Iowa On My Mind

This week at my kids’ school, they’re conducting the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills(ITBS).  By the way, every time I see that acronym, I want to say “Itsy Bitsy”.

Anyway, this is a BIG deal at the school, to the educators, the parents, AND the students.  For the school, they get a quantifiable measurement of their work to put in the school brochure.  Parents get the joy of saying that their kid tests in the 99th percentile and is at a “n-grade level” (n usually being 4 or 5 grades above their actual grade level).  Students get a whole week of everyone treating them like they are little princes and princesses. (No homework!  Make sure to eat 2 good meals and have a snack!  Get plenty of sleep!  Parents, make sure little johnny has no distractions at home!)

It’s actually been pretty nice this week, and I’ll miss going back to the grind next week (till spring break the following week, of course).  In a few months, I’ll be posting my kids’ astronomical scores – if they continue along the path they’ve followed in the Iowa’s so far, my 4th and 5th graders are both about ready to graduate high school (skills-wise).  I’m not bragging, because I take very little credit for it.  I only take credit for their good looks 🙂

Trillian is still very especially talented in math.  Off the charts talented.  I’m so happy that getting a new teacher has eliminated those “I hate math even though I’m great at it” sentiments.  Interestingly, when you ask her what she wants to do when she grows up, none of the paths is tied to advanced mathematics at all (design or architecture, zoology or veterinary medicine, chef). 

It is amazing that we do not share any DNA, but are just alike.  Both of us have high aptitudes in logical skills, yet prefer endeavors that are artistic or “caring”. (Although you might consider zoology “scientific”, you’d have to understand my daughter to understand her motivations.) 

My son has an extreme aptitude in language, yet is gearing himself toward some kind of science.  No accounting for taste, I guess.  Personally, I think he’d be a great lawyer or politician.  That boy can never lose an argument – and the funny thing is, he’s outsmarting me and winning more and more of them lately.

Of course, 6 years is a long time, and even then, many people have no idea what they’d like to do with their lives when they get to college.  All I can do is celebrate them for who they are, and ensure that they understand that no road is closed to them, no matter which path they choose to take.

Public Educators: Please Say This Isn’t True

Considering my reminiscing about being on the high school debate team back in the stone ages, this article in the Tennessean piqued my interest.  Until I got to this:

Antioch is the only public school in the state that offers debate classes, and it is the only public school in Tennessee that has a policy debate team.

What the?  You mean all those teams that were around in the 70’s and 80’s are gone?  My very first girlfriend was a girl from the Cohn debate team – Cohn High School was pretty darn inner-city before they closed it down.  EVERY public school had a debate team, back in the day.

You’re telling me that Metro Nashville public high schools (outside of Antioch, supported by the Alliance for Public Education) have NO debate teams?  That whole, wonderful academic world I was a part of is now vanished? 

This makes me horribly, horribly sad.  The program run by Alliance for education needs to be expanded to all of Metro Nashville schools.  Why doesn’t Metro sponsor debate tournaments anymore?  It isn’t even a sanctioned extracurricular activity anymore?

That just makes me want to scream.

Read these testimonials.  Just read them.

I think I’ve found my new cause.   This is wrong.  I’m going to try to do something about it.  I don’t know just what, yet.  But I can’t just sit by knowing that this opportunity isn’t even available to today’s students.

Crack House? Harvard? Outcome Uncertain

Speaking of catholic school girls in trouble…

Report cards came yesterday.  Zaphod is still making honor roll, all As, and two Bs.  I’m very proud of him, because each of his classes has “advanced” in front of the name.  I bought him some ridiculous video game blingage, that nevertheless meant a lot to him as a reward.

I expected the worst from Trillian this six weeks.  I figured that there would be some penalty for “the incident”, that maybe she had gotten behind because of the in-school suspension.  I had these paranoid visions of grades slipping, then truancy, then drugs, alcohol, and an arrest record. 

Hey, this is not your child…

Anyway, she got straight As for the second straight grading period.  I am so proud of her; she really works hard, and has one of the most natural “math” minds I’ve ever seen, at any age.  I have to assume that “the incident” was a one-time bit of weirdness, and having all of the adults in her life freaking out over it has probably ensured it’ll stay that way.

I have to resist envisioning a full scholarship to Harvard, now.   But, when you are a parent of a child who is just about to hit puberty, you might as well give up guessing where things are going to go.

Whew – Let’s Catch Up!

I have this terrible habit of arranging my schedule so that everything important comes due at the same time.  I guess that’s why I’ve been mostly absent around here lately.  This week, I had to deliver a prototype for a major system we’re working on, and I discovered it is much more high profile than I thought.  I had another certification test to take today, and I’ve been furiously studying (got a 960, which means I missed 2 out of 42).  One more, and I’m an MCAD (Microsoft Certified Application Developer)

On that front, it would appear I’m being wooed.  I can’t say much, I shouldn’t say anything, but I’m a blabber-mouth. I might be facing a choice soon.  When you’re a young man, the security-pay dichotomy is a no-brainer, you take the risk and go with the pay.  It’s not so simple when you’re not a young man anymore.  Being 43, I believe my company is going to see me as a greater and greater target for downsizing.  Not that my company sucks – they have had many retirements lately, and that means that, in general, they let people stay around long enough TO retire.

But it’s a high-risk situation.  I make really good money for a man of my educational background, and a younger man could probably do the same work for less pay.  It’s just the way things are.  I have talent, and, if living in Nashville has taught me anything, it’s that talent ain’t that rare.

So, there’s something out there that I know for a fact offers more security.  I don’t know if it’s less pay or not, I’m guessing it is.  But, with each passing year, I run a higher and higher risk of losing it all.

On the other hand, I’ve never played not to lose.  But, I’d like to see what the other side is offering, at the least.

But enough generalities about work.  The band’s kept me busy lately, too.  We have two, count ’em, two gigs this Sunday, one in Cookville!  Good thing it’s a Titans bye week. 

Also, this is your first notice: X-Alt (including Ginger) will be playing another community coffeehouse at New Beginnings Fellowship on October 13th.  Y’all have to come out, we’ve prepared a rockin’ set.  I’ll bug you about it quite a bit more in the coming days.

I had an interesting parental situation come up yesterday, but I think I’ll put it in its own post.  I’ve always had a fear that putting my kids in surrounings where their peers come from families with greater household incomes would haunt us.  Never in my wildest dreams, though, did I imagine my nine year old daughter would one day be sobbing in the backseat of the car, grieving the general unfairness of life.  Nine.  I thought it would at least wait till middle school.  The only good thing is that I went through this before they did, and I can guide them through these troubled waters.

I’ll give you a hint: it was a fundraising contest, and my daughter worked her butt off.  But another kid’s parents simply wrote a thousand dollar check and bought the victory for their kid.  Trillian knows I can’t do that. Her class would have won the contest, had it not been for the cheating-shortcut-takers.  My kids’ school is chock full of kids of doctors and music industry types.  I’m just a corporate code-slinger, and Lintilla does her job out of a sense of service, rather than for the measly pay.

Sorry, I don’t mean to unload this on y’all, but I’m just mad at myself (because I put my kids in this situation), and mad at the world.  I’m taking the kids out to eat tonight, though, to celebrate their hard work, and my genius in passing another exam!

On a happier note, things are going well at the paid blogging gig, I’m getting more page views than I ever dreamed I would.  And I’m only about a third of the way to where they want me to be.  But, I’ve only been at it a little over a month, so I’d say I’m doing pretty well.

I’m really enjoying working with the smaller kids at church.  I had put that gentle daddy role on the shelf long ago, and it’s good to get it out and try it on again.  Not a single rolled eye or sarcastic remark.  They are actually starting to trustme now.  Their parents still look at me with suspicion.  A man?  Teaching small children?  How do we know he isn’t a pedophile? (That’s the vibe I get, at least.  Dang matriarchy).

Thanks for all the encouraging words about Lintilla’s upcoming surgery.  I feel much less scared about it after reading your comments.

Well, that’s enough for now.  I should have separated it into different posts, but it’s been so long, I figured I owed you a catch-up post.

I Am NOT Smarter Than A 5th Grader

I knew this day would come, I just didn’t think it would come so soon.  Zaphod has been spotty on his math assignments; some, he’s in the 80′ and 90’s, some, he gets a failing grade on.  We had been trusting him to complete his homework on his own, because he had always done so well in the past.  Recently, he’d been getting more frequent failing grades, so we told him that he had to have us check his homework every night.

Last night was my first night of checking his math homework.  I found several errors and worked him through the proper analysis to correct them.  I made sure every answer was correct.

He got his worst grade of the year on that one.  A couple of questions were ones he HAD right, and I made him change them.  How embarrassing.

I’m afraid he’s almost beyond my help, and that’s scary.  He’s in 5th grade, learning concepts I swear I was taught in the 9th grade, and that was almost 30 years ago.  I work with algebraic problems every day, but in the programming language I use, I tell the computer what order of operations I want by manipulating parentheses.  I’ve plum forgotten how they work without them. 

I’m afraid if I try to help my son, I’ll do more harm than good.  I have to totally leave him at the mercy of the teacher.  She’s a great teacher, but I’ve always had the philosophy that Lintilla and I are the ones in charge of our children’s education, and the teachers were subcontractors.  Now, we are almost totally out of the picture.  It’s really, really hard to let go.

However, Zaphod is absolutely knocking English and Literature out of the park.  He’s excelling in French, and has a perfect score for the year in science.  He’s a GREAT student.  I just don’t know if he’s as advanced in math as they think he is.  And, I’ve learned I’m not as good at math as I thought I was.

Trillian is the exact opposite.  The girl is an absolute math whiz.  She’s taking advanced math, and has a 99 for the year.  I watch her doing her homework, and math seems effortless for her.  I think her problem last year is that they weren’t challenging her enough. 

You know the cliche: girls are supposed to be more verbal?  Well, Trillian struggles (if you can call scoring in the 80’s struggling) in English and Reading – the exact opposite of her brother.  She DOES however, excel in science, as well as math.  We’re working to help her with her verbal skills (her mom was an English major).  We’ll get her somewhat proficient, and that’s OK.  But with math and science, she has a gift.  It’s a joy to watch.

Maybe Zaphod could help her with English, and she could help him with math.  But first, I’d have to get them to quit fighting long enough to get their homework done.

However, I just can’t get over the fact that I, in effect, turned in 5th grade homework, and failed miserably.

A’s and B’s

The young man, a boy really, stood up during prayer requests.  I turned around to look, he seemed about the age of my own children.  Something about the tone of his voice told me this was about somethng very important to the young man.  I didn’t hear the beginning of what he said (many times prayer time is like a press gaggle, with everyone starting at once, with one coming out dominant). 

Anyway, what I gathered was that the boy had been struggling in school, mightily.  And measures had been taken to help him along, mainly giving him a quiet area to study and focus.  And he was glad to report that the changes at home had helped: in the past week he had received all A’s and B’s.

And he was in tears.

I followed suit shortly thereafter.  I was convicted, and I was a little shamed.

You see, my children have never, ever struggled at school.  A’s are pretty much the norm, with the scattered B here and there.  And yet, I never tell the kids how proud I am for this.  High academic acheivement is just something that is expected.  Lintilla and I aren’t “those” parents: think Anthony Michael Hall’s parents in the Breakfast Club.  We don’t push; at least we don’t think we do.  We’ve never doled out punshment for a C.

Yet, because we’ve set up a household where high acheivement is the default, maybe Zaphod and Trillian are under more pressure than I imagine.  I know that I unwittingly feel a tinge of disappointment when they bring home a C or less, and certainly they pick up on that?  And I don’t know how to turn that off.

All  I can do is pray to receive the grace to smile as long as good effort was put forth (it always is).  And tell the kids how proud I am at all they do in school.  And show them, somehow.

Lintilla and I have always had a parental saying “Smart is easy.  Good is hard.”  Well, that isn’t true for everyone.  We’ve been extremely fortunate, we set incredibly high standards,  and so far our kids have risen to them.  We are very lucky, indeed.

So, I want to thank that boy for standing up this past Sunday.  For his tears over his struggle, and his profound joy for gettng really good grades.  His heartfelt praise touched me in a way I cannot fully express – and taught me that I need to work on appreciating my children and their accomplishments more.

Education Coolness

I knew this would eventually happen.  My daughter came home yesterday, plopped a CD in her laptop, and copied her math book, the entire book in pdf form, to her desktop.

Considering that last year we had to buy a second set of books to keep at home so she didn’t throw her back out lugging them all back and forth to school, this is a good development, indeed.

It’s my understanding that this is a pilot program at my kids’ school.  It would be cool if the entire school did it (my son is thinking about putting weightlifting down as an extracurricular activity because of all the book lugging), but that probably won’t come till next year.

I realise this would not be as easy to roll out to public schools (some kids, who am I kidding – most elementary-age kids don’t have laptops).  But, from where I sit, it’s something worth pursuing.

I’m Just Here For the Swag

So, being out of the loop of these things, I’ll ask you guys:  has the Mayor’s First Day Festival become just another parental swag-fest?  Or is there actually useful information at this thing that parents of Metro schoolchildren can use?

Watching it grow over the years has been interesting; it appears to now be fully corporate-tized.  I picture it as a city-sponsored cousin to the Nashville Bridal Fair, or the Nashville Parent Private School Fair, the Summer Camp Fair, or the Nashville Baby Fair, or even the Parade of Homes for that matter.

In other words, advertising cloaked as useful information.  Or am I being all too cynical about this?  Because, isn’t advertising information?  Paid for, spun to put the subject in the best light, highly targeted, but it is information.

But then again, my kids really love swag.  Maybe we’ll go.

Those Parents

I want to thank you all for helping to bring me back from temporary insanity, as displayed in my post about private high schools.  I assure you, we aren’t those parents.  Our parental motto, from the beginning, has been “Smart is easy. Good is hard.”  None of my experience so far has led me to doubt that simple truth.

But it happens every year about this time.  Seeing how much money we’re paying, and how much more  it will be when they get to high school (both kids at the same time, mind you), makes you go into some heavy introspection.  Are we doing the right thing?  What are we getting out of this?  What if, after all this worry and sacrifice, one or both of them rejects everything about us and gets tattooed, pierced, and moved in with some guy named Razorhead?

Deep down, I know we can’t worry about these things.  They belong to God, He just put them in our care for a little while.  We cannot mold them into our dreams.  We must let them grow into theirs.

Also, there’s the practical aspect.  It’s my understanding that after 8 to 10 years, the advantage of having gone to an Ivy League school (as opposed to State U) disappears (all things being equal).  I could never in my wildest dreams afford Vanderbilt, much less Harvard.  Besides, if you went by our kids’ dreams right now, their choice of careers would mean that Ivy League just wouldn’t make sense (Trillian would major in Animal Science or Pre-vet – therefore the University of Tennessee is a great choice; Zaphod literally wants to be a rocket scientist (or at least an Aviation Engineer), therefore any school with a good engineering department would be the best fit).

But, keep in mind, they are 9 and 10.  In two or three years, Trillian might want to be a mathematician and Zaphod might want to write the great American novel.  So, it’s folly to worry about such things right now.

Coumpounding things, in the back of my mind, I have to remember that being a high-Achieving Asian will actually, possibly, hurt them in admissions – even though culturally my kids are about as Asian as Issac Hayes.  But once again, I can’t worry about these things right now.

Last May, they had an awards ceremony at school.  There were about 3 or 4 extremely high acheivers in each grade, and our kids weren’t in that group.  As little Johnny Braniac won the 4th grade award for acheivement in Math (his 5th award of the night), Lintilla whispered in my ear, “What’s wrong with our kids?”  At that moment, I must admit, I shared the sentiment.

You see how pervasive this is?  We talked about it later that night.  Both of our kids are Duke Tip Scholars, both have ITBS scores that guage their academic levels as about 4 grades above their current grade level, both are healthy, happy children with loves for potty humor and country music.  We have children who do not talk back (much) and never get into trouble with other adults.  But because they weren’t the absolute best, we felt inadequate as parents.

I need for my pastor to turn away for a moment bcause I have something important to say:

Screw that.

OK, I feel better.

I guess my original question was more of a financial one than anything: are the extra dollars for the harder schools worth it?  Lord knows, depending on the school, we may have a very hard time paying for it.  But you know what?  The conclusion I’ve come to is this:  we should save for the most expensive schools we can, and when the time comes choose the correct ones for our children.

If they happen to be the less expensive ones, we’ll use that money to go to Disney World.

Mediocre Excellence or Excellent Mediocrity?

We’ve had our yearly discussion of high schools at our house.  For clarification, we are talking about private schools.  Which, of course, means I can never run for mayor. Anyway, it doesn’t matter that my kids are only starting the 4th and 5th grades this year.  We must talk of these things because of the sheer cost involved. 

I have to budget for high school now, because of the huge variance between what we pay for tuition now (which is very, very reasonable), and some of the high schools we are looking at.  The difference in cost can range from an amount that is roughly what we’re paying now for elementary school, to $18,000 more than we are paying now.  (I won’t be sending my kids to that one).

(NOTE: Yes, we could always have a discussion on what a rich elitist I am.  However, since any such discussion would be based on a false premise grounded in ignorance, let’s stick to the subject at hand, shall we?)

The cost also varies wildly based on whether or not I convert to Catholicism.  Don’t think the thought hasn’t crossed my mind. 🙂

But that’s not what I came here to talk to you about.

My concern right now is academics.  And I have a strange question for you academic-type people.

Right now, my kids go to an academically rigorous school.  Oh, they don’t kill them or anything, but my kids have always tested about 4 or 5 levels above their current grade levels, yet they are middle of the pack when it comes to their peers. 

And that brings me to high school.  Let’s say our goal is getting the kids into really good universities one day (hopefully, with scholarship), and successful careers after that.  Are we better off sending them to a high school with a very rigorous academic department, with the prestige that accompanies it, or do we send them to a less rigorous academic school, with sights set on them graduating at the top of their class?

Which looks better to a prospective university?

Compounding the issue, right now my daughter wants to go to an all-girls school.  There are currently two in Nashville, and one of them is out of the question (because my last name is not Frist or Ingram).  The other is very good academically, but I might have to get a second job to afford it.  But I’ll do what it takes.  Anyway, once puberty hits, I don’t think she’ll be as keen on the idea of an all-girls school, but I could be wrong.

My son?  He doesn’t care, as long as the school has a good baseball team.

Of course, my job could always go away tomorrow, and this won’t be a concern anymore.  Thanks to SSA, at least one of the reasons I send my kids to private school isn’t an issue anymore.

Anyway, the question at hand: High Academics (middle of the pack), or Less Strenuous Academics (top of the class) ?