Thursday, April 16, 2020

Let's call this individualized education

E-schooling may be the thing that does me in.

The first two weeks we basically did nothing, because the school extended spring break to give themselves a chance to plan something. It was great. We watched a lot of documentaries.

After that we were emailed a giant packet for each kid, with pages to print for each day. The computer fought me about printing everything in the proper format, but I got the pages for them to do. Or, for at least one kid, to scream at and refuse to do any.

Then they had a drive-thru to pick up print copies because obviously not everyone has a printer or can afford to toner to print out 90 pages per kid.

I thought that was just how it was going to be, set up a nice routine to do the work, and eventually got Marko doing most of it. But it turned out that was only enough for two weeks, and at the end of that they rolled out yet another system. Except that it's not so much a system as a giant flood of different stuff.

Each child's teacher has a different system for informing us what work needs to be done, and in Marko's case, uploading the work after. I have had to log into half a dozen sites, and since they all have to log each other out and themselves in, I have to remember all those logins. For extra fun, one of the sites had "first initial and last name" for a login. All three of my school kids have the same first initial and last name!

Miriam has her work in a Google Slides presentation with different categories for subject and week. There are these itty bitty YouTube videos embedded which take a deft hand to pop out so they're viewable.

Michael's teacher is my favorite right now, because all the work for each day is on one page. I can open ONE file and know what his work is for the day. Also, all of the work is independent, which of course means the world when I have the other three all needing attention at every moment. (Not that Michael doesn't still demand attention, but at least it's theoretically possible for him to do it all.) Downside is, all of it is on the computer and we have only two computers. Also a tablet, but not all of the learning websites work on it, and anyway Jackie's got it most of the time we're doing school. Also the second day of school I couldn't find the document because it was posted on the general stream of the Class Dojo app and somehow the app doesn't think I need to see posts from two days ago.

Marko's work is the worst. He has a "choice board," also known as a paralyzing array of options, all of which he hates. Plus twenty minutes of this one app and twenty of another app and 30 minutes of reading. We are supposed to take photos of him doing the work and upload them on yet another confusing app.

It's the turning in that gets me. If the other kids don't finish something, their teachers probably won't know. If Marko doesn't, there are blanks in the app. I don't like leaving blanks in the app. But I also don't want to spend the entire day pressuring him to pick one of several activities, all of which are reviewing skills he already knows.

Normally his special ed teacher has tricks to coax him to do the kind of repetitive work he hates. But she's not here, and we have been informed our IEP has been reduced to a 15 minute group live chat weekly. I'm not sure what good this is expected to do. But I also don't know what else the teacher could do.

The worst part of it all is watching my kids do something awesome and interrupting it. Marko made tickets to Neverland and was getting Miriam to write repeating patterns of shapes to earn one. Michael built a space station out of Legos and we discussed the physics required to keep it in orbit. And I had to stop them from doing that and make them play frustrating, timed math games.

Not that I cave to the pressure entirely. I wrote off Marko's assigned writing activity and let him write a medical text about healing dragons. (Him: can I write it in the original Draconic? Me: uhh how about you write at the top that it's a translation from the original Draconic?) He's sending that to his teacher. That'll be fun.

Miriam was supposed to draw and write about a picnic. Instead she drew an angry stick figure and wrote "I HAYT PIGNIGS." Who cares.

Michael was supposed to write a letter to a classmate. Instead he wrote about how it's Thursday and Thursdays are okay but not as good as Saturdays.

I'm still getting the hang of this new regime, and deciding how much of the stuff they throw at us we're actually going to do.  I get the feeling they sent a lot because they are afraid of not sending enough, and not because they actually expect us to do it all. I'm trying to chart a course between "you do actually have to do some work" and "screw it, we're doing what works for us."

Friday, April 10, 2020

Plague journal #3

Things have been a lot better since I last posted. The kids are doing proper schoolwork now; not a lot, but some. John is doing some amount of work at home--answering the phones, handling library questions by live chat. I'm used to the ongoing drumbeat of tragedy now. It only makes me anxious once in a while. Other times I can go look at the death tally and it's like I'm reading it in a history book from a long time ago. It's so bad I can't quite imagine; my mind just recites the numbers and feels nothing.

It does make me angry seeing people still minimize it. COVID-19 kills more people in the US every day than any other condition. It's killed more than six times as many people as 9/11. And there are still people saying it's overblown. I guess it's hard to change your mind and admit you didn't predict this.

My energy level seems to have dwindled to fit the amount there is to do. I don't have work to do or school to get people ready for, yet I still don't manage to get the chores done. Plus it feels kind of pointless to get the house clean when we're clearly not going to be having any company. The mess got to me a couple days ago and I vacuumed. But it's back to looking medium sloppy.

In general, I like staying home. The yard is blooming; our cul-de-sac is full of pink trees. Most days it's been nice enough to play outside, and I've planted some things. I've had time to do some more crafting than I have in a while. I even bought a huge loom and made a scarf. (My small loom got left at work, with the kids' project on it. I hope we can finish it someday....)

Jackie has been nightweaned at last. Some nights she sleeps through, and it's so wonderful. Other nights, she wakes up at 4 am and goes crazy and punches and screams. Nothing calms her down. I get very tempted to just nurse her, but I would hate to go back now. I lost quite a lot of sleep the first few nights after I quit nursing her. The first night, she woke up at 4 am and didn't go back to sleep at all.

Some days, she's very chill about hanging out with the big kids. It's like Christmas to her to have them around all the time. Other days she just isn't happy and trades off climbing on me and climbing on John. Which is still an improvement from having her climbing on only me all the time!

I've had more time to spend on each kid individually, which is really nice. Marko seems to be flourishing in particular, because I've poured some extra attention on him. He still gets flustered by all the work he has to do, and isn't quite doing it all, but given the reason I put him in school was mainly that I couldn't get him to do any work, I'd say we're doing okay. Michael has learned to spin and sew. He really loves making things. Miriam has done a lot of chores. She's the only kid who really connects chores done with screen time earned and dedicates herself to making it happen.

 I finally got unstuck on my novel and finished the first draft. It was harder to finish than anything I've written in years, but now it's there on the page for me to start perfecting. I think it's pretty good already, but there's a lot that needs to be fixed. I've made myself a firm promise not to query it till my birthday at least. Because I know, from past experience, that some of the corrections that need to be made don't appear till you've left it aside for quite a while.

I went to the store today. I hoped to stock up more so we didn't have to go so often, but the stores can't handle everyone stocking up. At first the shelves were scarily bare. Now everything has limits: 2 loaves of each kind of bread; 1 pack of toilet paper; 6 gallons of milk; 4 cans of tuna; 2 cans of beans. The first time they told me I couldn't buy eight loaves to last us the two weeks, I tried to argue with the poor cashier that I have too many kids to live off two loaves for very long. Then I felt horrible for arguing with the poor guy, who didn't make the rules, and I started to cry. I wanted to cover my face but I couldn't, because of germs. That's probably going to be one of my big memories from all this. This time, I paid closer attention to the limits. The only one I missed was tuna; I accidentally tried to buy six. And when the cashier told me I'd messed up, I chirped, "Oh, sorry!" and moved on with unloading my cart. We're all doing our best here. Him, me, every other person there getting what they need.

Today was my first time wearing a mask, and I was pretty self-conscious. But almost everyone else was wearing them too. I heard a couple of people ask each other, "Do I know you? I can't see enough of you to be sure!" People actually kept six feet apart this time. There was hand sanitizer at the entrance and exit. I feel like everyone is taking it seriously and doing their best, which I didn't feel two weeks ago.

Several friends are out of work or soon going to be. Friends with their own businesses are worried about making payroll or shutting down. It's really hard on people everywhere, and no end in sight. I was distressed to hear that the virus' death rate is disproportionately high among everyone who's already less privileged. It just feels horrible that poverty and racism not only still exist, but that they intensify the awfulness we're already going through.

Lots of other things are horrible right now, too. Domestic violence is worse, of course, where neither wives nor children can escape even for a school or work day. Special needs kids are getting no services. Parents who were barely coping are now not coping. Seniors are lonely and depressed. An autistic girl committed suicide the other day in England, because there's nothing that destroys an autistic person's ability to cope like completely shattering all the routines that work for them.

Some countries are handling this better than others. The US seems to be one of the worst. We're not fighting the virus well, and we're not cushioning the shock to workers either. Online, I see people from other countries worrying about us, pitying us. Those poor Americans. Tomorrow our death toll is expected to pass Italy's for the highest in the world.

The Democratic primary is basically over and the candidate I liked the least has won. So now we've got a race ahead of one sexual predator against another sexual predator. Not the choice I would have liked to have to make. But when do we ever get to choose the greater of two goods? That seems too stupidly optimistic for 2020. I should have guessed. Meanwhile Elizabeth Warren keeps having great ideas and then the people in charge keep not doing any of that.

That stuff is all pretty heavy. And yet, like I said, I feel okay most days. Some days it feels like my chest has gone all hollow, and I want to curl around this world-sorrow and cry. And then later on it's gone, and all I can see is that the sky is blue and my children are laughing. It's as well sometimes that I can't see past the edge of our yard: I can't encompass the world's grief every moment. Sometimes it's the best thing to focus on the fact that I, myself, am all right, that my family is all right, that so far no one I am close to is sick.
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