On the surface, “school choice” sounds great. “Yay! I can send my kid to a school that matches his interests and will cater to his talents and he will succeed. I can use this handy voucher to send Federal money that I paid into the system through taxes to help pay for his education at a nice private school!” One of the arguments for this is that “failing” schools will be put out of business. But here is my problem. I have a son with special needs. He’s reading far below his grade level. He struggles with math. Science and Social Studies are not even possible for him to do alone. He has CP but is able to get around great, though his movement easily makes him stand out among peers. Private schools would be under no obligation to accept him. So with a voucher system siphoning off funds from public education, the services that would be available to him in his “failing” public school would be minimal. His low performance on standardized tests no doubt would help ensure that the school continues to “fail” and as he and others with difficulties push the average test scores down the spiral of reduced funding continues.
You’ll notice that I keep putting fail in quotes. Because a lot of the argument about the need for vouchers is that public schools are “failing.” The truth is that they are not. One of the indicators used to point out America’s “failing” education system is that we’re behind many (mostly Asian) countries in our math and science test scores. Again, on the surface we should all be worried, right? But if you’ve ever seen the process of education in most of these countries that are besting Americans at math tests you’ll know that they drive in rote memorization instead of critical thinking. Students seek only the correct answer instead of the meaning or understanding how to get to the answer. Students spend hours every evening, on weekends and during breaks at private academies further driving in the correct answers to try and score better on standardized tests. I’ve had students from Japan and Korea pick up a badminton racket or Frisbee and not know how to use it. That’s not the US system. We value a well-rounded student. Art classes, PE, music… Students work in groups, learn collaboration, focus on communication skills and problem-solving. So those same “failing” schools might compare differently if instead of comparing standardized tests there was also a creative writing or poetry component. Or if there were representation by the arts or even a simple tug-o-war.
American schools are not failing. They are different. We can’t compare our system to Finland or Singapore. There are huge cultural differences, value differences and even a big range of purpose. If you want to send your kid to a school and just have them score well on math tests then yes, public education may not be the right place for your kid. But it is the right place for my kid. I see him on the soccer field surrounded by friends that don’t see his disability. His friends actually come to the pool to cheer him on as he swims. A parent praises his behavior when they drop him off after a sleepover. The elementary councilor comments about how everyone in his class seems to like him. He’s invited to birthday parties of the siblings of his classmates. I’m so grateful that he’s at an American school — one that follows American standards which give him opportunities to succeed. If he was in the US attending a school I fear that those opportunities would quickly disappear.
I wrote the above paragraphs a few days ago. Since then this chunk of news has come to light. Just days after the confirmation of the new Secretary of Education a website dedicated to providing information about the rights to education that children with disabilities have has disappeared. I fear we will “make America great again” — by going back to about 1950 when children with disabilities were sequestered or lobotomized.
DeVos as Secretary of Education could be the worst thing to happen for the educational system in the US. Period. America will not advance in our scientific achievement by teaching creationism next to evolution. Our public schools can not withstand further erosion of funding by directing it to private schools. As many have pointed out, public education is not for individual children, it is for all of us. We all benefit from living around intelligent people. But America has begun to prove that we don’t deserve to be surrounded by smart people. Perhaps public education has failed us after all. I mean, Trump was elected somehow. How can a population of critical thinkers possibly be so badly duped? No matter. I’m sure that other countries will value both of my sons and their creativity and interpersonal skills. Skills they learned at a “American” school — a private school doing hard work to educate children, just like all those public schools in the US do.
As a further motivator to get caught up on some blogging, here are the times I traveled in 2016…
Early January we were in Romania and then Serbia for our winter break.
Spring Break in March was spent in Thailand.
In late April we had to go to Sri Lanka for a visa renewal for Jordan.
In mid-May we went to Bangalore for Jacob’s swim meet.
For summer break we flew to Seattle where we stayed for a while before renting an RV and driving through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Oregon. Then we spent time in New York before returning to India.
We went to New Delhi for a long weekend in September.
I had an overnight volleyball trip to Sri Lanka in September.
For our fall break we went to Paris.
In October I had our team’s volleyball tournament in Oman.
In November I went rafting with a group of 12 students for four days on the Mahakali River which separates India and Nepal.
We flew to Madurai for Thanksgiving break.
Winter break we went to Ukraine, Finland and then rang in the new year in Estonia.
A little over three weeks ago I stopped by a place that I have wanted to stop at for a few years. It is located less than 10 minutes away from us but isn’t usually open when we drive by. I asked about having a table made for us to use as our dining room table that also could serve as a gaming table. They gave me an estimate given my specifications, I gave them a $90 deposit (well, 6,000 Indian rupees) and then I headed home to draw up plans. The next day I stopped by and talked more with one of the carpenters and my sketches in hand.
I stopped by twice to check on the progress and today they delivered the final product. The table top measures 45 inches by 69 inches. It is in three pieces, two at about 28 inches and the center leaf is 14 inches wide. This was intentional — I wanted the top to be versatile and my parents let me know that one huge table top is very heavy to lift and cumbersome to stow. We can take just one of the larger pieces off and have enough space for three people to play and not have to clear the table. Or remove one end and the center piece for a larger area. Or take off the two large ends and use the center leaf to separate areas like a game master and the adventuring party. Or just leave it on one end for the popcorn bowl and drinks.
The play area itself is dropped four inches from the four inch wide railing. The surface is 39 inches by 63 inches and is covered in a dark red fabric with a bit of texture which I hoped would allow for cards to be picked up easily. The size is intentionally big so that we can play even our largest games (or Pepper could do a large puzzle) and still have room without feeling like the table is too large.
The entire thing is made of solid teak except the plywood bottom. Aside from the dimensions being slightly larger than a 3×5 foot dining table, the other thing that pushed the cost up a little was that I had these carved legs made.
There are two things that are not excellent. First, the three table top pieces don’t fit well together on the seams so there are gaps. I should have suggested that they make one big table top and then cut it apart before finishing it. Second, the table legs make a strange corner where they protrude through the floor of the playing area and up to the rail. In hindsight I would have had them either move the rail to cover it, make a larger rail, or added wood to the inside so the rail doesn’t overhang the play surface.
In total it cost us $575 (39,000 INR) plus $5 (300 INR) for delivery. We hope that this becomes a family heirloom and that our boys are fighting over it (civilly) many years from now. Or maybe we should order another one now just to head off the family feud.
On the weekends I usually get up before the rest of the family and walk down to the beach to beach-comb, get some fresh air and steps in and to clear my head. Beach walks here are not always the most pleasant. Many people do not have plumbing or toilets so the beaches tend to have many piles of human waste and invariably I need to alter my pace to avoid men defecating like the beach is their litter box. I’ve seen plenty of dead animals on the short stretch of beach I usually walk. Rats, a kitten, dogs, even a pig and a mongoose after last year’s floods. But the large number of sea turtles that I see this time of the year is most depressing.
Every winter, sea turtles return to the beaches of Chennai to lay eggs. Every year while on my walks I see many dead sea turtles. I assumed that they were dying from feral dogs attacking them but a man I met on the beach said that it is from fishermen ignoring bans on certain gear during the nesting season. That makes more sense because the turtles are usually not torn up like they would be if dogs were eating on them.
This year I counted six dead turtles along about two kilometers of beach. A week later most of the carcasses were washed away by high tides. Maybe most of my gruesome sightings for a while will involve the discarded puffer fish and lost dolls.
The major project we hired a carpenter to do for us was to make four bookshelves. We love books. We also love games and Pepper loves puzzles. Our collection of all three had really outgrown the single bookcase and two cabinets that we have from the school and the landlord. So we decided to order our own.
I knew I wanted them to not be too large individually. I wanted some versatility — stackable is what I guess I was looking for. So I designed two components. The bottom one has three compartments. The bottom is 16 inches tall and the next two are 12 inches tall. Yesterday the carpenter finished those two units so we moved them inside and loaded them up with our games and puzzles.
We’ll probably be able to move some things around after the top two pieces are done. The bottom two shelves on them are 12 inches tall and the top two are almost ten inches tall. In total the four pieces will be eight feet wide and just under eight feet tall.
One of the many things that Pepper has been wanting is a larger shoe rack for next to our front door. Our first year in India we bought a metal one that is less than 3 feet tall, about two feet wide and has five wire shelves. It has been full of shoes and had piles of shoes around it just about since we bought it.
Last week I hired a carpenter to make us our own shoe rack and this one is over three feet tall, exactly 4 feet wide and had five shelves plus the top surface. Made out of hardwood plywood with teak facing here it is loaded with our shoes and some helmets.
The cushion on top is for the cats. They love watching out the window. The shelves are all 6 inches apart except the bottom which is 8. They are also 12 inches deep whereas the old one we were using was just 10.
It cost around $100 to have made. Probably a little pricey. But we knew we didn’t want doors on it because, well, we’re honest about how likely we would be to use it then. I do like the look of this one but it is considerably shorter and costs three times as much as we spent.
This is a long weekend because of the Tamil festival of Pongal — the winter harvest festival. Friday morning (Boghi) people burned their old and unwanted items which creates quite a heavy amount of smoke throughout the area. On our drive in to the school we could see the smoldering remains of the fires people lit early in the morning.
Considering that the air in Chennai is generally very good we’re fine with dealing with a half day of bad air pollution.
For our winter break we went to Kiev, Ukraine then Helsinki, Finland up to Rovanievi, Finland and then Tallinn, Estonia. This is a video about our time in Rovanievi in Lapland — right at the Arctic Circle.
We found our place using Booking.com because we found that Airbnb places were pretty much booked up.