Archive for June, 2006


Learning a Language

One of the most important things you can do for your child educationally is to encourage them to learn a language. The synapses in the brain that work for language acquisition are formed by the age of five or six, which is actually one of the reasons shows like Sesame Street present clips (and follow-up activities on their website) in both English and Spanish. Children learn a second language best at a young age, but sadly, most school districts don’t begin language instruction until middle or high school. Of course, it is never too late to learn a language, however, your child’s chances of being fluent in more than one language are greatly increased if they begin learning early.

There are plenty of software programs available, as well as websites, videos, and other methods that you and your child can do together. Immersion programs and exchange programs can be great for older kids, as long as you’re comfortable with allowing your 12 – 17 year old to live with another family in a foreign country for anywhere from a week to a year. My family always hosted exchange students, which is an excellent way to learn about another culture, but my parents we not comfortable with me leaving the country own my own. I think they thought I’d never want to come back.

If your school does not have a language program, I strongly suggest that you join the PTA (if you’re not already a member) and begin a campaign to bring language and culture into the classroom. Students (and adults) who only speak one language are less likely to travel, more likely to be isolationism, and have less of an understanding of the world and its people. Acquiring a second or third language can only be a good thing, for both you and you child.


The New PTA

The PTA in my community has never been much more than fund raising and teacher-appreciation, but I am happy to see that this is not the case nationwide. Our schools and children have few advocacy groups tailored just for them, and if you are not a member of the PTA or similar organization and you have school-aged children, I would strongly encourage your participation. Schools are often overlooked when it comes to budgeting, unless programs are being cut. Teachers are held responsible for parenting, leaving less time for actual teaching. Students rights are violated much more often than you would imagine. But the PTA is trying to change all of that.

The PTA is supporting aspects of No Child Left Behind that are beneficial to students and fighting things like standardized testing, which hurts everyone involved. They are working on ways for principals, teachers, and parents to work together (with a HEAVY emphasis on parent involvement) rather than against each other, which has been a growing trend in the past 10 – 15 years. They are starting and continuing letter-writing campaigns, which DO work (especially on a local level), contrary to the belief of several of my readers. I would like to see local PTA’s get more involved in providing information to parents on educational law, ways to be more involved in their child’s education both at home and at school, and how to be more politically active. In all, it seems like they are stepping up to the challenges education in America is facing and doing their best to advocate for the students.


Grasping at Straws

As a teacher, I do my best to remain neutral in the classroom on all subjects, especially those that I am most passionate about. I won’t talk about politics, I avoid questions about religion, and I refer them to their parents when it comes to drugs. I do this because I wouldn’t want anyone to tell my child how to think about these issues, so I guess it’s sort-of a “do unto others” kind of a thing, which is why I was appalled to learn that educators, coaches, and mentors in New Jersey are touring Fort Dix, taking rides in helicopters, and shooting weapons so that they can target their students and encourage them to join the military. Due to this program, recruitment in New Jersey is up, though it is down in almost every other state.

I firmly believe that NO ONE, including a teacher or principal, gets to talk to my child about a career choice (especially one that could get them killed), or any life choice, for that matter, without my presence or permission. The military says the program is designed to give educators a better understanding of what it does. I’m quite clear on the objectives of the US military, thank you very much. I find it disturbing that the government uses the fact that schools use federal money to force them to allow things to happen that are not in the best interest of the student, such as allowing recruiters to spend time in schools and talk to children without parental permission.

As of today:
2,525 US soldier dead in Iraq
18,572 US soldiers wounded in Iraq (at least)
Over 50,000 Iraqi s killed



I recently saw a story on the Nightly News about obesity in the United States and how it is becoming one of the largest growing industries in America. People are marketing to overweight Americans with Biggie-sized everything. Even hospitals are widening chairs and beds to accommodate fat people. The story really annoyed me. Not once did they mention WHY Americans are fat, what they can do to reduce their weight, or the health risks associated with being overweight. They made it sound like obesity is just another growing trend. They didn’t reference the FDA and how they are failing to do anything to help solve the problem, or that Americans are much more sedentary then they have ever been at any time in our country’s past. Nor did they mention that fat people themselves are to blame for the problem. How difficult is it to say, “PUT DOWN THE BURGER!!!”? Eat a salad, or, gasp, exercise. I am disgusted by the obesity problem in America, especially when people are starving in other parts of the world. I feel it is another are in which the people and the government have dropped the ball. This is a selfish, consumer-based, apathetic society. Americans expect to have everything handed to them, and shun hard-work and self-control as if it were the plague.

And I should mention that I am not thin. Before I was pregnant I was 15 pounds overweight, but I NEVER attributed the extra pounds to anything but my own lack of self-control and aversion to regular exercise. I should also mention that since I became pregnant, I have put on a minimal amount of weight because I changed my eating habits immediately, exercised self-control much more, and started doing simple things like taking the stairs and walking the dogs more often.


It’s About Time

This is a case of, “right idea, wrong way to go about it”. Our Secretary of Education is traveling to other countries to find a way to change the shape of US education policy. Though Spellings is not the first person in this office to do so, it does seem that she’s traveling quite a bit more, and often to countries that have nothing to offer us academically.

I agree that we have a lot to learn from certain countries about education, especially if we want our children to be able to compete on a global scale, but some of the ones Spellings is traveling to leave a lot to be desired, and open her up to the criticism that it’s all just PR. England’s system is beginning to go downhill, but they still have National Education Standards, like France, which is something this country could certainly benefit from. The program in Japan is incredible, and though she’s not going there, looking at education in China could also be beneficial. If we’re going to go by test scores, she should stop by Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany to get some insight into math education, though she is going to Russia, a country that is way ahead of us in science, along with Canada.

With the war in Iraq and the economic problems we have at the moment, education seems pretty low on the priority list for most Americans. With elections approaching, it is up to the average American to shape the debate. We must steer the politicians away from volatile issues where nothing gets resolved such as gay marriage and abortion and focus on more pressing issues, like how Americans can receive affordable health care and why our children are not as well educated as those in countries with more kids and less money.


Getting Your Teen to Read

Getting your middle or high school student to read during the summer can be quite difficult, especially if he or she isn’t a big reader during the school year. Though it’s best to encourage your child to read early and often (daily, for about half an hour or longer), convincing your older child to read doesn’t have to be a chore.

Remember that reading does not have to be limited to books. Newspapers, magazines, and web sites that you approve are excellent reading material. You just need to take a little time to find out what your kids are interested in. For kids who say they can never find what they want in a book, Reading Rants is a great way to help them categorize their interests. This site has many different categories of books that your student might like, and it’s run by an adult who has read and approved the books. Still, if you have religious or social concerns, you may want to look over the lists before giving the site address to your child. The Web English Teacher can help you find books to suggest to your child, and can give a lot of guidance on how to talk to your child about what is happening in them. It’s also a good way to find activities to supplement what your child is doing during the school year.

Being able to talk about what your child is reading is sometimes just as important as getting the child to read. I would suggest looking over the book, or reading it when your child isn’t, so that you can have interesting discussions about literature, cultural articles, or information found in the local newspaper. Try to ask questions about what your child is reading. It helps build comprehension skills and makes it easier for your child to remember what he or she has read.



On NPR yesterday there was a story about an Iraqi man living in the US who was arrested under the Patriot Act for sending money to family members who are left in Iraq. I had a rather heated discussion with my husband (who believes that people SHOULD be able to send money to their family) over this. Though I sympathize with the Iraqi people, especially since we have destroyed their country for no reason, I think the government WAS justified in arresting this man. Though he probably intended the money to go towards food, medicine, and other essentials, we cannot be sure that his family is not part of the insurgency and wouldn’t use the money for purchasing weapons, creating IED’s, or funding people who are doing those things. I explained to my husband that if my cousin was killed in Iraq and I knew that Americans were able to send money there, I would always wonder if it was one of my own people who provided the money for the weapon that killed him. Even though I wholeheartedly disagree with this war and I believe the Iraqi people are perfectly justified in fighting against us, especially with the added fuel of the Haditha incident, I DO NOT believe that anyone living in America and benefiting from our economic system should be able to send money to a country with which we are at war. That is treason, plain and simple.

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I am not perfect. I do my best to practice what I preach, but I am human. My mantra is, "DO NO HARM". I may not always succeed, but I will always try. My goal is to be a better person today than I was yesterday.

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