Tuesday, June 17, 2008

TNS Tuesday - The First Week

My son was entering what would be the 5th Grade when he started at TNS. I say, 'What would be the 5th Grade' because at The New School there are no grades. It's funny even today, when my kids meet with folks, a doctor or a dentist who ask them "What grade are you in?" (It seems the standard question for an adult to ask a minor, I guess because they can think of no other way to relate to this young person.) Whenever this inevitable question is asked, my kids have often shrug their shoulders and look at me for an answer. I usually shrug my shoulders back at them and that's when they'll say, "My school doesn't have grades." This answer is usually met in one of three ways:

Fist Response: "No grades? What kind of school is that?" *imagine snarky attitude*

Second Response: "No grades? That's interesting, how does that work?" *a tell me more attitude*

Third Response: "Oh." *implying, some sort of homeschool thing, I don't want to know anymore*

To sum up, we've had conversations that end at "Oh." and conversations that go on for the length of our visit.

But let's get back to my sons first week at TNS... But wait, I'm jumping ahead... First I must share with you a bit of back story from his last year at public school... Just a bit though, because these posts are meant to describe the merits of 'Democratic Education' not the shortcomings of a 'Public Education'.

When my son was in 4th grade he had two teachers. He was placed in a class for special needs kids because he had tested ADHD less hyperactivity... Whatever that means? Wouldn't that just be ADD? No, the experts told us ADHD, less the hyperactivity!!! Okay, fine! He didn't jump around in his seat, he just didn't pay attention... Or 'SEEM' to pay attention, because when testing time came, he always passed and we were told he tested in general knowledge at an 8th grade level.

Whatever, all we knew was the teachers didn't seem to like him. We'd be called into a conference with our son, where the teachers would lament over all they were doing for him and how he was falling short of expectations. I wish I'd been the person then, that I am today and stood up for my son. Instead I thought teachers, these teachers, were far knowledgeable than I. I thought Teachers, Doctors, Lawyers, had all the answers. Now I realize they're human, just like me, and prone to make mistakes, just like me. When I think back to those conference sessions and how degraded my son must of felt, it makes me want to cry. The teachers telling us our son isn't measuring up. Us asking our son, why aren't you measuring up? If he'd stayed in that system... If my husband and I had never wizened up to the fact that we knew our son better than anyone else ever could? Well, I shudder to think where his self-esteem would be today.

So now at last I can cut to the first week at The New School. We're thrilled that every day we take our boy to school he's happy to be there. We haven't seen any homework because we understand our son can choose to learn whatever he wants... And my, how pleasant the homework free evenings have been. Our boy has time to spend building things like pulley systems for the tree house in the backyard. He's happy and he smiles a lot... And really, he spending his time learning practical things, fun things, things he's interested in!

Friday pick up of his first week our boy comes running out to us with a smile bigger than his face could possibly hold. He tells us he went sailing on the Chesapeake and learned to use a GPS (global positioning system, if there's anything my boy loves it's electronics) and had quite possibly one of the greatest days of his life! This alone would've made us thrilled beyond compare with our decision to send our boy to TNS but when Melanie (staff member & founder of TNS) wandered up to us and said, "Zak is the greatest kid, he's SO bright and WE just ADORE him!" Well, that's when we knew this was where he belonged. Nothing was more important than giving this kid back his self-esteem.

I think back to a tearful conversation my boy had with me during that year in fourth grade. I hugged him after he'd had a particularly bad day of teasing. He bunched his little hands into tight fists and said, "I've just gotta find a way to show them I'm smart! They all think I'm stupid, and I know I'm not, I've just gotta find a way to PROVE to them how smart I really am." I tried to console him, tell him it didn't matter what 'they' thought, he KNEW he was smart... But you know, there's nothing that compares to having it confirmed by someone who really loves and cares about you. Of course, I love and care for him and think he's amazing, but I'm his mom, it's a given I feel that way. He needed someone he trusted to confirm it for him... And that someone was the staff and students of The New School.


Blogger scargosun said...

I love hearing stories like this because I think it is so great that there are other opportunites out there for different learning styles. Think about the difference it would have made in some many lives if schools didn't teach to a test. I did well in school but I think I really would have excelled with a slightly different teaching experience.

12:26 PM, June 17, 2008  
Blogger lime said...

it makes me so sad that your son suffered the way he did in public school. i'm glad you found a place where he could shine.

i so appreciate your perspective of persuading based on the merits of the new school rather than highlighting the deficits of public school (though even as a member of that system, i can assure you there is PLENTY to put in the deficit column). i think particularly for boys and especially since standardized testing has taken such a ridiculous degree of importance in recent years...the boys are the ones suffering the most because so often they need to learn in ways that allow for a lot of movement and kinesthetic feedback. (that's not to say there aren't girls who learn that way though).

i would love to know, is the new school exempt from all that standardized testing garbage because they don't take federal or state funds? or do they have to participate in it in a different fashion to meet some sort of guidelines put out by some accrediting agency? i'm very curious about that.

again, i so appreciate that you're posting about this.

1:58 PM, June 17, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

I'm so pleased to have this forum to share the ideas of an alternate method of education. Pleased that you're both interested. Both of you are SO right about this method of teaching to test. It puts undue pressure on the teachers and the students. Our next door neighbors daughter is a teacher and she once told us that even though recess for her 3rd graders is just 15 min. long per DAY!!! She wishes the school would do away with recess completely because she doesn't have time to teach all the things she's required... Which is absolutely obscene!!! How do they expect kids to sit still hours on end for instruction... Not learning, but instruction! Office employees receive more breaks... Kids NEED to exercise, play, interact, RUN!... Okay, calm down... I'm dissing the system... Sorry!

Anyway Lime, In order to graduate from TNS, which means to have received an education approved by the state... A student must write and present a thesis to the school community. The thesis can be on any subject the student desires. They must work with a thesis adviser and eventually a thesis review committee made up of students, parents & staff. Usually made up of 6 people. A student preparing for a thesis will typically spend the better part of a school year preparing for the process. Ultimately what the student is trying to prove is that he/she is... Well, the website says it best:

"To reflect on their growth to adulthood, while preparing the written arguments and public defense of their belief that they are ready to be responsible and productive adults. Proof of this, to the satisfaction of the school community of students, staff, and parents, is the requirement for graduation from The New School."

My husband and I have sat through nearly a dozen thesis defenses and I can honestly say 'I' would not be prepared to face such scrutiny. For it's one thing to defend a thesis and quite another to prove you are prepared to be a productive adult and make a positive contribution to society. I should also add that when the term 'productive adult' is used... It doesn't mean how you'll fair in society monetarily... Quite the contrary... What the school community wants to be assured of, is how the student will affect the world in a positive way. It's an exhaustive process, one which is far more difficult than memorizing the answers to a test.

Once the defense is made, there's a question and answer process posed to the 'Diplomate'... He/She is then excused from the room and a discussion takes place on the merits of the defense. Finally an advisory vote is made by the school community to the thesis committee who will then write a review of their thoughts on the thesis. At a later date the committee members reports are reviewed and another Q&A takes place, another vote is made by the community to either award a diploma or suggest the student work toward further growth. The diploma is or is not awarded by a majority vote at that meeting.

7:13 PM, June 17, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi again, Marge. Your post is such a mirror to our own experience, only it was "maybe Aspergers" in our case, though a possibility of "ADHD", also without the H. I, too, found The New School for our Kenny, and I've found it has changed him deeply. Can you imagine a suicidal 7 year old? I was so worried about him. I don't worry about him anymore though, but my hubby does. He can't seem to get past the traditional expectations of school, and even though we also enrolled our 6 year old at the end of this school year, he is questioning the benefits. Maybe we could get together and gang up on him? lol.


8:48 PM, June 17, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Hey Yvonne, I find the best way to deal with the concerns of 'What if he/she doesn't learn ANYTHING???' is to attend every event you can at the school. Talk to the students, talk to the staff, talk to other parents... Talk, Talk, Talk!!! Ask questions, communicate. We'd be very happy to discuss the roller coaster ride... It's not always easy because it's so different from the norm, but as you say, the school has changed him deeply... I'm assuming you mean for the better, that alone means more than conforming to a grade point average, don't you agree?

9:57 PM, June 17, 2008  

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