I ask my Kindergartener how her day was. She says, "Blue!" Sometimes she makes a helpful side comment, "I'm not sure why, but BLUE!" or "Awful! I got a yellow!"
The local school district uses a color coding disciplinary system. Excellent behavior is rewarded with a blue mark on the calendar, then green, then yellow, then orange, then GOD FORBID--red.
In the first month of school I would hear what her color was, as well as the colors of her classmates. The kid with the perpetual "red" has ditched the school [in favor of a more color blind homeschool setting. Correction: This kid has left the school for unrelated reasons and is not being homeschooled]. Other kids aren't so lucky.
I haven't heard of any parents who are excited about this system. It is effective for the kids who love school and are eager to please their teachers. But to what end? What does this system actually teach children?
I taught a once-a-week Spanish class to children at a private Christian school in Minnesota over a decade ago. The 1st and 2nd graders could not handle my usual class structure: singing, jumping, playing, learning while having fun. Any bit of "play" and the kids were nearly climbing the walls and shouting uncontrollably. These kids were constantly told, by their usual teachers and the principal, that Jesus didn't want them running in the halls or screaming. They were shamed into compliance; it was horrifying. So what could I do about it? How could I get the kids to settle down and learn some basic Spanish words? And how could I demonstrate to the staff that I had some level of control over the classroom?
The kids needed to govern themselves. I could not personally restrain or quell the voices of the whole classroom, so they would have to do it themselves.
I returned the following week with folders and worksheets--something more familiar to them. Inside each child's folder was a chart to track their progress for the 8-week course. The chart asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and "What do you want to learn in Spanish class?" The chart gave kids a place to jot down their personal behavioral concerns. The kids filled in the information with a little prodding. Every student had to really think about it. The "well-behaved" kids were terrified of this exercise; the questions revealed their guilty consciences, their fears. Normally these kids could skate through a class by just being "better" than the other kids. NOW, they had to look inward and admit that they had room for improvement. The student at the top of the class was in tears in this exercise as he realized that his biggest fear in the classroom was "asking for help." I didn't expect that!
The student who was the Disruption King struggled with the exercise, too, but eventually was able to think through what his concerns were, instead of just repeating the mantra of authorities around him.
And then the big reveal: Now, students, at the end of each class, you will give yourself a Smiley face or a Frown face or a Star or whatever means something to you--to indicate how you did in class.
WHAT?! WE are going to grade ourselves?! But what if we lie? What if we just write in stars across the chart right now?
I reminded them of their goals and what they wanted to be when they grew up. I reminded them that this was for them. Spanish class was to HELP them in their goals and their dreams! I didn't care what their behavior was; but they should!
The revolution was immediate. The students were attentive, helpful and excited about learning for the rest of the course. The Spanish class went so well that the school asked me to return to teach an additional Music course. The kids matured in a powerful way. Instead of looking at themselves as shameful people who would never be able to prove their goodness--they saw themselves as people who had the power to make improvements, and be the beneficiaries of the changes.
I want this for my daughter, too.
Each night now, during Reading Time, she pulls out her calendar and draws a face. The face she draws is generally influenced by the color she was awarded that day at school, but on the weekends we get a more accurate picture. She'll review her day, "Well, I was really mean to you at the park, but then I solved a bunch of problems and had a lot of fun.... I'm going to draw two faces!" Kids are capable of measuring their behavior and improving it. My daughter has also recognized a pattern between her behavior and certain foods she eats. Some foods cause meltdowns, while others bring balance to her day. Wow! Kids are capable of being a part of the solution--they see a perspective that we might be missing. Since recording her behavior she has made healthier choices, even asking, "Hey, can we eat [balancing food] before going to the carnival? So I have a good day there?"
Kids have the ability to SHOCK AND INSPIRE us. Especially when we remove ourselves from the role of Judge and Jury, and just play the part of helpful Guide and Observer.
LIKE and SHARE this post if you would like to see your school district upgrade to a Self-Government Disciplinary system. Email a link to this post to your child's teacher and principal. This system requires NO additional funds and no additional effort for the teacher. Teachers will even win back some time and energy! Instead of teachers marking the colors, hand the magic wand over to the kids--they deserve to hold the power of their own actions, and the power of fulfilling their futures in their own hands!
A conversation heard in the Oval Office.
"I just don't know what the American people will think."
"But we've been working on this for months; we have the perfect formula."
"But it can't be us."
"Why not? I'm not letting some Republican take credit for this."
"It's not about that."
"We just can't give the media any more talking points. Not one like this."
"Is it the calories? The fruit servings? What am I missing?"
"Mrs. Obama, with all due respect, *we* can't be the administration that made schools White Milk only."
"Oh dear God. What have we done."
"We'll have to cut everything out of chocolate milk, without cutting out the chocolate. I mean, we have to appear to give equal opportunity to all colors of milk. We have to."
"Sodium. That's in chocolate milk. We'll cut that."
"Yes, fat. And sugar! We'll cut fat and sugar and sodium, and they'll have no choice but to choose the more superior milk."
"Words, Michelle, watch your words."
"Oh I am horrible at being the First Lady."
"No, you've just been given an impossible task: make millions of children eat well, but not so well they'd want to run for office, and then pick up just enough of the tab to keep parents and schools dependent on us. It's impossible."
"Something will have to go."
"Should we start charging for it?"
"No, then there's no reason for kids to eat our meals."
"And we lose control."
"Right. Something else. It's so obvious, but I just can't see it."
"You mean the 'eating well' part? You want to cut that?"
"Ahh yes, great idea! That solves our problems!"
"But we can't be the administration that made kids fat."
"They won't know it was us."
"Formulas. Math. Numbers. Portions. Servings. Calories. Counting. Americans are horrible at that stuff. You haven't actually seen any thin Jenny Craig-ers, have you?! Oh I crack myself up. And we'll put it on the school administrations to figure it out."
"Ooh, and we'll punish them if they mess up!"
"Yes, and we'll reward them by purchasing through the USDA--they'll package and portion it so they don't have to do any counting."
"But won't they connect that back to us?"
"Bah! The nutrition labels will always add up; it'll just be on severely processed food. I think we still have 50,000 tons of food reserves from the 40s. We could go through that first, to build up our surplus."
"Oh Michelle, you are HOT! This is GENIUS! But what if someone notices?"
"Oh now you're the funny one. Who would notice?!"
"Are you kidding me!? Have you BEEN to a school in the last 20 years? Remember the Internal Revenue Service?! Teehee. We've got those parents working double shifts just to survive, oh--and to pay for healthcare. OH I LOVE THE IRONY!"
"So parents don't check in on their kids? Don't eat lunch with their kids anymore?"
"Not a chance. Even if they wanted to, we've got all sorts of hoops for them to jump through now. Most give up."
"Well this is pretty incredible, Mrs. First Lady, ma'am. I mean, here we were just going to remove Chocolate Milk and bring awareness and reality to the healthy lunch program, but when we couldn't be THE Administration to make schools White Milk only--you found a way to solve a bunch of other problems."
"Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."
I just enrolled my daughter in Kindergarten at Agnes Cotton Elementary School in San Antonio, TX.
First, let me say that it was a great experience--the staff was wonderful. The principal was attentive and kind to every parent. Everyone was Texas-Nice. That was a welcome surprise compared to the charter schools I tried to get into (we are still 150th on a waiting list somewhere!). My residency and immunization forms were not A+ work, but they smiled and helped me out.
On one form I had to admit that my daughter was (shhh) white*. Minutes later I regretted sharing that tidbit of information when I chatted with one of the smartest, most charismatic women in the room. She was playfully teasing me about my daughter's name**, which I much prefer to the awkward silence and, "Oh...k" when they try to pronounce it. Turns out the woman is a kindergarten teacher. I hoped my daughter would have the good fortune of being in her classroom. Nope. She's the bilingual teacher and will only be working with the lucky Hispanic children. We chatted about the possibility of immersing my daughter into the Spanish language; she talked about the benefits of knowing more than one language. Of course, we agreed, there are a million reasons to speak, write and read both Spanish and English.
And that's when I felt it.
One third of the students at my daughter's school will be learning two languages, while my daughter, because of her unfortunate place of birth, will just be learning how to apply extra layers of sunscreen. Knowing only English, she won't have a chance at the extra income and opportunities almost guaranteed to her bilingual peers.
My husband and I should have agreed to only speak Spanish in our household since her birth. We could have. We would have if we had known that growing up in a Spanish-speaking home was the only way she would qualify for this free education.
I'm not complaining. I believe there are solutions and that we have the power to create and implement them.
Solution 1: Make all San Antonio public schools Spanish Immersion schools. Teach kids equally. If necessary, give extra support in English or Spanish according to the needs of the students. Give kids a relevant education! White* kids are waiting in 3 year lines to get into Spanish Immersion schools when the public schools already have the staff, the curriculum and the infrastructure to share this education with all.
Solution 2: Stand up for your unique culture. This is TEXAS, right? Be proud of your heritage and your language. Rather than asking the Federal Government for hand-outs because of the large Spanish-speaking population, USE IT. The school administration knows how valuable Spanish is; demand that Standardized Tests be provided in multiple languages, or that bilingual schools be allowed to opt out. Let your test scores reflect the true academic prowess of your bilingual students. Your students are SMART and LUCKY! Stop making the Spanish language an excuse. You can't be a victim over something that white* kids want, pay for and fight for. You can't be a victim over something that gives you an increase in pay.
Solution 3: Offer 30 minutes a day of Spanish as a Second Language to interested students. Offer a complementary Spanish class for parents in order to reinforce the concepts and give the English-speaking children a chance to succeed in the lovely City of San Antonio.
I will be brushing up on my Spanish, and I will be speaking to you and my child in Spanish. The next time you hear "Si" coming from my mouth, please know that I'm not trying to spell CAT. If Spanish is the only way to get ahead in this town, then count us in.
**Frankincense: ˈfraNGkənˌsens; an aromatic gum resin obtained from an African tree and burned as incense.
The Magi (/ˈmædʒaɪ/  or /ˈmeɪdʒaɪ/; Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the (Three) Wise Men or (Three) Kings were, in the Gospel of Matthew and Christian tradition, a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are regular figures in traditional accounts of the nativity celebrations of Christmas and are an important part of Christian tradition.
Angela's Musings about Public Education, Web Design, Business.