Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What does College Ready really MEAN?

The phrase "college ready" is being bandied about in education circles ad nauseum (another thing for which we can thank Mr and Mrs Bill Gates) and after a conversation with my daughter last night I've been doing a lot of thinking about what this really means for our kids. My daughter started her senior year today, and we were having another discussion last night about what classes she was taking and for various reasons got onto the subject of Calculus vs. Statistics. She told me that the colleges she wants to go to wouldn't look at her if she doesn't take Calculus.

This is my second child, and I've sat through enough of these admissions talks now to know what college admissions officers are saying. And I have to question some of the values that I see being beaten into our kids' heads in these college admissions sessions. For example, if I have to sit in another admissions session saying that they want kids who have held leadership positions, I might well stand up and scream, "HOW THE HELL ARE ALL OF THESE KIDS SUPPOSED TO HOLD LEADERSHIP POSITIONS? THERE AREN'T ENOUGH CLUBS IN ALL THE SCHOOLS FOR EVERY SINGLE KID TO BE A LEADER?" And what message is that giving kids? That NOT being the CEO is failure? Really? There are plenty of CEOS whose tenure could be viewed as a failure (*cough* Steve Ballmer *cough*). One can be a leader in so many different ways, without holding an official title.

But it's this prescribed view of what kids need to take in order to be college ready that makes me the most crazy. I understand the focus on a rigorous curriculum. I understand that they should be challenging themselves. But calculus vs statistics? Really?

I didn't take calculus in HS or college. It's not that I'm not good with numbers. I got an A+ in Accounting in college, and in my work life created and analyzed budgets for a multimillion pound business.

Financial numbers like balance sheets and income statements make sense to me. They're like putting together pieces of a puzzle. I've told both my kids that no matter what they want to do in life, they should take a basic accounting class, because they need to be able to understand how to read financial statements.

When I got to business school, I had to take calculus as a pass/fail prerequisite. It's the only class I've almost failed in my entire life. I don't know if it was the professor or my brain, but I couldn't wrap my head around the concepts. I tried so hard to understand. I tried to do it by understanding the concepts. I tried to do it by rote memorization of formulas. I passed, but barely. It traumatized me so much that for almost a decade after I got my MBA in Finance, I would wake up in a cold sweat, having dreamed that I'd failed calculus, and I'd actually have to go down to the study and look at my framed diploma to make sure it was still there.

It traumatized me so much I was worried about taking statistics, assuming that I was total dunce. But I did fine in statistics. Statistics made total sense to me.

In my working life since taking calculus, I have never once had to use it. Not when I worked in finance, not as the financial director of a business, not in my current fields of endeavor.In my life since taking statistics, I use that knowledge all the time. Having a working knowledge of statistics enables me to understand how they are being used or misused in political discourse. I can't help wondering - why do colleges value that less than calculus for an educated person?

Again, I wonder what does "college ready" really mean? Who is defining it? And what is the end game? What kind of life is this "college readiness" making kids ready FOR?

As parents we need to ask these questions of our schools, our elected representatives, our government - and we must do it loudly. It matters, for our children, and for the future of this country.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm Walking for Alzheimers - in honor of Dad

I've written about my father and how painful it is losing him to Alzheimer's in previous posts here. I describe it to people has having my heart cut out with a butter knife. It's slow. It's painful.

But it's not without moments of beauty and love. My father has always been a dog person. We were rarely without a dog growing up, and although he could be very strict with us, my dad was a complete marshmallow when it came to dogs. Dogs know these things. By the time I got Benny in early 2008, Dad was already fading. But they established a very strong bond.

Fortunately, the Waveney Care Center ,where Dad lives now, is brilliant about allowing family members to bring in pets. Benny,despite having been turned down as an official therapy dog as a puppy because he couldn't maintain a sit/stay for long enough, is a regular visitor and has developed quite the fan club. What's even more amazing to me is that he's learned which residents are real dog people and makes a beeline for them as soon as we walk in the door.

But it's my father he's most excited to see. We have to go up in the elevator, and Benny knows exactly where to go:

As you can see from the pictures below, when he gets there, the love is mutual. Even if Dad is sleeping or agitated, Benny brings a smile to his face.

But Alzheimer's is a one way street, unfortunately, and Dad's condition has deteriorated since last year at this time. He is even more confused, and once when I went to visit him he'd forgotten how to pet Benny - I had to take Dad's hand and remind him how to stroke Benny's soft coat with his palm. It was heartbreaking.

And then there are what I call the tragicomic moments - the ones I am saving up for the adult novel I plan to write some day when I have some distance from all of this. Like when I went to visit Dad and I think he thought I was my mother (because I look like my mom) and told me he just wanted me to kiss him all day.

I was like, "Um, Dad, I'm your daughter. Folks tend to frown on that kind of thing."

Figuring I better get him to a more populated area, I walked him to the elevator. I'd just thrown on a sundress, and I guess it showed a little more cleavage than I usual. And we're in the elevator and I see that's where Dad is staring. And one part of my brain, the teenage part is like, "OMFG, my DAD IS STARING AT MY BOOBS!! I AM TOTALLY FREAKING OUT!!!!" and another part of my brain, the writer part, is thinking "This is going to make a hilarious scene in a book someday" and the third part of my brain, the rational part, is like, "This isn't going to end well" and sure enough, Dad lunges at me and I'm like "DAD! You can't DO THAT! I'm YOUR DAUGHTER!" at which point he looks all sheepish and gives me a cute grin and I can't be mad at him because it's Alzheimer's Dad, not Dad Dad and really, this IS going to make a great scene in my novel some day but OMG, teenage me is still freaking out because her dad just made a pass at her in the elevator.

Or the times when he gets agitated and reverts back to his time working in the intelligence service. "Did you see the men with the guns?" He'll ask me. I've learned to just meet him where he is. "I've scanned the area, Dad, and it's all secure now. But it's safe because of you. Great job of being on the look out."

I try to find the humor in it, but that's because I have to in order to stay sane. There is nothing funny about this disease. I hate it with a passion. It is evil and heartbreaking, and it has robbed me of conversations I want to have with my father, ones I kick myself for not having before.

That is why I'm once again participating in the Walk for Alzheimer's. If you are able to support our team at any level, I will be extremely grateful.

Here's where to donate: http://act.alz.org/site/TR/Walk/CT-Connecticut?px=6866996&pg=personal&fr_id=3300