Suspended at 6 for ‘sexual misbehavior’

How apraxia got my son suspended from school is a horror story:  School bureaucrats became convinced that a first grader with an “invisible disability” was a victim of sexual abuse or a predator because he rocks when stressed.  

Apraxia is a movement and coordination disorder affecting about 5 percent of children, but it’s often missed or misunderstood, writes Michael Grazianao, the boy’s father and a professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

People look at apraxia sufferers and see a clumsy child who won’t try hard enough, a child who must not be very bright because he can’t keep up in math and reading, or a disobedient child who won’t stop moving in weird ways and bumping into people.

Handwriting is stressful for his son because of his disability. That struggle was affecting his reading and math. Unable to get any help from the school, the parents paid for an occupational therapist to help with coordination problems and a psychiatrist to help their son cope with classroom anxiety.

When the six-year-old began rocking to calm himself in class, his teacher decided he was masturbating. The principal, who didn’t know about the movement disorder and didn’t ask, reported the family to a state agency for possible child abuse.

Our son’s psychotherapist wrote a letter to the school to tell them about his classroom anxiety. Our son’s pediatrician also wrote a letter to the school telling them that he saw no medical evidence of any abuse. These experts asked the school to intervene with a step-by-step behavioural plan to help our son’s classroom difficulties. Under federal law, he was entitled to what’s called a 504 plan, in reference to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is meant to ensure that disabled children have full access to education, but the school refused.

After a monthlong investigation, the parents were cleared of abuse charges. The state investigator told the principal in person. Within hours, the first grader was suspended on charges of sexual assault. Playing “Zombies” after lunch, he‘d hugged a friend.

The parents took the district to court.

The principal’s written testimony included a set of classroom notes about our child to show how he willfully misbehaved. Strangely enough, the school had given us an alternative version of this document about a month earlier, which we still had. . . .  The version that was submitted to court as sworn testimony offers a noticeably different account, including several additional sentences that make our son’s conduct sound willful and sexual. It looks to me very much as though somebody in the district was willing to lie in court and falsify documents in order to damage a child.

According to the written testimony of the principal, the psychiatrist supported her claim that our son was sexually assaultive and a danger to others. . . . (The psychiatrist) wrote a letter . . . noting that he thought our child was not sexually assaultive, not a danger to others, and should never have been suspended from school.

The judge ruled for the parents, but there were no consequences for school officials who denied special education services, lied or forged evidence.

The Grazianos’ son moved to a new elementary school. The school psychologist talked to him about his stress and set up a reward system for good class work. “Within a few days, the rocking stopped.”

Graziano urges other parents to fight for their kids’ needs, but admits that he and his wife barely saved their son, despite money, leverage and “degrees in neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology.”

Via Instapundit, who thinks responsible parents should not entrust their children to the public schools. (The Grazianos believe strongly in public schools, despite their ordeal.)

Art student sues for math-free degree

Claiming multiple disabilities, an art student is suing her private college to demand a math-free art degree, reports The Missoulian.

Hannah Valdez, who hopes to become a graphic artist, attends Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. She’s flunked and dropped math classes required for a bachelor’s degree.

Her disabilities include Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyscalculia, which is a mathematics learning disability, said her attorney, Donald Harris.

Rocky Mountain admitted her even though college officials knew her SAT score for math placed her in the bottom 5 percent of all students, the lawsuit said.

The college is offering Valdez special tutoring by associate math professor Robyn Cummins.

No time to play

Today’s children don’t have time to play independently – and to develop social skills — writes psychologist Peter Gray on Aeon. The adults are always in charge.

Growing up in the 1950s, Gray had a “hunter-gatherer education” in addition to formal schooling. The neighborhood kids played after school, often till dark, in mixed-age groups. They played on the weekends and in the summer.

We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us.

Since then, adult-directed sports for children have replaced “pickup” games, Gray writes. free-to-learn Adult-directed extracurriculars have replaced hobbies. Parents are afraid to let kids play without supervision.

As children’s free play has declined, children have shown more signs of anxiety and depression, he writes on psychological surveys. Since the ’50s, “the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.”

In addition, surveys show “a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism.”

Children aren’t learning social skills through play, writes Gray. At school, an authoritarian setting, they learn to compete rather than cooperate. Extending the school day will widen the “play deficit” even more, argues Gray.

A Boston College professor, Gray writes the Freedom to Learn blog, and is the author of a new book, Free to Learn.

Kids who want to work — mowing lawns — face “safety” barriers, writes Mollie Hemingway. On the neighborhood listserv, someone asked for feedback on “a group of adorable and entrepreneurial kids (young, maybe 9-11 years old)” looking for mowing jobs. “We didn’t see a parent with them supervising.”

A link was provided to Mowing the Lawn Can Be a Dangerous Chore, which recommended “polycarbonate protective eyewear” for anyone mowing — or in the vicinity.

Teachers wear black to protest testing perk

Some teachers wore black T-shirts in protest as they wrapped up the school year at Southampton High School (New York), reports the Southampton Press. They disagreed with the principal’s decision to let a school employee’s anxious child take a Regents exam in a small room instead of the gym. The student has no disability diagnosis that requires special accommodation.

Dr. (Brian) Zahn, the principal, said two students were accommodated during end-of-year testing after showing symptoms of short-term disability brought on by anxiety, with one showing signs of nausea.

According to Dr. Zahn, some of the teachers wearing black shirts on Friday told him it was “to protest testing improprieties,” while others said it was “to voice our displeasure with testing overall.”

School was over, but students and staff were attending graduation rehearsal, and teachers were grading tests.

CDC: 1 in 5 kids has a mental disorder

Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. suffers from a mental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and autism.

Kids who once would have been called antsy, shy, moody or odd are now being diagnosed with mental disorders and disabilities. How many really need mental health care? The bill is up to $247 billion a year, the CDC estimates.

Do timed tests cause math anxiety?

One third of students end up in remedial math in college and “the level of interest in the subject is at an all-time low,” writes Jo Boaler, a Stanford math education professor, in Ed Week.  She blames timed math tests — solve 50 multiplication problems in three minutes — for causing math anxiety that cripples learning

Math has become a performance subject. Children of all ages are more likely to tell you that the reason for learning math is to show whether they “get it” instead of whether they appreciate the beauty of the subject or the way it piques their interest. The damage starts early in this country, with school districts requiring young children to take timed math tests from the age of 5.

Common Core State Standards, which call for math “fluency,” may encourage timed testing, Boaler worries.

Stress caused by timed testing can lead to changes in the brain, permanently hurting children’s ability to learn math, she writes.

There are many good teaching strategies for encouraging fluency in math, but the ones that are effective are those that simultaneously develop number sense—the flexible use and understanding of numbers and quantities—without instilling fear and anxiety. Strategies that involve reasoning about numbers and operations, such as the pedagogical approach called “number talks,” are ideal for developing fluency with understanding.

Beyond the fear and anxiety, timed tests also convey strong and negative messages about math, suggesting that math ability is measured by working quickly, rather than thinking deeply and carefully—the hallmark of high-level mathematical thinking.

Children can learn math skills and concepts in tandem, writes Barry Garelick on Education News.

Reformers criticize traditional math instruction as “skills-based,” implying “students who may have mastered their math courses in K-12 were missing the conceptual basis of mathematics and were taught the subject as a means to do computation, rather than explore the wonders of mathematics for its own sake.”

Students have struggled with math for a long time: If one dinosaur eats two cavemen per hour, how many cavemen can four dinosaurs eat in 30 minutes?  When I was in elementary school in the ’50s, before calculators or timed tests of math facts, many kids were anxious about math because there were right and wrong answers. We didn’t tackle the lowest common denominator to appreciate math’s beauty or explore its wonders. We though the point was to “get it.”

“New math” came in a few years later, when my brother was in first grade. In trying to teach concepts, it made kids even more anxious.

My daughter did timed tests of addition and subtraction problems in first grade — 25 years ago! They probably did multiplication in second grade.  She thought the tests were fun. Of course, she was good at it. But Boaler says math anxiety is worst for high-ability students.

Nothing to fear (about math) but fear itself

Students have nothing to fear (about math) but fear itself, according to a new study published in Cerebral Cortex. Math-anxious students who do well with math questions used a part of the brain associated with cognitive control, focus, and regulating negative emotions to control their stress. Anxious students can be taught to do this, researchers say.

Tests that teach (and those that don’t)

Tests can be a valuable teaching tool “when used in combination with enjoyable, interactive projects that enable students to construct meaning actively (rather than learning it by rote),” according to Big Think’s interview with Sam Wang, a Princeton neuroscientist.

Tests that provide immediate feedback enhance learning, says Wang. Standardized tests, which provide a non-itemized score weeks or months later, don’t let students learn from mistakes. High-stakes tests have limited value as a teaching tool. “Anxiety’s a lousy teacher.”

Wang recommends “low-stakes pop quizzes structured as a game, possibly with the class divided into competing teams.”

Frequency and brevity are important points here – regular quizzes ensure that learning is reinforced before students have time to forget the lesson, and keeping them brief divides the learning into discrete and memorable chunks.

Hour-long standardized tests do teach one valuable thing: Persistence.