Thursday, May 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Mark

Today is Mark's 10th birthday. I don't have any babies any more, even if I insist on calling my adult children and my "tween" baby. Mark, Bob and cousin Roslyn are at the movies --- Prince Caspian. Mark and Bob read (well, reread) the book so they would be ready for the movie. At first they read together, but they finished it up separately. I am making a cake and preparing for tacos and tostados for tonight.

It is a tradition in my family to tell embarrassing stories on someones birthday, but I think I'll forgo that. Mark doesn't like it when he is the star of my stories. I've told him he has to live with it. I like to tell Mark stories because he constantly amazes me with his insight and his cleverness. He is funny and kind, smart and witty, and cute as a button. I expect him to grow into a fine, caring, independent young man, as my other sons have done and are doing. I'd feel smug, but I often wonder at them. How did they become such wonderful people? Good men. Good friends. Good sons.

Luck and love and laughter. That's all I can figure. It sure wasn't home cooking.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wrapping up the year

Next week is the last week of school. The children are taking the second half of the PACT this week. PACT is the SC mandated test to see what our children know. Unfortunately, it's a "gotcha" test. No one is allowed to know what will be on the PACT except that it will cover "The Standards." The standards are broad and deep and impossible to cover in a year, especially if the children need to actually learn the information. Another problem with the PACT is that the results will come out in the fall and will be reported as basic, below basic, proficient, and advanced. Whatever that means. As a tool for assessment, it is useless. Students and teachers don't know what skills and knowledge are lacking and even the broad "basic/etc." scoring doesn't come out soon enough to be meaningful or helpful.

At Carolina School for Inquiry, the preparation for the PACT is a low-stress process that is supposed to familiarize kids with the test format and understand testing as a genre. Since one of the reasons we started an inquiry based child centered charter school was that we were concerned that regular public schools were teaching to the PACT rather than for life after the test, it is frustrating to have the PACT as such an important indicator for us. "Yeah, it's great that the kids are happy learning and that they seek out new opportunities and that they can tie together knowledge and skills from all areas and apply it in life. But what do your PACT scores look like?"

Frustrating, but a fact of life. We may not like it, but it's there. It is to be hoped: 1) that our students will show their learning on the PACT this year and 2) that our state will choose a test for next year that will provide accountability while giving a useful measure of learning. I'm feeling pretty good about both of those things.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Now appearing in the role of Ophelia...

When I was a child, we went to visit my mother's sister and her family in Maryland every Christmas and every summer. I always loved the visits, except for one thing. My mother would change from the competent, active, intelligent woman I knew into an insecure younger sister. For at least part of the time, my mother would turn into a ten year old, her sister would turn 15 and her brother would turn 5. It wasn't pretty.

It isn't pretty when it happens to me either. Even though I spend more time with my father and siblings than Mom did with her family, I still have a role and I don't play it so well. Instead of being an intelligent woman, a good mother, a competent & knowledgeable accountant, a problem-solver, I become the bright but flaky and slightly unstable sister. Even though I haven't thrown an object at anyone in over 20 years, I am the fish-wife, the temper-tantrum thrower.

My brother and sister don't pin me to these roles as much as my parents did, and my father continues to do. Sometimes, I sense that they are disappointed in me and my choices, but it isn't crippling. However, I have realized that it is a waste of time for me to talk to my father about anything that is important to me. When I talk about the charter school which I helped start and for which I serve as board chair, he says, "why do you waste your time on that?" Recently he asked me about the tax consequences of selling his house and when I tried to explain, he picked up a magazine and sighed, "Never mind, I'll ask Pete (the non-relative he pays to prepare his taxes.)" I spend a good part of my days making tax consequences understandable to people who don't do math. I am known as someone who can explain accounting principles in English. But not to my father, who only hears an 8 year old who wants to watch the Monkees when everyone else wants to watch something else.

I would like to say that it doesn't matter, but it continues to haunt me. When I need to ask for something or stand up for a point of view, I hear a voice telling me that I am a fish-wife and I am never satisfied. When I succeed, the voice points out how lucky I am and that luck can change. My inner sound track is "don't get too full of yourself." It plays in chorus with "pretty is as pretty does."

I can work on changing the song, but I'm not going to change my father's picture of me. Since there are more good things about visiting than bad things, I'll continue to visit. But I will check myself at the door, and not make the mistake of sharing hopes or fears only to have them used as further examples of my foolish inability to deal with the world. But I really really need a new theme song.