Thursday, July 20, 2017

Parents vs. Schools Regarding Required Summer Reading: Both Miss the Point

My eighth grade daughter has "recommended" summer reading activities. 

She is expected to come up with three goals, write out a plan as to how she is going to accomplish them, and fill out a chart of her "summer learning activities" (this requires an "Authorized Signature", which I assume means me??, and a spot on the grid to write how it made her Grow).

There is also a suggested reading list with books selected from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)’s 2017 Summer Reading List for Grades 6-8. I haven't heard of any of them, and I'm pretty sure my daughter hasn't either. None of them exactly pique my interest, and I'm a voracious reader (I should note that this particular daughter is not, although you can see from the pic below that she once enjoyed books)

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, child and indoor

There is also a link to a lesson plan that teachers were apparently supposed to go over with students at the end of the school year. According to my daughter, this did not happen, and the message she got from her teacher was not to waste her time because nobody cares anyway. Part of me wants to applaud her teacher for her honesty with her students regarding this.

The whole thing is asinine, in my opinion as both a parent and a certified English teacher.

And, as you can imagine, some people in my city are going wild on the issue. Largely on Facebook, of course, but this is probably where you'll get the most honest feedback.

Some samples (All SIC):
* "I don't agree with [mandatory reading over the summer] at all. Both my boys are working full time and involved with family activities. They work hard in school all year and this is the time for them to just be kids. I'm not going to spend my summer forcing my boys to read. It's time to relax and recoup. It is not a time for more school-related pressures."

* "Most kids were burned out of reading after the reading challenge in elementary school making them read makes them despise it."

* "Between football starting next week--ugh--working, visiting family, and dare I say it, just being a kid, there leaves little time to get all this done. It's too much."

* "I think summer vacation means vacation away from school. If you had a vacation off from work and they asked you to do something over that time period you'd think twice about it. J/S."

There are many, many more, but that probably makes the point. And, to be completely fair, there are lots of intelligent, invested parents rebutting these kinds of statements.

Like me, they seem to focus on the idea that kids should be reading *something* in the summer, not just a book from an arbitrary list. Like me, many are appalled that some see reading as such little value. Like me, the idea that having to find time for reading is troubling bothers them.

Children should NOT stop learning because it is summer vacation. My daughter has learned, to give a small sampling, how to put up a pool and monitor chemicals, how to cook a meal, how to hike, how to teach her little sisters to swim, how to beat Super Mario Brothers, how to zipline, how to do different types of French braids, how to survive her first sleepaway camp, how to play the ukelele, how to master gymnastics skills she's been practicing ...

She has also been reading, albeit reluctantly.

She reads a graphic novel series that her father buys one of each month for her. She's reading Thirteen Reasons Why because she was interested in the difference between the book and the Netflix series and whether the story was helpful or harmful to teens (we are both English teachers, so she's heard lots of conversation on that topic) and wanted to be educated enough to weigh in.

She is currently at sleepaway camp (I miss her so much ...), but when she gets back, we are going to require structured reading time. We are going to know what she is reading and discuss it with her. We are going to recommend books to her and read them along with her. She will not love this, of course, because she is not a natural reader, but she will go along because she understands that reading, that learning, is important.

I am not going to require her to fill out those forms but instead keep a log of what she's read and a sentence or two of reflection.

I am going to encourage her to continue swimming, hiking, hanging out with friends, playing with her little sisters, going to Canobie Lake, and whatever else allows her to be a normal thirteen-year-old in 2017.

We made a decision a few weeks ago to cut off her iPad and wireless access on her phone at 10:00 pm. She's certainly gotten more sleep, which has also made a difference.

We are also going to make an effort to go to more museums, historical sites, and that sort of thing.

That is what learning is about ... and learning should happen in the summer. Reading must happen in the summer if we want to keep our children's reading fluency and knowledge base where it needs to be.

Should the school set out a canned summer  learning recommendation list for all students without taking into account what happens at home? No. Families that value summer learning have, with all due respect, long since put things into place that are far more meaningful than what's been offered.

Families that do not value summer learning need more than a bunch of printouts (and poor printouts, at that). They need to be educated on how to turn experiences into learning, which is far more valuable than how to break down a goal into parts. They need support and explanations and suggestions for how to make learning an integral part of every day.

Am I way off base with my frustration here?  

Saturday, July 8, 2017

We Won't Treat Your Pain: A Different Type of Opioid Epidemic Victim

Just to get this right out front, I feel terribly for victims of the so-called Opioid Epidemic. I don't think anyone wants to have their lives controlled by pills or needles.

I recognize that addiction exists, that it is a legitimate condition, and that every single human being experiences addiction in some way, shape, or form. People have the capacity to be addicted to everything from exercise to crystal meth to chocolate to weed to cheeseburgers to tobacco to muscle relaxants to caffeine to ... well, you get the idea. Addiction is real.

For a long time after the words "Opioid Epidemic" came to be, I rolled my eyes and was not especially sympathetic.

Part of this, of course, was being married to a violent and abusive alcoholic, which developed in me the erroneous mindset that those allowing chemicals to change who they were must be weak and pathetic people indeed.

The other part was an annoyance that people tried drugs like heroin in the first place. I mean, it wasn't like every American school child in recent memory hadn't been told the dangers of drugs. I don't know anybody younger than fifty that wasn't educated about drug abuse in schools, that wasn't fully aware that shooting heroin was a dumb idea. I wasn't aware then (because I didn't care to read too closely) that those addictions were often born as the result of prescription pain medication.

I have lost people close to me from drug overdoses. There is actually a current mini-epidemic among people I went to high school with that is just breaking my heart. I am saddened and distraught that people I know, love, and respect have lost a battle with a formidable enemy.

Anyway, does it do any good to say, "Well, they never should have started in the first place?"

And then I became a victim of the Opioid Epidemic myself, if not the traditional type, and I slowly realized that the problem is much larger than people dying of overdoses, families struggling to keep it together after the loss of their loved ones, first responders and public schools trying to figure out the situation with Narcan.

I'm guessing most people have seen this meme, right? Things are pretty out of control.

So how did I become a victim, albeit not the way you would think, of the Opioid Epidemic that has so badly shaken America?

In mid-April, I had a surgery that was supposed to be pretty straightforward. Prior to the surgery, the doctor gave me a prescription for 20 oxycodones to have at home. Filled it, put in the medicine cabinet, used it sparingly alongside ibuprofen and Tylenol when I was released from the hospital, no problem.

A couple of weeks later, I developed a complication. Went to the doctor, used the rest of the oxy while dealing with significant pain, no big deal.

I don't want to get into detail about the additional complications other than tell you that they resulted in two hospitalizations, one of which was ridiculously lengthy. While in the hospital, I was able to have oxycodone every four hours once the Dilaudid pump was removed.

Anyone I e-mailed or texted during this time, I apologize. I was largely in Lala Land.

When I was discharged for the final time (well, knock on wood it's the final time), I had prescription painkillers. I also had pain, and a limited number of prescription painkillers.

The pain, though ... unspeakable pain. Keep-you-up-all-night pain. Sleep on the couch watching Grey's Anatomy because it was too hard to concentrate on a book pain (and for anyone that knows me, I can always concentrate on a book).

I called the surgeon about the pain, and they had me come in. Not unexpected, they said. Try Tylenol, they said. (I was, at this point, already alternating Tylenol and ibuprofen around the clock). Call if it gets worse. It got worse, so I called the next day and they had me come in. Not unexpected, they said. Have you tried Tylenol? Well, try alternating it with ibuprofen. Call if it gets worse. It got worse again, so I called the next day. Have you tried an ice pack? How about heat? Oh, and Tylenol should help.

I finally called my Primary Care doctor, who made a joke about all the reading he has done about me over the past few months. He's been my doctor for years, and I was very frank with him. I explained that I was in pain, horrible pain, hadn't slept in a week, and the surgeon's office did not seem to care. I was not, I told him, looking for a heavy duty prescription, but surely there must be something between Tylenol and oxycodone. He thought for a moment and said, "What did they give you in the hospital?" I told him, and he asked if it worked to control the pain.

"Well," he said, "there are a couple of in-between things I can give you, but it seems logical to me to give you what worked. I'm going to give you five oxycodones. Take it as directed, don't sell it, you know the drill. Call me if you use it all, and we'll reevaluate."

I did indeed know the drill. I needed two of those pills, by the way, then the pain was manageable with ibuprofen and Tylenol.

There were further complications, of course, but my new surgeon (because I was totally all done with the other guy) actually gave me prescription pain medication when she did a procedure. Not a lot, but the same message as my PCP--we will evaluate if you use it all. I needed it for a few days, then I was fine with ibuprofen and Tylenol.

I'm not getting into detail about what was going on, but suffice it to say that my pain wasn't in question, even by the yahoo that told me to use an ice pack. Bloodwork and CT scans supported the fact that I was in excruciating pain. This wasn't me going in and asking for pain medicine with no documentation of obvious pain. It was "Tough it out because we do  not want to be seen as contributing to the Opiate Epidemic".

I'm not saying that doctors were a little loose with the narcotics for many years, by the way. Far from it.

Ten years or so ago, I experienced recurrent pancreatitis because my liver was messed up. Pancreatitis, by the way, makes childbirth seem like a paper cut. This went on for years as they tried to fix the liver damage, and I had a standing prescription for both Percocet and Vicodin. I would call the doctor, say which I needed more of, and they'd call it in. I mean, it was ridiculously easy to get narcotics, and I know that many, many people developed opiate addictions as a result of a situation like this.

I am lucky; I do not have a propensity for opiate addiction, I guess. I've struggled with other addictions over the years--caffeine, cheeseburgers, tobacco, probably even alcohol at certain times in my life. However, opioid narcotics have never been something I've used other than for short-term pain relief.

So here is my issue with the Opioid Epidemic ...

Yes, the ease with which doctors doled out narcotics unquestionably led people to become addicts and, when the prescription pad was put away, those people turned to heroin. Doctors were irresponsible. This is a tragedy, no two ways about it. I know people that have experienced this. I know people that have died from this.

That being said, it is equally irresponsible for doctors to allow patients to suffer terrible pain, which has been happening since new regulations came with the term "Opioid Epidemic" in 2015.

I have huge respect for my PCP and my new surgeon, who have the courage to balance the dangers of opiates with the need for them. Their mindset of giving small quantities of opiates when medically indicated while being incredibly responsible in overseeing the usage of said medications seems like how it should be.

For over a week, when I was crying in pain non-stop, when I was humiliated by a doctor's office telling me to take Tylenol and use a heating pad when I'd already told them I was doing all these things, when I did not sleep and was grouchy to my family and friends, I was a victim of the Opioid Epidemic.

Doctors refused to provide the necessary help because they were afraid ... but I will tell you that pain, true and unspeakable pain, is something people should not have to experience if there is a way around it. I said to myself more than once, usually at two in the morning when I hadn't slept for an increasing number of nights, "I understand why Kurt Cobain wanted to kill himself over his chronic stomach pain ... and also how he became a heroin addict."

There is no earthly reason for someone to try to exist in the pain I was in, especially long-term. A week may not seem long-term, but when you are the person living with the pain, it is a cruel reality that cannot be put into words.

The Opioid Epidemic is generally understood as having victims that are killed by addiction. This is true, and it is terrible.

But there are other victims, too. 

Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...