Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Story of Name That Book

Once upon a time ... well, actually today, Two went to his first Name That Book competition and, although his team took home 3rd prize and not 1st, a fantastic time was had by all. They missed being in the "sudden death showdown" for first place by one question, but still took home swanky medals and got to eat lunch out with the team, teachers and parents before heading back to school. Two is already making plans to try out for next year's team, which to me is the best news of all, because it means that he really did enjoy the whole experience. I didn't bring my camera for a few reasons, but hopefully I'll be able to update this post later when his teacher emails some pictures to me. He looked so cute in his (rarely worn) red school polo shirt!

Of course, I have something to say besides that. I always have something else to say (as you all know very well). My other somethings:

1. Our bracket was made up of, among other schools, TH Rogers, West U., and Condit elementaries - all some of the best schools in the district. The other brackets who competed earlier in the week and will tomorrow had 1, maybe 2 Exemplary schools in them. Not for us: this was a tough competition! I'm not sure if HISD planned it that way or, if they did, why they would, but at least we were up to the challenge.

2. I was surprised to learn that it takes five adults to run a two hour competition for 42 second grade children. This isn't counting the people who came with the teams - the librarians and teachers from each school who have been working with the kids to prepare for the competition. No: five administrators sat there for the entire time. One ran the clock (on, off, reset. on, off, reset), one announced "And the next question...", one asked the questions and kept score, and two were judges. They needed 2 judges so they could see all seven groups of children without moving (how could you ask someone to move while working? you obviously can't.) All these people had titles I have never heard of: Computer Library Technologist was one important-sounding one. But I have to ask: if they don't work with kids all day (or at any time, as I fear is the case), what do these people do when they aren't running a competition for 2nd graders? A competition, mind you, about which they spoke at length as having been so hard to put together, and for which they felt they had worked an unbelievable amount. Does anyone wonder why we have a budget crisis in HISD? Nope, me neither.

3. At the front of the stage sat a group of well-groomed, good looking, well-dressed children. They all happened to be African American. And they also happen to have teachers who need to be taken out and thrown in a lake (perhaps one with a few alligators). Why? Because those poor children sat there, quietly and with perfect manners, and didn't answer more than 8 questions out of 25 correctly. You could tell when a question was asked - unless it was an obvious one - that they had no idea. They sat quietly, then one of the children would put out a guess and they would go with it. Meanwhile, the top teams were debating and scrambling and whispering together, and when they picked their answer you could see the triumph in their faces: they'd worked hard and they were pretty darn sure they were right. But not these six. There they sat, a picture in miniature of what can go wrong with public schools. They'd been told they were smart (they probably are), they'd been told they were the best 2nd grade readers in the school (likely true, unfortunately), and yet when they left their school and went on a big stage with kids from other schools, they had no way to compete. Isn't that what's going to happen to them again and again in life? Yes, it is, unless they have teachers who step up and take responsibility for really and truly educating these kids in their care. By the end of the first round of questions I had tears standing in my eyes, as did some of those six children. I am sad and angry and I can't do a damn thing about it.

I wish I could end my once upon a time post happily ever after, but I can't, can I? I'm very, very happy for Two and the fun he has had through this entire process. I'm exceedingly grateful to his two wonderful teachers who gave up two afternoons a week for months to coach the kids on all 31 books. And I'm incredibly proud of the hard work my little monkey put into the competition, not only in taking his reading skills to a new level but in working to overcome his fear of being in the spotlight at the competition itself. But all the same, there are people out there right now who should feel nothing but shame for what they have done to children who deserved to have as good an experience today as Two did. Through this competition Two learned that perserverance and hard work mean something - they make a difference in how you perform and how you feel about yourself. All of those 42 children today could have - should have - learned the same lesson. But they didn't. That's wrong, folks; it's just plain wrong.

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