Friday, March 30, 2012

Banning Words = Bad

Today a friend posted an article on Facebook about a movement in the New York City Department of Education to eliminate “loaded” words from tests.  When I saw the title, I was of course interested because I was not really sure what a “loaded” word was.  Well apparently, it includes words like Halloween, Divorce, Dinosaurs, Birthday, Religion, Christmas, Television, and 43 more words.  It sounds like something out of a horrific science fiction pre-teen type book.

The Department is quoted as requesting a word be banned if "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people." 

I can only echo the other articles I have read that ask how words like Dinosaur and Rock-n-Roll evoke negative emotions. (Yes, Rock-n-Roll is on the list too).  Okay, the Sleestak from the Land of the Lost scared the crap out of me when I was a child.  The newer generations have Barney.  Perhaps this explains the ban?

The Department would not officially comment on each word, and I have not yet found the entire list.  Many people are pointing fingers and saying this is the result of religious conservatives.  I can almost see their point, but this is a much bigger issue.

Like it or not, we live in a global world with real people and real issues.  People celebrate many different holidays as a result of many different religions. We do not live in silos from country to country.  People watch television – they even watch dinosaurs on television sometimes, and actually buy them – Dinos and/or TVs - as presents for birthdays, Christmas or other religious occasions!  They even dress up as dinosaurs for Halloween!  My son was a dinosaur/dragon-type-thing for his first Halloween and won best-dressed.  We obviously did not celebrate in NYC.

It is unfortunate that still, so many people in the US think this part of the world where I live is such a scary, repressed place.  I am just entering the world of education in Dubai with my son, and so far the only thing banned in schools here that I am aware of is soda.  A kid could not even bring a cola in his lunch to school if he tried.  Why?  To promote health.  Banning words promotes what?  Uninformed, young adults?  A generation that is sheltered from the realities of the world?...and so much more. 

This is another reason why I feel so lucky to live here.  I am so grateful to the UAE for creating an environment where people and their beliefs are respected.  I love that the schools here encourage, celebrate and respect all cultures and holidays of the children that go there.  It is an amazing experience. 

The scary Sleestak. I am sure my fear is understood now!
(Image from
P.S. For those of you living here, don’t tell the NY Department of Education that there is beef pepperoni.  That is one of the banned words – yes, pepperoni.  According to the Department it may be offensive because some "persons of some religions or cultures may not indulge in it." Let’s see how long it takes them to catch on.

... If only this were an early April Fool's joke, but I would seriously doubt it!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The School Search - The Final Installment

And so we went to the final assessment.  I think this is the school we prefer, but it wasn’t always that way.  At my first visit I wasn’t sure.  This is an American based system, but it also has IB – an International Baccalaureate.  As I am not an educator, I am still not sure that I could articulate what that means, but it can’t be a bad thing.  Maybe it means that if I lived in Dubai forever then my child would be eligible to go to university anywhere?

This school is owned by a company that has many schools in Dubai.  This made me kind of skeptical at first because I thought it might be all about the business.  However, feedback from parents and people I know who have worked there, all positive.  It is also an added bonus that the nurses at the school have experience with diabetic children.

I toured it twice and tried to be more objective the second time.  When it came down to it, I liked this place because the student mix is a representation of what Dubai is – children and families from many different countries.  I also had a better feeling about the parents there embracing Dubai and where they were compared to the other American school we visited.  There will always be people moving, but like they say, “no matter where you go, there you are”.

The day of the assessment, Erin does not want to go.  He still reminisces about the “naughty boy” at the previous school and wants nothing to do with looking at any more schools.  The poor child – I promise this is the last one.  We arrive and see another boy named Adam that went to Erin’s nursery last year.  Yeah.  Maybe this will make him feel at ease.

Well, it was all good until Adam started to get uneasy.  The more upset he got, the more reluctant Erin became.  And to make it even worse, the classroom they were in was allll the wayyyy down a very long hallway.  It was probably overwhelming.  I believe Adam’s dad and I were the only parents who escorted their children to the classroom.  I tried to convince Erin to play with him, but hiding behind my leg seemed like a better idea, and Adam wasn’t interested either.

What’s a mom to do? He doesn’t want to participate.  After his previous bad experience I don’t blame him.  So I did what any respectable mom would do.  I leaned down and whispered in his ear, “Tell ya what.  If you do this, after we’re done, we’ll go buy some new cars.  Does that sound like a good idea?”  Without blinking an eye he answers his conforming “OK” as he always does when he is about to do something fun, and went on his way to play with the cars they had there.

I don’t know if it made a difference, but he got in.  So now it's decision time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The School Search Continues..

The school saga continues… My husband says my first installment was kind of a rant.  Ya, it was, and that’s ok.  If I can’t rant on my own blog, then where can I.

So now we are requested to visit one of the larger American schools.  There is a rather lengthy email with specific instructions of what to do:
- Come early, let your child get comfortable and interact with the others
- When we ring the bell, quickly leave your child and he will follow the teacher to the classroom
- The assessment will be 1.5 hours (ya, I think its too long also)
- Do not ask the teachers any questions after the assessment as they cannot speak to you

It seemed quite serious for such small children.  They mention a few things they are looking for.  One of those was to see if the child was comfortable to leave his or her parent when they rang the bell.  I really wondered how this would work.  A four year old at a big facility with new children and strange adults for the first time and no separation anxiety permitted.  And while safety is not as bad here as in the US, this is the age you start teaching your children about strangers.  I could see this working out really well.  I have a way of predicting the future.

So we arrive early and Erin goes out to play on the playground with the other kids.  Long story short, a boy snatches something he is playing with – twice.  His feelings were hurt, and even though he tried to be assertive the second time it happened, it still ended in tears.  And he is wailing on the playground.  I’ve not mentioned before he must have a strong diaphragm because his voice projects well, and this situation was no different.  In fact, it was so loud, we were not sure that we heard the bell ring.  So of course separation anxiety is alive and well.  All the other kids seemed to follow their strangers with no issues.

He finally gets in the classroom and settles.  Reluctantly, he goes to play with the blocks.  I find my way to the holding tank for parents.  On my way, there were some teachers who seemed kind of surprised I was still lingering.  When I explained the situation to confirm I wasn’t stalking the testing rooms, they immediately asked, “oh, was that “Johnny” who snatched it?”.  In fact yes it was.  They seemed to have his number.  I learned that his older brother goes to the school already.  I guess he was a little over confident on the playground since he probably already felt it was his turf.

While in the holding tank, I notice a lot of these parents are very American.  This school is very American.  There is nothing wrong with being American.  I am one, but at the same time it feels odd because it does not feel like Dubai.

I have to consider the fact that my son is a hybrid of sorts.  His mom is American and his dad is Turkish.  He won’t fit into either box.  I was thrilled at his answer the first time I asked him where he was from.  “Istanbul, Texas”.   It is not a bad idea to consider a place with diversity.

The mom sitting next to me proceeds to tell me her life story.  She is unhappy here. If her son did not get in, she would not be disappointed as that would be her ticket to go back to the US.  She had not looked at any other schools.

I start to wonder if other parents here feel the same.  I hope not.  For sure we do not know how long we will live in Dubai.  However, for the time we are here, this is our home.  Dubai is a transient place for a lot of people so moving is a fact of life.  However, it would be nice if the children that my son will spend most of his time with are of a similar mindset that Dubai is a nice place (because it is), and they enjoy where they are. 

Finally we were instructed we could collect our children.  When I saw Erin he was happy, but not overly enthusiastic.  As we walked back to the car he had made his decision.  “Mommy, I do not want to go to this school because the children are not very nice.”  He was really bothered by the “naughty boy”.

A few days later I got an email stating that he got in.  I have not yet read it in detail yet as it is quite lengthy and there seem to be a lot of instructions around the payment method and seat reservations. 

Ironically, when we arrived at his school today (late), there were two teachers visiting Erin’s class from that very school.  They were likely there to observe a child that they wanted to follow up on, which they mention in their instructions.    I cannot imagine any of Erin’s classmates not getting in, as they are all bright, intelligent children. 

We were trying really hard to be there early before they did the roll call.  He was upset that we did not get there sooner.  It was classic.  He hid behind me and held my leg just as he did when he did not want to join the assessment.

We have one more assessment to go. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Saga of Searching for a School in Dubai Part 2

Enter request for assessment at School Number 1.

This is a somewhat newer school in Dubai, based on the American system.  A nice school all the way around that is reasonably priced compared to others.  I also have two co-workers and a friend with children there who are very happy with it, so this is a good sign. 

Erin and I went one afternoon in early February at our appointment time.  Having no idea what to expect, I try very hard to market this experience to him as something fun.  Go see what kind of toys they have and just play with what they give you.  I assumed this would be as competitive as the other assessments that linger, regardless of if he passed or not, his comfort was most important to me.

Much to my surprise, it was just the two of us and a teacher.  All he had to do was draw a picture of himself, count a few crayons, say the colors of those crayons, recognize a few shapes and build a pretty easy puzzle.  I must note that in his self portrait, he drew "bumblebees in his belly".  

It was really hard for me to not laugh because this was the exact same test I had to do when I was tested for kindergarten years ago.  I remember it vividly.  The only difference was instead of drawing a picture of myself, I had to identify body parts on a picture.  All this technology and advancement and we are still looking for the same basic developmental things.  Wow!  Erin’s current pre-school teacher assured me yes, not much has changed, it’s just the methodology used. 

The next day I got a call saying he passed and was accepted.  Then I was instructed I had one week to make a deposit for his spot.  I realize this is a business, but we haven’t even been to the other schools yet.  However, in order to not loose the place we paid.

…Onto the next assessment..

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Saga of Searching for a School in Dubai...Part 1

It is that time of year for parents in Dubai who have a 4-year old, or a child approaching age 4.  We all must endure the crazy process of looking for, and getting accepted into a good primary school.

In Dubai, there are public schools, but these are for locals.  All foreigners here have to send their children to private schools.  Typically, companies provide some kind of reimbursement, but it may not cover 100% of it.  And if you consider moving here, note that the company just covers the base and does not include any extras on top of that.

Our quest for the right school started sometime last year.  I had heard different things when moms “talk shop” so I kind of had an idea about what might be good and what might not be based on reputation – or should I say gossip.  On top of the gossip, there are many systems – American, British, International, and a myriad of others.  Luckily I do not have to consider another language.  For example, if you were from France, would you put your child in a French speaking school, or somewhere else?  Since it doesn’t seem in the cards that we will return to the US anytime soon, I need to consider a few options.

I confirmed the gossip based on government reports here as well as a few visits to the facilities.  However, it was still difficult to make the preliminary list.   So starting sometime in Spring last year, I began the task of visiting schools and completing applications and all other paper work to get my child an education.

The first school I visited last year has always had a fantastic reputation.  It is rumored to educate children in a different, unique way that was the bomb - something about using movement and physical activity to support learning.  Before the world economy crashed, you had to wait probably two years to get into this school.  I decided to visit and let it be a benchmark if it was that great. 

I scheduled a visit and took a tour of the school.  Most of the parents touring were British, or maybe a few Australians as well.  Despite the unique delivery of education, the system seems to be primarily British, or at least attracts this clientele.  They had an amazing common area with all the kids’ art, which was fantastic, but I was incredibly freaked out when we walked by the computer lab.  All these children dressed identically, sitting at computers like droids.  I guess this is what all primary school computer labs look like these days, but it still freaked me out a bit.  

Probably the highlight of the tour was when we visited the playground.  This is when the principal/director, who was giving the tour, emphasized the importance of physical play for brain development.   And I quote, “One of the best things you can do for your child is to swing them around upside down.”  Is she kidding me?  Now I am not a prude, and kids love to play, climb and swing, but did she just say that to everyone?  Yes, she did.  She did not endorse shaking babies, but I was preparing my poker face just in case.

Fortunately, I was wearing my sunglasses, so I was able to do a quick check-in with the faces in the group - nobody flinched.  I am not sure if the crowd just got bored and were perhaps not listening at the time, or they wanted their child to get in so badly that they were afraid to question it.

The tour finished and I had a quick visit with the nurse to see if she had any experience or issues with a diabetic child before.  While the education is important, at this age, health and managing diabetes is a big deal for us.  They were very accommodating, but I can say the reaction from some other schools when I request to visit the nurse’s offices has been interesting.   They usually tell me that I can meet them the week before school starts.  Most are accommodating after I explain to them the importance of doing this sooner rather than later.  However, I had one school that was a little reluctant to direct me to the nurse’s office.

This person seemed surprised, so I tried to politely explain the need to meet with a nurse sooner rather than later.   It still wasn’t quite working, as that didn’t seem to follow the typical procedure.  I had to take it a step further and make the obvious as gentle as possible:  I will select and pay for the school with my (hard earned) money.  I finally got a “we usually don’t do this, but we’ll make an exception this time”. 

While they all have selection criteria, no one has yet offered to pay for my child to attend their school.  As fabulous as he is, I just don’t think that is going to happen.  I feel it is only fair that if I am going to provide this money to them, I need to ensure that my child’s health will not be an issue at school.

In May 2011, I dropped off an application form for my son at the school where he would be swung around upside down to induce learning.  They said they would be in touch…In September of 2011, they sent me an email to schedule an assessment for my son. 

One of the most critical requirements to get into a school here is a good assessment, or interview.  All schools here assess all applicants before they accept them.  I can somewhat understand why it is done, but I also think that some schools may abuse it.  The rumor is that this is how they look for “desirable passports”.  That may be different for each school.  At least one American school here openly states that North American passport holders get priority. 

The date they gave me was the same date we were scheduled to be in the US so my son could see his pediatric endocrinologist.  I explained this and they told me they would be in touch, but I knew better.  I called the number  they left in the email in case I had any questions.  Of course there was never any answer and the number never rolled over to voice mail. 

I sent an email explaining this, and that I would like to discuss when we could reschedule.  I received the same response, “We’ll be in touch”. 

I was not too disappointed or surprised.  After all, another friend tried to get her son into this school.  There was a massive waiting list, and every time she followed up, there was no space available.  Come school time, she had never heard anything from them, so obviously, her child was enrolled in another school.  Crazily enough, they called her on the second day of school informing her a place had opened.  This was around 10 or 11:00 in the morning.  She had a window until 2:00pm to get back to them, otherwise the spot would be gone.  With her son settled happily in another school, needless to say, my friend told them “no thanks”.

Wanting a second opinion to see what all the hoopla was about, I was waiting for my husband who had not yet had a chance to visit the school.  The morning he left to go there, a car hit his car in our parking lot.  They both had to go to the police station to get a report so the other driver’s insurance could pay for the damages.  Obviously, he missed the tour that day.

When he called to reschedule, they told him they did not really have any upcoming tours, nor were they sure when the next tour would be, if at all.  I am writing this in February, this happened a couple of months ago. 

Instead of all the secrecy and pretentiousness, a simple we do not like your passport, or we did not care for your wife’s shoe choice when she took the tour would suffice.  This is a game I do not subscribe to.  Needless to say, we happily did not give them a second thought.