Vaccinate — Is it a no brainer?

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I will tell you right off the bat, that I have vaccinated my children for all diseases except for the flu (that’s another blog topic).  But I don’t know if I made the right choices in doing that.  My children are healthy and happy and do swell so far…but I do not KNOW that I made the right choice.

I think the topic is more complicated than the sound byte that our doctors, the CDC and the media wants us to believe.

When I was 3 years old, I had got the chicken pox from my older sibling and I am now immune to ever getting that disease again.  I remember itching and being kept home for a while.  I don’t remember it being a horrible disease, and yet we vaccinate our children now in order to prevent what was a normal routine in everyone’s lives in the early 70′s.  Is this necessary?  I truly did it because everyone else did it, but I think I might have preferred for them to have chicken pox at an early age as I did.  I vaccinated them because I knew that was unlikely since everyone else was vaccinating their children, where would I expose them to the disease?

I never had the measles and I have had the measles vaccine.  I immunized myself in order to prevent getting the disease while traveling.  I may have had to by law before leaving the country.  I cant remember.  But when my children were born, I was able to pass my chicken pox immunity on to them for the first year of their life because my immunity to that disease was stronger than the vaccine induced immunity to measles.  They were not immune to measles until they were vaccinated themselves at one year old.  I travelled with them as small children and did not give much consideration to the possible risk that I exposed them to.  Ignorance is bliss sometimes.  I do know how lucky I am to have healthy kids.

It is fair to say that there is hysteria being caused by the recent measles Disneyland outbreak, pediatricians, media and even politicians running for president are all pointing fingers about the cause of the outbreak and begging others to vaccinate their children. And I cannot argue with them, but I cannot help listening to my inner bullshit detector and asking.  Who was the first patient who spread the measles in Disneyland?  Was it perhaps a child who was allergic to the vaccine?  So if that is the case, that child could not have avoided getting measles, nor spreading it to others who were either too young or had a medical reason for not being vaccinated.  I don’t think we know the answer to this question.  Because allergies exist, medical excuses exist preventing everyone from immunizations, so how do we prevent those children from getting the disease?  Children under one year old cannot be vaccinated and remain at risk.  How do we prevent an immunocompromised child (one under cancer or HIV treatment) from being in contact with the first group?

I don’t know if this “outbreak” could be avoided.  Perhaps if young mothers had not had the vaccine themselves and had contracted the disease at a young age, they would have shared their immunity with their children under one years of age and at least those children would not have been at as high a risk of getting the disease.  Perhaps only the children who were immunosuppressed or allergic to the vaccine would have been at risk.  But then, large group gatherings will always put them at risk and I am not sure anyone could have the right answer to this problem short of immune protection spacesuits for those at risk.

I worry that folks see a problem and their immediate gut reaction is to find the solution and point fingers at folks who made honest choices for the love of their children and maybe the solution and the finger pointing might be wrong and mean and unnecessary because let’s face it folks, we have a problem and the solution is not to criticize others. This is not the first disease outbreak and it will not be the last.  I am sorry that some children are suffering from anything they may be suffering from, but I don’t know that the sound bite solution is the optimum solution.

What to do with PARCC (NJ’s standardized test)

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The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a coalition of states that are working to create and deploy a standard set of K-12 assessments in math and English.  These are standardized tests to be given to all students in the participating states.   My state, New Jersey, is one of the participating states.  In order to determine how ready students are for college and careers when they graduate, our kids will be tested in March and then again in May.  The tests this year are focused in Math and Language Arts, but I understand it will expand to all subject areas in the future.

Who does the test benefit?  It certainly is not benefiting our students, teachers or our school system.  Standardized testing is meant to standardize our teaching and if we want to produce cookie cutter robotic children who are all skilled at the same tasks, then I suppose we should embrace it.  But if we acknowledge that each student is unique and their goals, strengths and weaknesses differ across the board, then what good does it do to measure how well our teachers teach by how well all of their students do on one type of test.  A truly skilled teacher teaches our children to think and manage their way through different kinds of problems, issues and challenges.  The best teachers acknowledge each unique student as the essential member of the classroom.  They embrace everything unique about each one.  They give their class a sense of self confidence about what is possible within their skill set and show them how much they can accomplish when they work hard to improve a skill.  We must recognize that there is nothing standardized about teaching well.   Teachers must customize their lesson plan so that each student can improve along the way.

Who does standardized teaching benefit?  It is providing a metric so that governing bodies can judge how well each teacher guides their students to excel at taking the test.  So if our teachers know that they only have a job if their students do well on the test, they will focus their lesson plan on the skills being measured by the test.  So while it has been said that our teachers are not teaching to the test, I see my children’s homework assignments are in fact PARCC practice questions, and I know this is not true.  It benefits the companies that profit from creating the test and the worksheets that train our students to take the test.  It benefits the politicians who can claim they are improving our school system.  But it will never benefit our students or our school system.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an activist.  I am someone who must take a position on some of the most complex issues.  I try to take a position based upon what is right for the majority.  My own kids might benefit from taking a truly challenging test, but I do not know that for sure.  They are both very smart, but I do not need the test to show me how intelligent they are.   And I know their teachers know who they are and what they are capable of long before these tests occur.

But I am not making my decision about the PARCC test based upon what I suspect might be best for them.   I believe that it is best for my community if children are taught math, science, language arts, foreign language, arts and music considering  that some will excel in some areas and others will excel in others and a few will excel in all or none, but that this world has a place for everyone who wants to contribute in a meaningful way.  Some kids will go to college, others will embrace a career that might not require a degree and some will try both.  No PARCC test can predict readiness for college and career because no two colleges or two careers need the same type of readiness.  I think it’s important we produce children who are confident in many skills and know that if they work hard enough, they can improve in all skills.  I don’t think this test adds to that goal.

My family is talking about how we will handle the issue of PARCC testing.  We have not yet made a decision.  The activist in me wants my children to refuse to test in order to tell our politicians to step back and let the experts guide improving our schools.  My husband wants my kids to take the test because he was challenged by the 8th grade Math sample test and he thinks they need to be challenged.  My son wants to take the test, because he thinks he will do well on it and wants to find out.  My daughter wants to be creative with the way she takes the test so that results will be meaningless.  Neither of them wants to be singled out and treated differently than their peers.  But I want them to have the courage to tell our governor to step back and let the teaching experts do what they do best.

 

PARCC Test Update

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Update to my last blog, What to do with PARCC :

We are at peace with our decision not to take the PARCC test. We want to make a bold statement to take back our public education. Government cannot dictate how we evaluate our teachers and students. Experts in learning should guide what gets taught in schools. We want our children to be tested in a wide variety of ways, not by one company whose profits soar while our children struggle to figure out who they are and what they are meant to do. The questions asked on these tests are confusing and biased. While the PARCC is in it’s earliest stages, we need to take a firm position and send a clear message that we will not just follow the crowd and do what we are told.  We will think for ourselves and encourage an educational environment that values innovation, creativity, intelligence and individuality.  The PARCC test does not add value to our family’s vision of what education should be and we will not participate.  Sean Brennan’s recent Letter to the Editor of our local paper, The Glen Rock Gazette outlines exactly why more people should make an informed choice about education reform.  Take a sample PARCC test and decide what is best for your family.