Schools are terrible. Really terrible. Really.

I have been reading a lot lately about how terrible schools are, ranging from cartoons like this to articles like this. I went into my six-year-old daughter’s classroom today because she had to go to the doctor this morning (ear infection, you know how it is) and so I actually had a chance to observe them in action.

As I walked in, a paper dart flew past my head. It sailed over a tight corner which was crowded with a man I didn’t recognise – I think he might have been the autistic boy’s teacher aide – and a boy or two, discussing maths. Swiftly chasing the dart came Josh* and Aidan, both giggling. They picked it up and wandered off again, as I entered the main part of the room. There I spotted the teacher, Ms N, sitting on a low chair at the front of the room, with Bindi, Sofia and Anja (my daughter’s friends) sitting facing her on their own chairs. Ms N was taking notes as the girls explained some incident involving unkind behaviour by someone. My daughter was happy to be in the room and wanting to engage with her teacher and friends, but Ms N said that she would need to go and read a book for a few minutes. I relayed this to my daughter, explaining that Ms N was busy at the moment but would be free in a few minutes. Miss 6 skipped off to the book display behind her desk group to find something to read.

When Ms N had a moment I told her about the trip to the doctor. She stood up and put her head close to mine. “I sometimes think it would be easier if it were all boys!” she murmured. “They don’t get into all this… stuff.” Then she sat down to resume the court session.

The rest of the children were in small groups, or ones and twos, clustered around their desks and apparently cheerfully getting on with things. Some were standing, some were sitting. Some were chatting, some were quiet. It was a peaceful scene.

I mused on the contrast between what I had just seen and the popular image of schools portrayed in many articles on the Internet – children in rows, forced to sit down and shut up, to memorise and regurgitate mindlessly. Schools like these must indeed be terrible places of frustration and tyranny, where joy in learning is stamped out and individuality stifled in the name of classroom control.

The thing is, my school isn’t like that.

Maybe there’s something different about Ms N. And there is. She is recognised by my fellow parents and by other staff at the school as being exceptional in understanding the individual kids in her class, and fostering each child’s unique gifts.

Maybe there’s something different about this school. And there is. It is an Accredited School of the New Zealand Foundation for Character Education, and it places an extremely strong emphasis on strengths-based learning. It is the largest primary school in town. Kids from all over the world come here, meaning that my children are surrounded by a greater diversity of skin colours, accents and religions than you mostly find in this neck of NZ. It has an extraordinarily wide range of extra-curricular activities available (which we mostly don’t take advantage of because I don’t believe in overloading kids’ timetables).

So did we just happen to luck into one of the best schools with the best teachers, and that’s why our kids have loved school and learned heaps and made friends and come to understand themselves, their gifts and their challenges and the things that make them unique? Or do most schools do this, and is public opinion (as mediated by the internet) just lagging behind? … Or is it perhaps lagging geographically, and New Zealand schools are better than those archaic SAT-driven education factories in the US?

As I walked across the playground to leave, my almost-nine-year-old son and his classmates raced by me, training for the upcoming cross country. “Hi mum!” he yelled as he belted past.

My school is fine. So why do people think they’re so terrible?


*Names have been changed.


Small things in the middle of big things

I quit working with my Research Proposal introduction half finished today (my supervisor wanted a draft to review over the weekend) and walked out into glorious sunshine and the scent of spring flowers. I came home, played Piggy in the Middle with the kids, did some puzzles in the sun, made poached eggs with fresh garden herbs for tea and had a bath with my daughter, and once she’d got out, with a book. Now I’m settling into one of my more productive writing times of day. Hopefully it’ll actually be productive, but even if it isn’t, I’ve got one paragraph written that I didn’t have this afternoon, and a week more to do the rest of the thing.

This is a more pleasant way to think than ohshitohshitohshit I still have the introduction and methodology background and ethics and method and potential results to write and then there are exams in less than two weeks that i haven’t even started studying for and half the washing is still damp and next week both boys have to be at different places at different times of the day and i have classes and andandandandandwhydontijustgiveupsleeping.

So I’m not thinking like that. I’m listening to this. And as soon as I post this I’ll check Twitter one more time then turn it off and see if I can chip the next few sentences into shape.

I’m getting there, and it feels good to be actually working really really hard and proud of my progress.


Awesome little movie

Awesome little movie

My son (known here as Mr 10) entered a short film competition at our church, with the awards ceremony last Saturday evening.  Their film, “Shrinking: The Movie” was nominated for six awards and won just one additional one … BEST PICTURE. You know, the supreme award. Because they were overall good at, like, everything.

He is 10, I said before, I think. One other film was made by high-schoolers and all the rest by university students and young adults.

And we won. 

Can you feel the glow of pride that’s still radiating?

We need your help now, though. There’s a people’s choice award, which we’d quite like to win as well. Please follow the link above, “like” the YouTube movie, and share it with all your friends. You won’t regret it! And you’ll make a bunch of kids very happy.

Thanks heaps. 🙂

Peace and sunshine

I’ve “finished” my “essay”. I have 2808 words, which I think meets the definition of “about 4000”. Right? I’ve tweaked the margins a bit, to 3.1 and 3.15 cm rather than 3 cm each, and added an extra empty line to the header, so it now comes to 9 pages with 2 pages for references. (Not 2 pages OF references. One page plus one extra reference on the next page.) The process of getting it this far was something like herding cats, and something like pulling teeth, and something like sculpting jelly. Or all three at once. I have asked Sam if he would please:

read through my essay, which I’m just finishing off now, and write lots of notes on it in red pen saying “I don’t understand this connection, can you add more here please” etc?
[3:22:27 p.m.] Sam Barham: ok
[3:22:34 p.m.] Anna Barham: thank you
[3:23:03 p.m.] Sam Barham: But not “This part needs to be taken out” 🙂
[3:24:11 p.m.] Anna Barham: EXACTLY

It’s a glorious warm sunny day here in mid-winter Dunedin (huh, exactly midwinter, how about that?) so, figuring that since I now have till Friday afternoon and I only had the conclusion and revisions to go, I could spare some time to take Miss 5 to the Gardens. Mr 10 is playing at a friend’s place and Mr 8 didn’t want to come, so it was just me and the girl. It was nice. Time to potter along the paths smelling all the leaves and the few flowers still out on the “scented border walk”, and push her on the flying fox, and show her how to put seed for the duck on her flat palm and hold it out very still, so the ducks would eat from her hand. Even though they must have been completely stuffed, on a sunny day in the middle of the winter school holidays! We got icecreams on the way home.

I can’t afford to just switch off, now that the essay is more or less out of the way (though I’m sure Sam will give me some more to add to it, since I’d be surprised if it makes any sense at all to a lay reader), because I now have homework for my mentor, whom I meet with tomorrow, and a test on Monday. (Have you heard about “Bath Salts” that turn you into a crazed, super strong flesh-eating naked zombie who doesn’t feel pain? FREAKY.) My time is parcelled up by these deadlines for chunks of stuff I need to cram into my head or onto a page. I have that feeling once again that I’m waiting for “real life” to begin. I have felt like this for most of my life, which is halfway over, according to the Biblical span.

Do you feel like that?

Also, for homework:

Form a mental image of the combination of herding cats, pulling teeth and sculpting jelly. (Jello, for you Americans out there.)

Don’t do drugs. Or bath salts. Or bubble bath either, for that matter.

Go sit in the sun. You’ll feel better.


A response to “When Your Child Hits Your Other Child”

A response to “When Your Child Hits Your Other Child”

I have a few questions about this approach.

Can you please provide some peer-reviewed evidence that this approach works long term? Short term? Is it a technique that will give you adorable teenagers but will necessitate you spending most afternoons with your child between the ages of 2 and 7 years old screaming in your arms?

What do you do when you don’t have an entire afternoon to spend helping your child regulate their emotions?

What do you do when your child’s perfectly understandable emotional reactions are distressing everybody around her and going home isn’t an option?

How do you keep your own emotions in check for long enough to deal with your child in this exhaustive manner? How long does it take to become perfect? Is it possible to be a perfectly emotionally controlled mother as well as study or work full-time? Is it possible to be a perfectly emotionally controlled mother and work three jobs to make ends meet? Is it possible to be a perfectly emotionally controlled mother and NOT work full time? Is is possible to maintain this kind of control all day, every day?

How do you cope when more than one child is going through a meltdown at once and you have to cook tea for everyone, or get everyone out the door to go to Nana’s house?

When you tell your child that you will never love anyone more than you love them, are you allowed to exclude your husband? (Given that evidence is increasingly showing that a healthy marital relationship is more important for your child’s well-being than great parenting techniques.)

What do you do when your children get so sick of you trying to talk about their feelings all the time that as soon as you start they shut down and just agree with everything you say, or reply “I dunno”, in the hopes that you’ll shut up and stop nagging them?

You’ll have spotted my agenda here. I have three children aged between 5 and 10 years old. I am studying for a Masters in Psychology. I have given my children time-outs, removed privileges, and other varying forms of discipline, as well as talking with them about their feelings and frequently letting them know how much I love them. My youngest, my daughter, sometimes tells me that when I send her into time out, or yell at her, that I hurt her feelings. I usually respond something along the lines of, “I’m sure I did. You made me angry when you did (x). It’s not very nice for either of us, is it?” All three of them are happy, intelligent and creative, have friends, do well at school, and mostly behave in socially acceptable ways. None of them thinks they are the centre of the universe – or even the centre of my universe, because they aren’t and they shouldn’t be. But they know themselves well and like themselves. And me. And that’s good enough for me.

I think the method of – well, not discipline… I don’t know what you’d call it! – that you’ve outlined here is unrealistic and unnecessary. I think it’s setting up a kind of ideal of a super-mother that most mothers will fail against, and goodness knows, we don’t need any more of those. I suggest that if you publish this comment, and anyone reading it agrees with me, that they go and look up Nigel Latta at for some real-life ideas.

Blessings, and good luck with your own kids.