Friday, January 30, 2015

4 Reasons Anti-Vaxx People Annoy Me

With the recent outbreak of measles in California and last summer's outbreak among the Amish, vaccines and the anti-vaccine movement are once again hot topics.  I got into a minor discussion on Facebook yesterday with some anti-vaccine proponents.  They defended their positions with a fervor and dismissed any and all evidence that contradicts them.

1. Believing anecdotal stories are proof of a connection.  As soon as the topic of vaccines arise, stories about children sicken by the vaccine and their autism come out.  I have no doubt that some children show an immune response to the vaccine.  That is the intention of it- to stimulate the immune system and train white blood cells.  Is autism the result? No.  Wakefield was a fraud.

Autism becomes more apparent as the child grows.  At 18 months, my son lost his language abilities.  He went from simple sentences to non-responsive.  This is probably about the time of his vaccinations but that was not the cause.  The cause is much more complicated and, I believe, genetic.  I truly wish vaccines had caused autism and we could prevent autism by simply changing our vaccination protocol.

2. Fearing autism more than the diseases.  I have never seen anyone suffering from measles, small pox, rubella, mumps, or polio.  Our lack of experience with these diseases makes them less threatening and less real than autism.  Autism is a reality in many people's lives including my own.  We seen kids struggling with autism every day.  I would not wish autism on anyone.  It can make life very difficult but it is not a death sentence.  

Until recently, the diseases were abstract and distant.  Measles is the first to make a come back as our herd immunity is compromised.  I fear it will quickly become a reality in many people's lives.

I fear the diseases.  Vaccines have always come with a risk.  That risk is minute when compared to the risk of the disease.  The whole concept of a vaccine is to introduce a very small amount of the antigen (bacteria or virus) to the immune system.  Train the cells so that when a real infection happens it can fight it.  At first, the vaccines were crude and the antigens were live.  People died but others were still willing to take the risk.
3. Not understanding how vaccines work and why they sometimes don't. I understand vaccines better than the average parent.  I worked for a time as a research technician in an immunology lab working to develop a safer influenza vaccine.  The ins and outs of our white blood cells became my daily work.  B cells, T cells, IgM, IgG, IgA, antigens, antibodies, etc.  Vaccines train the non-specific and less effective IgM producing cells to become antigen(disease) specific IgG producing cells.

It is like turning a militia of farmers into a trained army.  Think of the Continental Army after training for the winter at Valley Forge.

Vaccines give our immune system a fighting chance in the event of a real exposure to the disease.  It is not a guarantee.  Viruses change rapidly and the B cells may not recognize the mutation. This is why we need new influenza vaccines yearly.  The antigen can also over whelm the immune system.

Think of our small army of B cells running into an army of overwhelming size.  Go further back in history to the battle of the 300 at Thermopylae.  The Greeks did not stand a chance against the overwhelming Persian army.

4. Believing that the decision to vaccinate is theirs and theirs alone.  The vaccinated in our society create an effective barrier against the diseases which protects those who cannot be vaccinated.  This is "herd immunity".  As fewer and fewer are vaccinated, our herd immunity is compromised.  This puts ALL of us at risk especially our very young, elderly and those whose bodies are already fighting a disease or illness.

Look at the babies.  Look at your grandparents and parents. Look at toddlers.  Look at your co-workers.  Look in the mirror.  All of these people are at risk when you choose not to vaccinate healthy children.

Vaccinations are not a life choice without repercussions to others.  This is not the same as choosing to homeschool your children, become a vegetarian, or get a tattoo.  Public health is the domain of the government.  Vaccinations are a major part of our public health defense strategy.  That defense has worked so well that we don't have memories of other strategies such as quarantines of houses and even cities. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Explaining my issue with Common Core to my son (Part I)

Your letter to the editor supporting Common Core was impressive.  All of the problems with education and their long term effects on livelihoods that you mentioned are real.  The need for a change in our education system is real.  Your letter and opinions lack one thing- perspective.

Obviously, since I am your mother, I have a couple decades worth of experiences and knowledge that you as a 16 year old student lack.  I am old enough to remember school before all the testing started.  I was preparing to become a teacher when the push for more standardized testing started.  I have heard years and years of political rhetoric and promises of improvement.

None of the promised improvements have happened.  Our children have not become adults more able to compete in the worldwide workforce.  Our children have not become adults able to easily handle all the pressures of our modern world.  Our test scores have not improved or surpassed other nations' scores.  Our nation is not held up as the shining example of quality education that we want it to be.

My perspective differs not just from yours but is also different than most adults.  A friend often referred to me as an "odd duck".  This was not an insult.  "From one odd duck to another" recognized the fact that we had ways of viewing things that were not the same as the masses.  I have studied a wide range of subjects and each has given me insight into the world.  Had I followed the traditional path of college, job, kids, working mom, my opinions on life and Common Core would be different.

When your older brother was born, I had just finished my Master's degree from Ohio State and was disillusioned with higher education.  Getting my PhD. and being a professor had been my dream.  I was not suited to the politics of academia and felt there was a disconnect between the ivory towers and the real world.  I wanted to do something that would benefit people in a tangible way and not just add to our knowledge base.  Focusing on my family for a few years seemed natural.

When you came along, you needed me even more than I ever imagined.  I used all of my skills as a researcher, educator, advocate, and parent to help you overcome your disability.  I became a substitute teacher so I could learn more about our school district, keep an eye on my boys, and help me understand our education system.

My perspective of our educational system is from the standpoint of:

  1. a parent, 
  2. a parent of a child with a disability,
  3. a parent disagreeing with the school,
  4. a parent happy with the school,
  5. a long time and long term substitute teacher,
  6. a outsider but yet an insider,
  7. the child of two special education teachers and supervisors,
  8. a science researcher,
  9. an anthropologist
  10. and, finally, a new hire recruiter.
  Now, let me shock you.  I was originally in favor of Common Core.  I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea.  Let's get down to the basics of what our students need to learn and put those in writing.  Let's have these be standard throughout the country so students switching schools and switching states will not miss out on valuable information and learning.  It makes sense and I still like the idea.

I want to see a book listing all the skills that a child needs as he or she progresses through the grades.  I want parents to be able to check off these skills as they are mastered and a child to see his progress charted over time.  I want to see a listing of the very basic skills a high school graduate needs to function as a contributing member of our society, a list of what various skilled trades need, and a list of what college bound students need.

All students and their parents should be able to understand the requirements and track the progress.  If the standards are vague, they need to be refined.  It is not enough to simply say, "the student will understand significance of agriculture in societies."  The rise of agriculture can be discussed in a paragraph but not fully understood after a lifetime of study.  Each answer gives rise to more questions.  The standards need to give examples as to the depth of understanding that is expected of each topic at each level of learning.

That was my vision of Common Core as a simplification and unification document but that is not the reality.  I am an idealist but should know by now that reality is much different.  The problems with Common Core are illustrated in the blog I shared with you last week about kindergartners. (see below)   I have spent time in kindergartner classes.  Reading and writing should not be the focus.  Socialization, listening skills, speaking skills, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and interactive learning should be stressed and can be without placing undue stress on young learners.

Once upon a time, you were a kindergartner.  In no way, shape, or form were you ready to read or write.  Reading, writing, and mathematics were the least of my concerns for you at that time.  Oh, we worked on it every afternoon.  We sat at the kitchen table reviewing your learning ring of letters, numbers and sight words.  We worked through handwriting worksheets.  I was thrilled with every small victory but was more concerned with teaching you to sit and to work than the outcome.

My main concerns for you included:

  1. Being able to function appropriately in a classroom setting, 
  2. Being able to sit still, 
  3. Being able to ask questions, 
  4. Answer questions,
  5. Fine motor skills,
  6. Gross motor skills,
  7. Finding your way in the school building,
  8. Dealing with all the other students,
  9. Not being harassed, bullied or hit
  10. Being able to tell me at the end of the day what you did.
  11. Coming home safely.
When you started kindergarten, you were functionally nonverbal.  If I asked the right question, I might get a response.  You didn't converse with anyone or volunteer information or opinions.  Reading and writing can in as a poor second to being able to have you tell me about your day and to making sure you were behaving properly.  With Common Core, you would have probably been forced to repeat kindergarten.  As it was, the school recommended it even though you had achieved the minimum recommended skills.  Psychologically, repeating kindergarten might have done serious damage to you self esteem.  It wasn't until years later that I realized how hard you were pushing yourself to be everything the teachers wanted you to be.  Failure to progress to the next grade could have meant you stopped trying as hard.  

You did eventually learn to read.  Mathematics came a little slower but it did come.  By middle school, you were all "caught up" and now as a 16 year old high school junior you have two college classes under your belt and got A's in both.  According to Common Core logic, this should not have happened because I wasn't pushing reading and writing.  I was pushing everything you needed to learn to become a productive part of society.  Social skills.  Reading and writing came because you realized you needed to learn them to be part of the class and part of the world.

Tomorrow: The Greater Context of School Testing- The Bell Curve, Sputnik, and Princeton's ETS.

Report: Requiring Kindergartners to Read — as Common Core Does — May Harm Some

From The Washington Post's Education Blog
"The Answer Sheet"

By Valerie Strauss
January 13, 2015

The Common Core State Standards call for kindergartners to learn how to read, but a new report by early childhood experts says that forcing some kids to read before they are ready could be harmful.

Friday, January 16, 2015

NESCA News & Notes: Report: Requiring Kindergartners to Read — as Comm...

Report: Requiring Kindergartners to Read — as Common Core Does — May Harm Some

From The Washington Post's Education Blog
"The Answer Sheet"

By Valerie Strauss
January 13, 2015

The Common Core State Standards call for kindergartners to learn how to read, but a new report by early childhood experts says that forcing some kids to read before they are ready could be harmful.

NESCA News & Notes: Report: Requiring Kindergartners to Read — as Comm...: From The Washington Post's Education Blog "The Answer Sheet" By Valerie Strauss January 13, 2015 The Common Core State S...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Plan for My Life

New Plan for My Life

Many of my previous post detail my failures in the workforce.  I am highly educated, intelligent, hard working, reliable, friendly but not able to support find a job to support myself let alone support my family.  I put my whole heart into everything I do whether it is parenting, teaching, being a caregiver, learning to be an insurance agent or working in the office of a huge manufacturer like Guardian.  

I truly thought I had finally found my niche in the workforce at Guardian.  Although manufacturing was new to me, I was learning quickly and enjoyed the challenges of each and every assignment I got.  Foolishly I started thinking that I was actually going to be made a "real employee" instead of just a temporary one.  Even six weeks after my termination, I am still not sure how I went from "valuable and exemplary" to "incompatible" in a matter of hours.

That termination, or "cancellation" as they call it there, almost destroyed me.  That position was the closest I have come to having a job that pays above the poverty line and offers benefits since 1994.  I took a few years off for grad school and raising my boys but I have been looking for work since 2005.  Ten years of scouring the job boards, applying for hundreds of jobs, interviewing for less than a dozen and failing at every one of them has taken a toll on my self-esteem and my sanity.

With this new year comes a new plan for my life.  Those little boys ready for Halloween are almost grown.  "Charlie Brown as a ghost" starts a job in two days making more money than I ever have.  The "Avatar" is starting his second semester of college classes while still a junior in high school. The "Dragon" is in middle school and needs me less every day.  

My plan has two parts.  

Part 1- Publish books detailing all I learned about special education, disabilities, autism, and life.  If we had listened to the experts, that little "Avatar" would not have grown into the wonderfully self-driven finance expert and athlete that he is.  We did listen to the experts about his toe walking and he suffered tremendously for it.  It took two major surgeries and a year of his life to fix those "corrections".  I will shout from the rooftops everything I learned.  The kids at school always loved hearing my stories.  Maybe larger audiences will also.

Part 2- Turn my rosary and jewelry making hobby into a profitable business.  I started making and selling crosses, rosaries and jewelry as a way to help my sons learn and grow.  Making jewelry developed finger strength and helped with identifying patterns.  Selling at shows helped develop social skills, planning skills and math skills.  Now I sell on the internet and Gabe has become my marketing and business manager.  He just finished a course in marketing from Tiffin University and is using it to push my business to a new level.  

On Christmas Day, he gave me a business plan he wrote for me.  I cried.  It was the best present I ever got.  The boy "who will never understand math" and "needs constant adult supervision" wrote a comprehensive marketing plan including a statement regarding conflict diamonds without prompting or assistance.  And...he is only 16 years old.

Now our roles are reversed.  Gabe is now pushing me to succeed the same way I pushed him and with his help, I will.