Thursday, May 2, 2013

First You Must Get Their Attention

This story about an experience with DeKalb County Schools was told by a graying couple who still live in Dunwoody. Their reasonably bright child was under the academic thumb of a highly thought of Dunwoody public elementary school from Kindergarten thru most of fourth grade. During that time their child's nationally normed percentile ranking on the key standardized test of the day showed a monotonic negative trend. No ups and downs...just downs.

Both had some exposure to education with the mother a former teacher and principal in an unnamed northern state who also taught in DeKalb for two years and the father an off and on adjunct at local colleges so it was with a better than average understanding that they approached school personnel to discuss this disturbing trend. That was the only topic they wished to discuss and while one might think this would be very straightforward were one to think that one would be wrong.

First they got the run around. Teacher sent them to the curriculum specialist who forwarded them to the principal who only wanted to know what the teacher said and suggested this was for the teacher to address. Fair enough. On a second meeting with the teacher she actually reviewed the test scores and remarked "oh, your child should have been placed in the gifted program years ago". These parents knowing a thing or two about education were not interested in the make-work program DeKalb foists on parents under the guise of "Talented and Gifted" and they had no interest in a garage-built paper mache vinegar and food color volcano masquerading as an experiment. They wanted to understand how their child's academic performance was in year over year decline and what could be done to reverse that trend. TAG was not a legitimate answer and that it was even proposed was disturbing as it indicates that these educators clearly understood that the standard educational fare they offered was inadequate for children to keep up.

By end of third grade these parents had begun investigating alternatives. Then during fourth grade magic happened. Their child's teacher gave out books as gifts just before the holiday break (apparently the world was just as PC fifteen years ago as now). Their child received "Witch Baby" which was dutifully read aloud in the back seat as the family did their annual over the river and thru the woods pilgrimage to Dizzy Whirled.

The introduction comprises a single paragraph but offers quite the intellectual smorgasbord for a fourth grade mind:
Once, in a city called Shangri-L.A. or Hell-A or just Los Angeles, lived Weetzie Bat, the daughter of Brandy-Lynn and Charlie Bat. A genie granted Weetzie three wishes, so she wished for a Duck for her best friend Dirk McDonald, "My Secret Agent Lover Man for me," and a little house for them all to live in happily ever after. The wishes came true, mostly. Dirk met Duck Drake and Weetzie met My Secret Agent Lover Man and they all lived together. When Weetzie wanted a baby and My Secret Agent Lover Man didn't, Dirk and Duck helped her, and Cherokee was born. My Secret was angry and went away. He stayed with Vixanne Wigg for a while, but he loved Weetzie so much that he returned. One day Vixanne left a basket on the porch of the house where Weetzie and My Secret Agent Lover Man and the baby, Cherokee, and Dirk and Duck all lived. In the basket was Witch Baby and this is her story.
Yet another meeting with the principal was scheduled and the principal actually attended. The parents presented the principal with a photocopy of the book's introduction. Now they had the principal's attention, but not until all the blood had left her face as she had watched her entire career flash before her eyes.

And her first words? "Can I get the book back?"

After a brief discussion of the parents' staunch anti-censorship position and a sincere but otherwise fruitless discussion of their child's academic prospects at the hands of DeKalb's finest educators the parents left with a decision. Upon receiving the results of the fourth grade standardized test (which confirmed the continual decline) they pulled their child, started home schooling and never looked back. 

Lest you think this was a train wreck in the making their child turned out fine attending a local university on full scholarship and continuing on with graduate work in a STEM discipline at a nearby research institute. DeKalb County Schools have not fared as well.