Friday, November 27, 2009

Slow School Zone

Caution - Students Learning

Today we decided to visit the Pojoaque Valley Elementary School, where the play structures are awesome. Obviously they have been infused with state money, and possibly stimulus money, which hasn't filtered up to Los Alamost schools, most likely because we are too rich up here. The remarkable difference between the new Pojoaque schools and the Los Alamos schools is astonishing, to say the least. The Pojoaque ones are new, loaded with brand new playgrounds, and all the amenities. The Los Alamos ones are outdated, make-shift buildings, where band-aids are applied, but new construction is rare.  Considering my property tax bill just increased by approximately $1200 annually to supposedly remedy this, I can only hope that my friends' schoolchildren will have more than veneers and plastic surgery to "fix" the schools ails. But I digress...

It All Starts Here!

Schools have been around in this country for what,  375 years? Interestingly enough, the founders of America's first public school, the Boston Latin School, began the school with the ancient Greek belief that "the only good things are the goods of the soul." Additionally,  "from its beginning, Boston Latin School has taught its scholars dissent with responsibility and has persistently encouraged such dissent." What happened to these premises?  An institution designed to help children learn the goods of the soul, and encouraging responsible dissent?  Where did this train derail?  It seems that the majority of public schools today are, in fact, in existence for the sole reason of preventing dissent both within the schools and the confines of modern day life.  Forget about the goods of the soul. Schools have enough on their hands trying to maintain control of active, little bodies, and ensuring their kids are scoring high on standardized tests, there is no time to pursue Greek philosophy and to even discover what these goods of the soul might be. So, if soul goods and dissent are out...what is it that starts within the walls of education?

Success. When I was in 4th Grade at Pojoaque Elementary, we had a cheer that we performed all the time: S - U - C - C - E - S - S. That's the way you spell success, who's gonna win it? You can guess...Elks, Elks, the BEST!!!! I loved cheerleading when I was between the ages of 9 and 12. I attended cheerleading camps, and my friends and I pretended to be high school cheerleaders for hours a day. I did, in fact, wish to be a successful cheerleader--one who was pretty, kind, talented, and well, you know, cheery. When I was 9, that's what success meant to me. I wonder what it means to the little 4th graders at Pojoaque these days?

Excellence. Most people strive for excellence.  But what is excellence?  According to Webster's, excellence is the quality of being excellent, or superior. It is considered a virtue, which is said to be "a conformity to a standard of right; a morality." The virtuous definition makes more sense when it comes to what a school might hope to impart when emplacing a sign that implies that excellence starts at school.Come little children and conform.

Respect.  Respect comes from Latin respectus, literally, an act of looking back; from respicere to look back. As I'm moving backwards through these signs that children see every day during classes, it seems like looking back and reflecting before commencing with the future would be an effective use of respect.However, I don't think that's what the administrators are hoping to impart by ensuring that their children see this day after day after day.  Most likely the schools are hoping that their wards are engaging in acts of deference, holding their teachers, administrators, and peers in high regard.

Pride. Pride is the first thing the young ones at Pojoaque schools are subconsciously absorbing on upon entering school. Once again, I suspect that the school admins are, in their minds, thinking of pride in a positive manner, and not thinking of the word's synonym: conceit. A "reasonable or justifiable self-respect; the delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship" seem suited to what a school intends to pass along to its students. Pride in their schools, pride in their buildings, you know...that pre-patriotism stuff.
To be honest, I have no qualms with any of these ideas, or even the fact that Pojoaque schools feel compelled to hang these signs on the main walkway into the elementary school. Most people want their kid to feel pride in his work, to respect others, to have a sense a sense of excellence, and taste success.

I was more intrigued by the "Slow School Zone" sign. I suspect the sign intended to read "SLOW. School Zone" as in, slow down  you idiot drivers, there are children here who may dash in front of  your car. However, that's not how the sign read. Its juxtaposition to the "Caution Children Learning" sign is even more intriguing to me. Caution.  Children Learning. Caution?  What is there to be cautious about? The sign is placed in the bus drop-off loop, not at the entrance to the building, so I find it even more strange.

But, to go with it... Wouldn't it be nice if schools COULD slow down? If they would let kids be kids so they could have countless hours of play? Could let kids enjoy the success of using their imagination, feel the excellence of using their big muscles (as opposed to the heroic effort it takes to sit in a chair doing busywork), to respect gravity and the other forces of nature, and to have pride in their own creations - whether big or small? Schools should slow down, and become slow school zones. And there should be no caution in our children should be encouraged to learn in dangerous (at least to the status quo) ways, as in being allowed the freedom to follow their own interests, and to explore the world at their own pace.

The intent of schools is fundamentally good--they want to impart concepts into the minds of children so they grow into successful, people who strive for excellence, do so respectfully and with pride. But I disagree that it all starts in the hallways of our modern day schools. But, that is an essay for another day. In the meantime, my kids and I will continue to enjoy the playground while we play and explore in our own ways, and with our own "Po - w - e - r"  !!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Doula I am

I completed the ToLabor Doula Training this past weekend and walked away with a profoundly different understanding of who I am, how my own births were, and how every pregnancy and birth should be for all women. I entered the class not really even knowing what a Doula was, much less whether I truly wanted to be one. I actually went into the workshop with the intention of using the knowledge gained towards becoming a birth educator. I still plan on becoming a birth educator. However, since I didn't really understand the whole role a Doula plays in labor and birth, I had no preconceived notions of what a Doula is or is not. In my mind, I thought a Doula was just a woman present during birth. I've read the research that suggests that the simple presence of a woman at another woman's birth helps to create a positive birth outcome. I questioned whether I needed a Doula during my own births, but because I planned on homebirth with Midwives, I assumed I didn't need one.  How wrong I was!

A Doula (pronounced Doo-la) is a term from the Greek language meaning a "woman who serves." They support mothers and their families through the emotional and physical challenges and joys of childbearing. Doulas provide non-medical support and they are the only care providers whose responsibility is to support a laboring woman exclusively and continuously. Studies show that doctors are present only 5% of the time, and nurses only 20-25% of the time, however, labor assistants or birth Doulas provide constant care throughout a woman's entire birth experience.

The experienced, loving support of sisters, mothers, aunts, and friends has diminished as births have moved into the hospital, and under the medical practice of OB/GYNs. Most women do not share or participate in a birth until they experience their own. This is where Doulas come in. Doulas understand the complexities of birth, work to ease the fears and anxieties of the unknown, and can instill confidence and trust in a woman and her body. Doulas work with the mother and her partner by providing useful comfort techniques for the mother that incorporate the help of the partner. Doulas also help facilitate communication with the labor care team.

Randomized controlled trials demonstrate that the presence of a Doula is also associated with:
  • Reduced cesarean rates
  • Fewer forceps/vacuum deliveries
  • Less requests for epidurals
  • Shorter labor
  • Reduced use of Pitocin/Oxytocin
  • Lower rates of newborn complications
  • Increased success with breastfeeding
  • Reduction in postpartum depression
  • Increased maternal satisfaction
Doulas use a wide variety of pain-management techniques to help women feel more safe and comfortable, including:
  • Massage
  • Acupressure
  • Positioning for mother’s comfort and to relieve/avoid back labor
  • Shower/bath
  • Birth ball
  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Guided imagery/visualizations
  • Aromatherapy
What Doulas do not do:
  • Perform clinical tasks, such as blood pressure, fetal heart checks, vaginal exams.
  • Make decisions for the mother.
  • Speak on behalf of the mother to the medical staff or primary care providers regarding decision matters.
Before this remarkable workshop was complete, I realized that every woman should have the right to have a Doula, and that Doulas should be made available by all hospitals. Our maternity care system in the United States is a topic all its own, but one simple change to help support positive birth outcomes would be to have Doulas on call in all hospitals and birth centers.

My certification process has just begun, but I am looking forward to working through it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Hunter's Moon, and Other Random Thoughts

The Hunter's Moon on Monday seemed to dredge up all sorts of emotional turbulence within me, as well as others I interacted with. My day began with co-worker conflict, and ended in an endless stream of griping and bitching erupting from my brain and mouth. Finally, in sheer desperation for the stream of words flowing forth from my mouth to end, I shut up. I just quit.

However, gems of wonder were to be found amidst all the rapids. My daughter discovered a fun and creative way to make letters from the mail...she started by making an A and then a W, and then a Y, which progressed into words like MAX, WAX, EAT, which then progressed into finding other object with which to make the letters such as pencils, our Halloween spoon witches, spoons, pens, the fly-swatter. It was a lot of fun to watch and encourage.

My brain has been literally swirling with thoughts regarding learning without school, parenting, relationships, life’s typical challenges, the weather, finances, conflicts at work, my career, worries about others, opinions about everything, and on and on and on.

Often it seems, life’s daily flow travels along easily and fluidly and my focus is on each present moment. And then there are those times when all the various things that make up this life are swarming around me like bees hunting for a new hive and it’s impossible to focus on any one thing as they are demanding my attention. Now seems to be one of those times.

Perhaps I just need a quiet spot to reflect upon things, and calm my busy mind...

On the plus side, however, I've had the opportunity to read some inspiring articles on learning lately, and feel aware and responsive to how we are approaching this new journey in our life. It's quotes like this, from John Holt, that really just hone it all in:

"It's not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It's a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life."
~John Holt

I've even taken the leap to really sharing my understanding of this approach with those who most need it, namely my Mother and my In-Laws, who are the most supportive bunch of folks I've encountered recently, and who really need to be on the same page as me since they are primary caregivers to my kids. By sharing Naomi Aldort's amazing, and pretty much mind-blowing CD set, Trusting Our Children, Trusting Ourselves, with my Mom, among others, I am hopeful that my kids will have even more support from their loving grandparents, who are also learning about this new idea for our family.  In a family of many PhDs, the concept of homeschooling, and especially without a curriculum and "schoolwork" is a novel concept.

"What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out."
~John Holt, Teach Your Own

Parenting is probably the most challenging (and possibly unanticipated) aspect to many peoples' lives, and being with our children all day and not relying on others to entertain them, "teach" them, take care of them, "endure" them, etc. has become an important aspect of learning without school, at least in my own eyes. I'm the kind of person that constantly seeks out and eats up as much information as I possibly can so that I can become the very best parent that I can possibly be. I believe that kids thrive in an environment without shame, humiliation, punishment, invoked consequences, rewards, time-outs, and all those other negative "traditional" discipline techniques. Changing myself has become a daily affair, and I work at it really hard. Respecting my kids for who they are is essential. I've included a little snippet of inspiration I found this week, as well: How to Raise a Respected Child, by Sandra Dodd.