Easy as ABC. Simple as 123.
What could be simpler than setting pencil to paper, than cutting and pasting a letter in the proper position? What could be simpler than standing and walking in line, than sitting in a seat?
These things are so easy when a child is equipped to do them, it is hard to imagine that they could be difficult for anyone. Almost as simply done as flipping a light switch, the proper instruction is given and the light will turn on. This seems to be the hope and expectation of almost every teacher.
Frustratingly, though, often we flip the switch and the room remains in darkness. The child, though obviously intelligent, sits fiddling with his pencils and the worksheet is incomplete. The temptation is to flip the switch again. Again. Again. Now the child, although he has not completed the worksheet, has still learned something new. He has learned that there is something wrong with him. The light switch is simply not wired to work in this way. It cannot be cajoled or punished into triggering. It will not light until you discover the secrets of its wiring.
Children are not simple.
I work in education and what I know of teachers, generally, is that they work harder than you know, and that they care more than you suspect. Teaching is more difficult, more draining than you think and classroom dynamics quite different than people outside of classrooms understand. The comments left by parents on some blogs I have read, criticizing teachers for what seem like completely ordinary acts of discipline–which I have observed in every classroom I have worked in–leave me puzzled. What do these people want exactly?
I have two children with IEPs and have worked in a school for five years, and I will tell you that implementing an IEP, as it is written can be extremely difficult, in a room with twenty-four other students and limited staff. Sometimes it will dictate that a student have a scribe, but there will be only two adults available to the entire class. Sometimes a student needs a quiet environment and the classroom is small and crowded. They need additional time to work, but from where should this time come? From their play time? From recess? Often IEPs are written in ideals, and when translated to reality, things look entirely different.
Teaching is not simple.
My six year old son reads at third grade level. His handwriting is illegible. He demonstrates higher order thinking skills but can't fully understand the difference between reality and make-believe. He understood how to increment a digit in hexadecimal when shown by my husband, but has trouble completing addition worksheets because...they are worksheets. His teacher knows he is incredibly bright and grasps the concepts she has taught but has very little physical evidence to demonstrate his mastery of material.
Mikalh (MEE-koll) spoke late and didn't string sentences together at the typical age. He received the services of a developmental specialist which were, at one time, almost entirely focused on encouraging him to play imaginatively. This, for a child who now, has more costumes than clothes and spends every unscheduled moment of his day involved in make-believe. I felt then that none of this "help" hurt him, but I hardly felt that the diagnosticians had really seen my child, in all his beautiful complexity, for who he is.
Development is not simple.
Throughout all of Mikalh's years of being watched and diagnosed, notes have been made on his tendency to wiggle, his inability to "pay attention", his general spaciness. To anyone reading his file, flashing red lights appear around the obvious truth that Mikalh has AD/HD. Mikalh can't pay attention. It seems perfectly obvious.
If there is one thing you should know, it is that I am not opposed to diagnostic labels. I also am not in any way categorically opposed to psychiatric medications. I have only somewhat jokingly written that my entire family has AD/HD. Two of my children currently take medications for this condition and I am the person who asked for the team meetings at school on the subject and who asked the questions that led to these diagnoses. My intuition as a mother told me that this was the right thing to do.
With Mikalh, I just don't feel so sure. There is, at this point, no resounding "clunk" of recognition within me when it is suggested that my youngest child has AD/HD. He may, but I don't know how much of who he is can be explained by that particular label. My intuition tells me to be skeptical but still cooperative.
Parenting is not simple.
Mikalh is so young that no one really knows fully knows what makes him who he is. He is currently being served at school for language processing, fine motor and sensory issues, and is also seeing a therapist to deal with the fall-out of his extreme emotional sensitivity. He has a high IQ and a tendency to think creatively. How all of these factors complicate what we are seeing in him is impossible to tease out.
This child, who is apparently paying no attention, will walk up to his teacher, as the other children are leaving for recess and recount for her the most interesting portions of the story she read while he wandered aimlessly around the room. After a day of completing no work on a science unit on liquids and solids, he will come home and conduct experiments in our sink, chattering happily about why the table is solid and why his soy milk is liquid. In a quiet classroom with the attention of his sweet teacher or in our own kitchen, he blooms.
My deep suspicion is that the world comes at Mikalh undistilled. He seems to be attending to the sound of his teacher's voice, to the motion of classmates in the room, to the rhythm of the noisy heater, to the graceful ballroom dance of swaying branches in the wind, visible outside the window. The world gushes into him, full of beauty and horror and confusion to attend to, and he vibrates with the sensation of its touch. The endless worksheets shift like pieces of a Rubik's Cube, meaningless as clutter. The seat beneath him confines him.
He is a song composed of golden riddles and velvet images, forged to evoke instead of explain. The world wants not music, but a simple explanation from him.
Mikalh feels intensely the softness of fleece and the hardness and scratchiness of a plastic school chair. He stops to examine the beauty of individual snowflakes. He feels, with eyes wide and full of contemplation, the pain of toiling slaves, who lived and died one hundred fifty years before his birth, and the fear and bravery of Helen Keller. He wonders why it is ethical to put an injured animal to sleep, whom we cannot heal, but not an injured person. He is fascinated by the intricate design on the back of a spider.
Who is not paying attention?
My child is not simple.
Simplicity can be the ultimate truth and essence of the world. The room free of clutter, the Japanese garden, the raw and uncomplicated gorgeousness of a sunset over mountains. A moment of quiet meditation. Many things have been written in praise of simplicity, and they are beautifully true.
But simplicity can also be a shackle. When your heart is full of poems and the world wants neat demonstrations of knowledge. When creation settles on you in a bedlam of rich color and detail and you are asked to name the thing most important, but perhaps, not most interesting. Simple plans and objectives fail the child who is a swirl of lovely chaos.
He is a rangy, delicate wildflower in a garden of orderly tulips, and I am dumbstruck by his beauty.
I do not want for him to be more straight and tidy. I want, instead, for the world to love wildflowers as much as I do and renounce its blind devotion to simplicity.