Posts Tagged ‘Education’

I guess I was kind of waiting for one, hoping that I could write that final post that pulled everything together, made it all just fine – the ending that made me (and maybe all of you) optimistic about the future.

But no.

A court date was scheduled for last week. And then cancelled because the judge called in sick after everyone else had arrived at the courthouse. It has been rescheduled for November with yet another judge. I think this is the 4th judge on the case but really only the 3rd because this judge was on the case previously or something.

Blitzen has been in care 2426 days (which can also be counted 58,244 hours if my math is right) and she is certainly no closer to permanency/ reunification /any kind of resolution than when we first met her.

What would you do with 2426 days or 58,244 hours?

You could complete college (if you went full-time and stayed on track) 1.65 times. You could get 2 or 3 master degrees, if you put your mind to it. Travel the world in 180 days 13+ times over.  You could drive coast to coast about 1,000 times – assuming that you didn’t stop to smell the roses.  I read somewhere it takes like 75 days to climb Mount Everest – so you could do that, a bunch.  Hike the Appalachian Trail (takes about 6 months so you could do that maybe 12 times – more if you jog part of the way). Took little more than 1 year and 1 month to build the empire state building or so google tells me.

In 2426 days, you could learn a new language, run a bunch of marathons, master a musical instrument, hell – if you are already super fit and spectacularly talented you could train and compete in the Olympics.  You could plant a tree and watch it grow. You could go to a lot of movies – you could make a lot of movies. You could read many books – and write a few too!

Or, you know, you could have a childhood with just the average amount of anxiety and uncertainty.

But no.

Have I ever mentioned that every time that I read a book to Blitzen, about half way through the second chapter, she asks me to read the end?  Every time.  It is just too tense, it is just too much, the not knowing.

I sure do wish that we could peak ahead to the last page now.

But no. So, gonna leave you without an ending. For all the fosterhood followers – we’ll keep Rebecca up to date, I’m sure that she’ll let you know if anything earth shattering like permanency ever happens.


P.S. In about a week, I’m taking the blog down.  We talked to Blitzen about blogging and writing and she, in her very Blitzen way, was completely baffled by the thought of folks sharing their ‘business’ with the whole wide world.  So it truly is time to put the blog to bed. I certainly will miss my internet friends, gotta say. This has been the best virtual support group a foster family ever had. Thanks – don’t think we would have made it the past 3 years without all of the peace, love and understanding.

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Andrew and I have both experienced, in the last 36 hours, that look.  That look from ‘professionals’ associated with Blitzen’s case.

That look that says ‘you are troublesome foster parents, you are making my life difficult by demanding that we do all that we should which is way more than we feel that we can.’

That look that says, ‘Oh, we’ve written your child off (not that we in anyway consider her to be your child) and you should too.’


That ‘When this was all headed for adoption, you were committed, passionate, model foster parents that we begged to speak on panels, rally new recruits, participate in city-wide ad campaigns. But now, you are a pain in the ass and we’re tempted to just accept false allegations against you so we can make you go away quicker’ look.

We’ve both experienced that moment when it has become crystal clear that this child is going back into a social system of grinding poverty, family dysfunction, racial and domestic violence, a broken and battered educational system that is really just a pipeline to prison/welfare dependency/homelessness/teen pregnancy/addiction, where she will be lost. And sadly, the look in their eyes says ‘we simply don’t care.’

I am sure you all are familiar with that look.

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People in relationship with Blitzen quickly recognize that she’s brilliant in many ways — curious, creative, quick to make connections, adept at learning new skills with her body, a divergent thinker, a problem solver.  Carrie and I don’t spend much time talking about her intelligence; it’s taken for granted by all who know her, and we move on to the important stuff.  Where do mermaids swim?   When do you feel joyful?  How do you make cartoon characters?  How do you be a friend?  What do you do when you feel really angry?  How do you make Dolphin Cove into a real island?  What makes a family?  How do we change patterns of behavior?  In the book Ingo, why does the sea call to Sapphire?

Blitzen and the wonderful folks in her life are wrestling with those questions every hour.  That’s the work, that’s the joy.   We’re Team Blitzen and this is what we do.

Yesterday we received a Department of Education evaluation by email.  It came in upside down, but it can be read if you print it out or stand on your head.  It’s filled with numbers and clinical-sounding words designed to distance and intimidate.  The word deficient is used a lot.

Reports like that shouldn’t matter.  Blitzen’s brilliance is an ontological reality; her intelligence and glee exist whether or not they’re acknowledged.  My instinct, as a privileged, educated white man who does well on my culture’s bubble tests, is to ignore the upside down email and channel ee cummings:

While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

The problem is that our measuring is not benevolent.  The systems of dominance embedded in our education and child welfare institutions are have consequences in the lives of kids like Blitzen.  Evaluations like that have the effect (and, I’d argue, the intent) of separating undesirable kids from their peers and offering them an education with less creativity, less critical thinking, less joy, less humanity and less possibility.
This disproportionally affects traumatized kids, kids of color and kids in foster care.  (If you’re a footnote type, 40% of kids in care are in special education and 50% of kids in care don’t graduate from high school.)

Blitzen and those of us lucky enough to be on her team won’t have the privilege of  kissing, singing and swimming in Dolphin Cove without spending time, energy and creativity in the soul-sucking battle against the measuring instruments that prop up systems of inequity.

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I love Carrie’s last post, where she described Blitzen’s school as a “controlled not controlling environment.”  A couple of commenters (we love commenters) asked about the school, which is probably my cue.  I feel Carrie nudging me from 8,000 miles away.

Blitzen attends a progressive independent school that believes that education begins with the individual kid: her experiences, interests, questions, hopes and fears.

Her school values community — Blitzen works in close partnership with her nine delicious, diverse classmates and with a team of brilliant, diverse teachers.

Her school thinks that learning should be filled with exploration, discovery, collaboration, creativity, passion and joy.

Her teachers have the autonomy to follow their own talents and passions, and that of their students.  There is no pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all curriculum.  There is no standardized testing.

Her school tries to connect learning to the real world, believing that kids can make a positive impact on society right now.  It operates from a place of great privilege, and tries to acknowledge privilege and power while striving for equity and justice.

One commenter asked how Blitzen’s school compares to KIPP, a network of charter schools targeted to families in underserved neighborhoods.   My least snarky answer is that Carrie and I, like most higher SES families with an array of educational options, don’t send our kids to schools that organize around constant testing, rewards/punishment, behavioral control and classroom call-and-response. Instead, we typically choose schools where kids can create, invent, make choices, build independence and develop higher level thinking skills.  I believe that underserviced kids deserve the same thing Blitzen deserves — schools where the environment is controlled but not controlling.

Carrie and I are happy to talk about education or NYC schools with anyone interested.  Not to get all bibliography on you, but a couple organizations I appreciate are IDEA and Rethinking Schools.

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I’ll echo Carrie Ann’s shout out to the Save Our Schools activism.   It was inspiring to listen to old heroes (Debbie Meier, Jonathan Kozol) and voices who were new to me (John Kuhn, Matt Damon, Jose Vilson).  It was energizing to be around folks who are passionate about education and equity.  I got a kick out of being interviewed by CNN (gotta work on my soundbites) and taking part in the planning and organizing workshops the next day.

I wish I had more patience or aptitude for the messy work of movement-building.  (IDEA are the folks leading that charge.)  My special ADD skill set makes me more apt to get lost in a maze of 1975 online boxscores than to build an infrastructure for systemic change.

Being a foster parent, though… As a distractable young grasshopper beginning my journey, it seems do-able.  Here’s why:

  1. The day-to-day goal is straightforwardish: Try to provide a supportive, loving, safe, joy-filled environment today; try to provide a supportive, loving, safe, joy-filled environment tomorrow.
  2. There’s an immediate feedback loop.  We should have a sense of when things are working and when they’re not.
  3. There are potential immediate rewards.  We’re not going to make measurable progress on transforming public schools today, but Blitzen might, at any time, say (like our friend Amelia) “If there is a shark in this lake we’re kayaking, it’s probably swimming the other way, right?”

There were going to be more items on that list, but I can already see that this post will look embarrassingly naive moments after it’s published.  If I learned nothing in MAPP class it’s that being a foster parent thrusts one into a world of uncertainty, frustration and messiness that would make the post-SOS-rally educator squabbles look freshly ironed laundry.

Botton line: There are lots of tasks in the world that I just can’t do.  I can’t wait in a line, take direction, get a degree, organize my desk, blog every day, mingle at a party, turn in work when it’s due, make travel plans more than a week ahead of time or match my outfit without a spreadsheet.  But I suspect that when you mix my good-natured goofiness with Carrie Ann’s thoughtfulness, insight, empathy and good judgement and the support of our spectacular Team o’ Backup Villagers, we can provide a pretty warm home for a small-to-medium-sized Wee.

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