventually told DH that their son, N, was suddenly going to be homeschooled after one semester of K, in which they decided "the school district was out to get him, and hates our son." DH came home and told me all of this and I was thinking, "Hmm, something about this story doesn't add up. But ok, whatever."

Fast forward to several months later, when we start to make friends with a couple, The A's, who has kids who attend the school little N used to attend. One day they bring up Mrs. R, and the other side of the story finally comes out. Apparently, N was repeatedly verbally abusive to other children in his class, and was having out-of-control rage fits, by all accounts. To the point that everyone in class was disrupted by him, and some other kids started getting afraid to go to school. I'm not talking about normal kid tantrums, I'm talking about behavior that just seemed totally out of proportion & abnormal. As in it would be clear to the outside observer that N could benefit from an evaluation to determine what is going on with him. The A's felt like they had known a boy with this same issue before, and actually called up their old friend who was the father of the similar boy to see how they should broach the topic with Mrs. R and Mr. J., out of concern for the family. Incidentally, the Superintendent of that other boy's school district actually took a trip to a school in Portland that addresses how to teach kids with these issues so he could incorporate the curriculum into the boy's education plan - talk about an awesome public school leader.

Mrs. A mentioned the friend's son's story to Mrs. R and was met with total denial. Mrs. R first blamed the school district's discipline policy for "shaming her son." Then she blamed the son of another friend for turning the children against her son. Then she said that public school is just not made for boys like hers, who are "intelligent and just super energetic." So now they're homeschooling. Mrs. R doesn't want to be friends with Mrs. A anymore. Mrs. A hopes she'll change her mind and realize that her suggestion was not intended as any sort of judgment about Mrs. R's parenting. Unfortuntely, the writing on the wall seems to be that there is something off about N, and Mrs. R is too in denial to get it checked out, even though they have the means.

Why am I telling this story about people I barely know? Because I think, so often in life, the truth is somewhere in between. This is a great example of that reality. On the one hand, I'm sure the school could have handled it better, but understandably, they are not made to handle little boys with serious rage issues when they have 18 other kids to educate. I'm not saying give up on kids like that - they failed to reach the parents on the benefits of their recommendation for an evaluation. And as for the parents, sometimes the conventional wisdom is right. If the data points that the subjective lens of the school structure is showing you indicate something might be really wrong with a kid, shouldn't we put aside our own parental insecurities and get answers? It is too easy to think "oh my poor baby" and make the school the problem, instead of saying "maybe we both have shit going on that played a role in this problem and maybe we can work cooperatively to solve it." Honestly, sometimes school is the problem. But sometimes parents try to make life way too much like Burger King, have it your way. I can't help but feel N is going to miss opportunities long term by not being around other kids. And N's former classmates - what might they be thinking about his absence after he behaved that way? Maybe that bad behavior does get punished? Or that we get rid of people who can't fit in?

Am I taking crazy pills by thinking about it this way?


MrsHaley said...

Oh God, hush. Shit like this used to happen ALL. THE. TIME. when I was teaching. I don't get it. The truth is def. def. somewhere in the middle, but my response to the, "All the teachers / administrators / counselors / custodians / students / cockroaches in this school hate MY KID and are OUT TO GET him/her!" was always something like, "We are not organized, well-led, cohesive or cooperative enough to all agree on dress-down-day, much less on WHO TO HATE THIS WEEK, lady. Believe me when I tell you, there is no list of KIDS WE HATE AT THIS SCHOOL that all the adults pass around and sign so we know which child we are destroying today." There is an inflated sense of one's own importance that goes along with an attitude like that, I think. But I can't honestly say that if the school came to me and said my son was a frothing rage-a-holic, I might not bulge out and screech "Noooooo! Yooooouuuu are!"

Under my breath, of course. All of it.

mom2boy said...

My drama loving friend likes to say that there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Did anyone read the article about the over medicating of preschoolers for psychiatric disorders? Like putting an 18 month old on anti psychotics for rage issues which apparently manifested in the form of head banging and screaming fits. Um, that description was my child at 18 months to 24 months. Never in a million years would I have put him on medication for his behavior (myself possibly but not him).

Cloud said...

Thanks for the compliment!

@MrsHaley- your comment cracked me up. I kind of have the same opinion about the anti-vaccine types who are convinced everyone in pharma and public health is in some giant conspiracy. Really? You can't get two PhDs to agree on the best way to slice bread, but somehow there is a giant conspiracy consisting of most of the biomedical scientists in the country? Wow.

Anyhoo, on topic... I think it is very, very hard to hear any criticism of your child from the people you are entrusting to care or him or her, particularly the first time you have to leave your child with someone else. I remember really getting upset when Pumpkin's day care teachers sent a note home telling us that we needed to work on her ability to play on her own when she was about 10 months old. She still want to be held all the time at day care, and they just couldn't handle that. In retrospect, I can see their point. (I also think there wasn't much we could have done to change how Pumpkin wanted to be dealt with... she was a stubborn baby.) At the time, though, I raged at my husband about it and talked about pulling her from day care. Luckily he talked me down. And we figured out that she did better with a schedule, and provided one to day care and everyone was (sort of) happy. And by now, I am a lot less defensive feeling when the day care teachers make suggestions.

I hope little N gets the help he needs. But I feel for his mom, too- because as a society, we do tend to blame issues like that on the parents, and particularly the mom. So I can understand her denial, even as I agree with you that truly good parenting is being able to set that sort of feeling aside and try to just think about what your kid needs.

Slim said...

Hmm. There was a kid with major behavioral problems at our first daycare, and the parents were definitely in denial. The center could have done more to address it earlier, and I have no idea what was going on with the family's pediatrician, but I still wonder if anything would have gotten through to them, because even when the center did step up and start taking action, the parents clearly felt they had been unjustly singled out. Which, in a way, they had, but in a good way: they noticed a problem and wanted to work with the parents on it.
I do think there are teachers who prefer students who behave in a certain way, but I don't believe in vast educational conspiracies. So I'll probably one of their first victims. I won't be sufficiently on guard.

hush said...

@MrsHaley - Glad someone else gets it! "But I can't honestly say that if the school came to me and said my son was a frothing rage-a-holic, I might not bulge out and screech "Noooooo! Yooooouuuu are!" Too funny and would definitely be true for me, too!

@mom2boy - The over medicating of preschoolers for psychiatric disorders!? Holy hell that sounds disturbing. How do they claim to be able to sort out the temporary 18 mos old psychopaths from the longer-term, "real" psychopaths if indeed they exist in that age group? Because for a time there they are all cute little psychopaths!!

@Cloud - Thank you for sharing your story about getting constructive criticism from daycare. "And by now, I am a lot less defensive feeling when the day care teachers make suggestions." I totally hear you and have had a similar journey w/r/t my DS and other caregivers' feedback. That is really great to hear and honestly, so good for your kids that they are exposed to different styles.

@Slim - I'm sorry to hear that your former daycare wasn't able to reach the kid's family in denial, and that the feedback was misunderstood. I'm learning that stories like these are really common.

I agree that the preferred students for some teachers are the ones who don't create a disturbance in class, and who are by and large able to sit still and do what they are told. If you were in the teacher's shoes, isn't that what would make your life easier? I like your last lines... I agree there is no conspiracy. "Just because you're paranoid," right? Kidding!

caramama said...

When I hear stories like this, I don't blame the parents for the child's behavoir, but... I start thinking about Columbine and "Jeremy spoke in class today..." and all those other stories about kids with guns and masocistic or suicidal intentions and mainly, that the parents of those kids didn't see any of it coming.

Kids go through rough times. Kids have different personalities. Kids get picked on by other kids and adults and school systems (though without the conspiriacy, I'm sure). Kids can have true psychological problems. These aren't the fault of the parent.

But if the parents ignore ALL warning signs because they don't want to think it could be true of their child/don't want to deal with it/blame everyone else? That is not the best parenting. That is doing a disservice to their child, especially the children who really do need some extra help.