I know that I have told this story before. However, it is as apropos now, as it was when I first penned it. When I became an Intermediate Unit Director ( something akin to a BOCES Director in New York and somewhat lower than a county superintendent in most states), I vowed to visit all of my employees over a 3000 square mile area in Western Pennsylvania.
One of my first stops was to visit an infant stimulation program that we were running for Clarion County. It was housed in a storefront in the back of a group of buildings on Main Street in Clarion. Since I was not trained as a special educator, I was loathing to ask too many questions about what staff was doing with these special children.
As I walked into the infant stim. room, I saw a two year old boy on a large ball being rocked back and forth by the speech pathologist. I could hardly understand what was going on. I was further baffled when the speechie (as they were called then) asked the mom if she talked to her child. The mother’s answer shocked me. “Why would I talk to someone who is only two years old? He wouldn’t even know what I was saying.”
That day was kind of an epiphany for me. It taught me a couple of things- I knew very little about child development and that conversation with children is a very important part of their maturing process. I can only rely on my own memory of growing up in a household where speech, in two languages, was a mandate. From the time I was a small boy, there were always conversations with my older sister, my mother and grandmother. It was, to me, a normal part of growing up.
It was at that moment in the infant stim. Room that I realized that it is not the norm for some families. As I go from place to place where there are parents and children together, I hear the commanding voice of the parent giving orders and placing the child in a subservient position. It is infrequently that I hear a discussion going on between the adult and the child.
Even in a fast food restaurant, you rarely hear a parent and child speaking to each other in a conversational tone about things that have happened during the day. I understand that when a parent asks what happened in school today, the child most often says, “Just the usual stuff,” or nothing at all. Sometimes I wonder if our values are disappearing because parents rarely discuss things with their children.
Yesterday, Carol and I went to see our 13 year old grandson play baseball. If I do say so myself, he is a good ball player. He pitches and plays first base most of the time. He is a wisp of a boy with blazing speed around the bases and a lively bat. He normally strikes out a bunch of kids on the other team. I can’t help being proud of him.
His 10 year old sister is the talker of the two. She, with the long honey blonde hair and a great sense of humor. She is also an actress and has been in some community plays.
After the game we were treated by their parents to a couple of hours of time with them and a chance to take them to dinner. Since it is close to my grandson’s birthday, he chose Wegman’s as his restaurant. Hey, did I just say Wegman’s? Yup, that’s where he wanted to go. They have buffets of many different kinds of food. After our meal, we found ourselves in an amazing discussion with the two. Since we are school people, we kind of lapsed into, “What’s with school?” We did not get standard answers. For over an hour, our two grandchildren analyzed the sociology of their respective schools- elementary and middle school.
We heard about handicapped children, and how they were mainstreamed, the socio-economic makeup of the classes and the school. Both of them understood the problems that teachers might have with certain children. All of this was said kindly and objectively. We heard about the first male teacher that my granddaughter had, his love of NASCAR, and his sense of humor. Each of them laughed, in the right places about my stories of being a junior high school principal and Carol’s stories of teaching students in the mid 1960’s and her tenure as a teacher of gifted children.
We were taken aback at the knowledge that these two possessed. Our other three grandchildren are pretty much the same way. Our 19 year old grandson called me the other day to critique one of my blogs. It was all done in a pleasant way. If you don’t talk to your children as a matter of course, you are missing out on watching your children grow and mature.