"I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life;
to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived." ~Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Outside the Box

Tonight we had our first parent/teacher conference of the year with Ethan's teacher. She is a great teacher and I can tell she really loves her job. I've heard wonderful things about her. She has three decades of experience under her belt and she knows her stuff. I've felt for years that this day was coming, and it for sure hit us square in the face tonight.

Ever since Ethan was a baby we've known he has an analytical mind. When he was three years old we thought he had a "speech" delay (which turned out to be a load of horse hockey) and he started speech therapy. After a few evaluations, the therapist diagnosed him with an auditory processing disorder. Or in plain English, when he was told something or given an instruction, he would do things in a different way. Or he would explain things in a different way. So people thought he was not processing it correctly.

When he started preschool his teacher noticed he had trouble following directions. She would tell the class to do something and they would comply as any group of four year was expected to. But Ethan did not. He would put things away in different places or do things completely off the wall. Often times resulting in the same outcome as the other children, but went about it a different way.

Then in Kindergarten his teacher would tell us that no matter how she told Ethan to do something, he would do it differently. A small example is how he held his pencil. Instead of holding it the "traditional" way, he insisted on holding it a different way and it drove us all batty. He could still write as well as the other kids, but he had to do it differently. The way on holds a pencil likely sounds trivial, but it's a small example of how Ethan has always done things.

Now in first grade things are bizarre. His teacher showed a LOT of frustration with him. She was sweet and kind, but I could tell she was near the end of her rope and was out of ideas. She said that every few years she has a child like Ethan and it's difficult. It's difficult because her job is to keep order in a room of twenty five small children. And when one of them marches to the beat of a different drummer and insits that THAT is the correct way to do it, it's hard.

There is a lot to it and I don't have the time or energy to journal about it. But the more she explained the ways of Ethan, the harder it was for me not to laugh. Cody and I kept eyeing eachother, almost able to read one another's thoughts. Yes, this is the Ethan we know and love and the same Ethan that we realized years ago would go very far in life. The teacher gave example after example of what he is like in class. She was baffled at the fact that he will be sitting there doing his work and then out of nowhere, go dead cold and stare off into space. "What is he thinking when he does that?!" She said in frustration. I cracked a smile because I KNOW what my guy is thinking when he does that. I know that expression well and when I see it, I know it's hard to pull him back to where I need him to be at that moment.

It could be any number of things. The revolution of the earth. How to make a rocket go faster and further. Why oil and water don't mix. Why the sky is blue. Why there are 365 days in some years and 366 days in others (yes, this is something he has asked me about). Why some bacteria in our bodies is good for us and some is bad for us. What makes some peoples' skin freckle and some to not. These are the type of things that randmoly pop into his head at any given time. And when he runs to the kitchen to grab a pencil and paper I know he is about to make some sort of picture or diagram or graph or explanation of his question. This happens on a daily basis.

So THAT, Mrs. Smith, is what goes through the boy's head when he suddenly stares off into space.

She gave many examples of Ethan's "problem" and one of them made me laugh all the way home. The other day they were doing an art project with construction paper. They were to take an ectra large piece of black paper and design a mosaic type pumpkin on it with orange construction paper. Then they were to trim the black paper down. Mrs. Smith showed us Ethan's project and it looked great. There was nothing out of the ordinary as far as we could tell. SO what was the problem? She then told us that she had laid all of the supplies out on the table and instructed the kids on what to do. There was the big black paper and the smaller orange paper next to it. There was glue. There were scissors.

During the time when the kids were gathering at the table to get their supplies, Ethan went to the cupboards, dug through, and found a smaller piece of black construction paper. He then used that to make his mosaic on.

We all pondered this for a minute and I realized that the problem was how Ethan went against his teacher's instructions. Rather than using the supplies on the table, he took it upon himself to find something else in a place that was "off limits" to children.

Cody sat there and stewed as the teacher told us how this was blatant disrgard for her instructions, and that Ethan does this a lot. He then piped up and said "So you are saying that Ethan looked at this prject and found a more efficient way to do it. Rather than gluing orange paper onto a very large piece of black paper that would then have to be trimmed down, Ethan found a small piece of black paper, eliminatig that step completely. If you ask me, that shows a an advanced level of creative thinking." The teacher did not like that.

After listening for a while longer, Cody said "The thing is, I work in an industry that pays a LOT of money to a person who can come in and figure out a more efficient way of doing something. Those people get rich. Not a lot of people can do that kind of thing or think in that way." The teacher did not like that either, but she did not disagree.

The bottom line is that Ethan is in fact the absent minded professor. He is almost too smart for his own good and it can be damaging at times. Rather than looking at something as it is, he looks at it and wonders what it could be. What it could become. How it can be improved upon. But the problem lies in the fact that he has a decade to go in the public school system and this kind of thing is frowned up. And I 100% understand Mrs. Smith's frustration. As much as she loves Ethan thinking outside the box on almost everything, she has a classroom to keep in order. She can't let twenty five kids do what they want to do in any way they feel like doing it. There are set rules and guidelines for a reason.

She explained that she has a grown son who was a lot like Ethan at this age. But they never saw the need to help him channel all that creativity and brilliance into anything constructive. He always marched to the beat of a different drummer and was smart far beyond his years, but he bored easily and never learned valid life skills. Her big concern is Ethan finding a balance of following instrcutions the way that society expects him to follow them, while at the same time being free to follow his passions and use that genius mind in a way that is conducive to living in the world today. Is it possible? Where does the balance lie? How does a kid like him thrive and function is a classroom that simply does not allow for his kind of thinking? I'd love for him to be free to grab a piece of large construction paper if he feels it would be a more efficient way of completeing a project. It seems so simple, yet that sort of thing can cause pandemonium in a normal classroom.

The thought has crossed my mind at times to homeschool him. There are pros and cons to it, but for his particular personality I feel that the cons are bigger. He already teeters on introvertedness and I feel that homeschooling would be too isolating for him, even with all of the homeschooling groups and resouces that are available. This child needs the daily eight hour peer interaction that a school setting provides. In an ideal world Ethan would be in a school for children just like him who are challenged to think methodically and do things in an unorthodox way, just to see it they can find a better way to do something. If you look at the billionaires and renowned scientists of the world, how many of them ever thought inside the box? Very few, I'd venture to say. Many of them saw yellow when the rest of the world saw gray. And yellow turned out to be better and it made them wealthy.

I'm not saying that my dream is for Ethan to grow up and be wealthy. But damn it if I don't want him to use that mind that most of us only wish we were born with! The box is not for him. He doesn't fit well inside of it and I don't want to stuff him into it and end up damaging him. But what do we do?

*The above picture is of "Ironman". Doesn't look like him? When Ethan was barely five years old I found him one day in the kitchen rumaging through drawers and pulling out all kinds of utensils. He constructed this and told me it was the silver Ironman at the beginning of the movie. I love the apple corer in the chest which is supposed to be his power generator. Man I love this kid.


R.D.L.L said...

I love how you understand your son so well. I think it is a great that he is such an independent thinker. That is amazing! It is sad that children do not get much freedom of expression at school because the classroom sizes are so big that it makes it impossible for teachers. Just keep being great parents that love him and understand that he is talented and unique.

Gina said...

Awesome post. So great that you are so cued into how Ethan expresses his intelligence. I'm experiencing a little bit of the same frustration with J in Kindergarten. Everything is SO academic and about standards and testing, and he's been in K for like 2 seconds. His teachers seem to think he's struggling because he's not finishing his work, and so they don't think he's very bright. I've thought about homeschooling too- but J loves the structure and socialness of school so much.
There just isn't a perfect answer!

*myfantasticfour* said...

Such an amazing post. I think Mrs. Smith was really upset about a 6 year old outsmarting her and teaching her about efficiency...Ethan's way made far more sense than hers, lol!

Ute Family said...

E is such a good kid and you are such a good mama and that shows by how good they are.
I feel like I never see you anymore sinc you're not in Primary! I hope you're doing ok!

Joey and Nettifer said...

You are a good mom & Ethan is smart! You will know what is best for you child.