Radical Unschooling

#100 Days of Home Ed…Day 33

Yesterday, I told you about the wonderful beginning of PanKwake’s education in the small and caring community nursery. Today we’ll talk about how it all began to go terribly wrong.

I was reluctant to send PanKwake to school so early. Over a year before the half-day American kindergarten experience. But with the help of the staff at that brilliant nursery, we began to prepare. They got her to the point that she would wear shoes indoors. She would sit at the table with the other children for lunch and snacks. Even if she did not eat anything, at least she was no longer slinging her plate across the room.

The Early Year’s SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) and nursery manager arranged a meeting with the SENCo at the school PanKwake would be attending. But even as we ALL voiced our concerns regarding her development, the woman was only interested in the rare occurrence of major seizures. The school just would NOT listen. It was to be pattern that was repeated over and over again.

I was supposed to meet with this lady again before PanKwake started school in the fall but she never contacted me. I began to phone and email the headteacher (principal…for my American friends). It took me a couple of weeks to arrange a very adversarial meeting. He did not like my truth and objected to the word…negligence. Like my Nanny always said…if the shoe fits, kick yourself with it.

But after that very rough start, things settled down at first. Though PanKwake’s teacher was brand new, her first year out of university, she had a very experienced teaching assistant, who she bonded to just as she had her keyworker in nursery. She even made a couple of friends.

Things though we falling apart on the home front. After years of difficulties and the miscarriage, my marriage was succumbing to the additional pressures of living under the same rough with her dad’s family. I had no fortress or refuge to call my own…especially as I battled the depression and anxiety that followed my miscarriage.

It was a convenient excuse for the school though. All of PanKwake’s increasingly challenging behaviors associated with the DEMANDS of school could be blamed on US.

To make matters worse when we came back from Christmas holidays they had moved the teaching assistant (TA) whom had been her life line to a higher year (grade for Americans). Things got worse for her. And for us.

There was not a day went by that I did not pick her up in tears. I cannot once remember a smile. And their ‘rewards’ system flat out sucked!

Each child had a laminated sticker with his name on it. There were five clouds on the wall…gold, silver, green, yellow and red. Throughout the day, the child was told to move her name from cloud to cloud based solely upon her most recent behavior. PanKwake ALWAYS ended the day on either yellow or red and as a result never got the prizes that the teacher gave out. While the little boy who had bullied her all day did…simply because he helped to pick up a toy or two.

That for me exemplifies EVERY THING that is wrong with schools.

You see to this day…PanKwake cannot tolerate having her things out of sight. Especially special things! I have learned that is the result of visual and short term memory issues. For her…if something is put away…it is GONE! So there was no way that after holding all her sensory overload inside all day long…seven hours of too loud, too bright, too smelly…was PanKwake going to now help to do something that went against everything she believed…she NEEDED!

So instead she was punished for something over which she had no control…while her bully was rewarded for the most inconsequential thing. How is that FAIR or JUST? What is it teaching our children about the world in which they live?

For me…pure and simple…(Pardon the language…sort of anyway…but some things just gotta be said…)

Bend over…spread’em…and take it up the !!!!

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That is what schools ultimate teach our children.

Pause a moment…and think about your own school experience. Almost no one I know remembers schools as the best time of their lives…and those were generally the brightest that failed to live up to their potential. For most adults, the memories are spotty at best…and for many, school is the beginning of a life time of depression and anxiety. The end of our dreams…

I HATE this episode of The Amazing World of Gumball. I usually blame the mother for killing not just her children’s dreams but her husband’s also. But to be fair…she is doing her best (poor though that be) to shield them from the NASTINESS that is school socialization.

Oh, yes, PanKwake…even at four…was bullied in school. Bullied so badly that I lost that happy, outgoing and bright child I had entrusted to these people (stopping myself with great difficulties from using the expletive that I want to). In her place, I had a withdrawn, sullen and broken little girl. It took me over two years to repair the damage they had done…and even today she still remembers that little boy…and would refuse to go to school because of the bullying.

And when her father and I presented a united front to the school demanding that they do something about it. We were told by the head of Key Stage 1…

That is life. Your child needs to develop a thicker skin.

And when we pointed to the Zero Tolerance policy, we were told that was ‘just political correctness.’

As we came to the end of her first year in these monsters hands, I was informed by the substitute who had taken over when the incompetent newbie had a breakdown that my child was not eating. Could I please send something she would eat? After almost eight months, now you tell me? Oh and it get better…when I did send one of the few foods that she would eat at the time…McDonald’s pancakes (where she gets the name PanKwake), I was told I could not because the school did not allow McDonald’s.

If you cannot tell, my bull$^!t-o-meter is almost full at this time. But it only gets worse…

While her big, scary daytime seizures were rare, PanKwake often had them in her sleep. I just knew this…that Mommy intuition. But I could not get the pediatrician (paediatrician in the UK) to listen to me. As a result, PanKwake often fell asleep in class, especially at the end of the day.

The straw that broke this camel’s back…and that teacher’s too…was the Team Around the Child meeting. PanKwake was NOT the only one bullied at school. They had repeatedly tried it on me too. And while I was at my lowest with the depression, miscarriage and separation, one thing to know…

This mama bear will eat you alive if you mess with my cubs.

So while they tried once again to blame me…I must not have a ‘proper’ bedtime routine…the upset of the separation and move. Anything except the bullying…and at the bottom of it all…

AUTISM!!!

Oh, and I brought that up too…and was dismissed. Told that they made no allowances…even for special needs children.

Back to that meeting though…I was berated by this early twenties, first year teacher with no children of her own and no real life experience…because my child kept falling asleep in her class. Despite night time seizures and heavy narcotic medications!

And when that meeting ended and I went downstairs to collect my child…sure enough she was asleep…on the cold hard floor…and WET! The fact that she had wet herself a sign of possible seizure.

That teacher was on the phone. She refused to acknowledge me. Even to locate the change of clothes that I had brought for PanKwake when such things happened. I was forced to strip those wet clothes from my child and wrap her in my jumper. We had to walk with my carrying her half asleep to shop a few blocks away…and purchase a dress just to get her home in.

Needless to say…the next morning…all H-E-double hockey sticks broke loose. I went into that school loaded for war. And that teacher was replaced for the rest of the year with a substitute with more experience…but as with those pancakes…things were no better.

How could it be in a system where the individual does not matter?

In the end, two good things did come from our school experience…

  1. They helped us to get re-housed through the council…and more importantly…
  2. That pediatrician actually listened to THEM! She ordered another EEG and this one finally captured a seizure in her sleep.

Armed with this new information about her health and in light of his own frustrations with a system that turned a blind eye to the bullying to which his own child was subjected daily…I finally convinced PanKwake’s dad to let me home educate her.

But as we will see tomorrow…not even THAT could insulate us from the abuses of the SYSTEM.

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