My Dear Mrs. Watley,
I am writing in response to your recent comments on my son, Jeremy’s, mid-term evaluation. I know that you have many years of experience mentoring the edu
cation of young children, and that the grade 3 curriculum for Canadian 8 year olds is, in fact, your specialty. I realize that you have been entrenched in room 202 of Dudley Elementary School, for at least two decades, certainly longer than I have been in the role of parent. Still, I feel that my understanding of Jeremy Matthews, as a specific, individual human child is most assuredly more in depth than yours.
When I first registered my son at Dudley Elementary, I told administrator at the time that Jeremy suffered a premature delivery, which has been an ongoing hindrance to his development. I expected that information to be included in Jeremy’s school record and thus thought that you would have access to this important fact. Although I have exposed my son to a wide range of remedial therapies and enrichment activities, his appearance in this world three and a half days before he was fully developed remains to this day a significant explanation for his diminished performance.
I believe that it is your failure to acknowledge this developmental handicap that is at the core of Jeremy’s current poor level of achievement. Therefore, one of my missions in contacting you today, is to enlighten you about the many critical factors that must be considered in order for you to program for my son appropriately, and thereby encourage his true potential.
I shall begin by informing you that Jeremy’s premature birth quite understandably resulted in underdeveloped lung capacity and an inadequate sucking reflex. Without going into the medical details, which may be beyond your area of expertise, I will simply point out that the inability to take deep breaths resulted in a lack of oxygen to his brain. His lack of latching meant that he was unable to breast feed and therefore did not benefit from the colostrum that would have fortified his immune system. These first developmental challenges set the tone for Jeremy’s many struggles.
Physical issues may be the most obvious and therefore the easiest for you to understand. I am sure you are aware that Jeremy is still significantly smaller that his peers. He has always been distinctly below the average range for height and body mass. Although some of this may be connected to his father’s genealogy, for indeed Mr. Matthews is only 5’4” himself, a good 6” below the national average and yet well above Little People standards. I believe that Jeremy’s early nutritional challenges continue to play a role in this aspect of his growth.
By the way, I trust that the school records indicate my ongoing concern about the bullying that has resulted from Jeremy’s diminutive stature. It has taken many face-to-face interviews with the school’s administration to get past the “boys will be boys” response to the situation. I think the turning point was when I engaged in role-playing with the past principal. Calling him chrome dome and Mr. Clean, resulted in acknowledgment that the previously accepted knick names of bite-size, Frodo and Littlun were damaging to Jeremy’s self-esteem. I certainly did not appreciate the staff using those labels.
Research is quite clear about the fact that individuals who are small of stature, particularly males, often over compensate through aggressive behaviour. We have been working with Jeremy to mediate this and focus his energy in a positive manner. I believe that his judo training has done wonders for his confidence and I think his use of self-defence techniques on the playground is certainly understandable. I have spoken with Jeremy’s Sensei and he tells me that Jeremy would not have been able to throw that grade 6 boy to the ground if the boy had not been physically aggressive first. Unfortunate as that event was, it is clear that the students who witnessed the injury and those who are aware of the boy missing the remainder of the school year due to his concussion, have adjusted their manner of interacting with Jeremy. I am pleased that Jeremy consistently reports how other students readily step aside so he can have a turn on the slide or climbing apparatus.
As much as I am delighted that the schoolyard issues seem to be under control, I am equally concerned about my son’s academic achievement. I realize that you are a mass educator and with thirty children in your care it is difficult for you to program for them in a manner that addresses their individual needs, interests and abilities. We have considered home schooling for Jeremy, and the school Guidance counsellor provided helpful literature on that option. After careful consideration, we decided that not only does Jeremy benefit from socialization with his peers, but he has much to offer to their development as well.
It may be interesting for you to note that my parents home schooled my brother and me until we reached high school age. At that time we lived in an agriculturally based rural community, whose long-time residents did not understand my parents’ decision to establish a self-sustaining lifestyle. The members of that inbred community were highly judgmental about my parents’ alternative approach to nutrition and wellness. It is amusing to note how mainstream vegan diets and holistic health care have become today. It seems that our family has a tradition of being ahead of the curve when it comes to enlightenment.
That said, we have always encouraged Jeremy to pursue information on topics that spark his interest, rather than forcing him into prescribed fields of study. For example, when other children were obsessed with dinosaurs, Jeremy took a unique and detailed interest in ancient weaponry. Instead of playing with plastic models of prehistoric reptiles, he researched, designed and used recycled materials to construct swords and other bladed items from a wide variety of cultures. When he was five, and his peers were watching cartoons on television, Jeremy became deeply engaged in the “Forged in Fire” television competition. He’s looking forward to his twelfth birthday when his father and I have agreed to provide him with the equipment to try bladesmithing.
I know that Jeremy’s obsession with weaponry has occasionally resulted in issues at school. It took some time for him to understand that his peers did not share his sophisticated understanding of the marshal arts or combat. I’m sure you will agree that he has clearly matured and now appreciates that rulers, paint brushes, floor hockey sticks and fallen branches are not to be used for role play with classmates.
Last year in grade two, Miss Finnegan, did an excellent job of allowing Jeremy to meet educational expectations through projects related to his area of interest. Mathematical tasks focused on weapon measurements and calculations, reading assignments included mythological tales and I recall a health project that identified the most vulnerable areas of the human body. It is unfortunate that Miss Finnegan’s health resulted in her departure from Dudley Elementary. Despite being new to the profession, she had a admirable approach to individualized programming.
And that brings me back to the issue at hand. I think it is obvious that Jeremy is not well suited to the conformity that your program requires. Being confined to a desk is not good for his kinesthetic energy and it is unfortunate that you are not more tolerant of alternative work postures. I am aware that there is limited space in the classroom, and thus was surprised when you declined to allow Jeremy to work in the coat closet. I would have thought that his creative use of this non-traditional workspace would be a blessing.
My son vacillates between a need for movement and a desire to cocoon. It is quite routine for him to stand at the dinner table or walk around with his plate, and then settle himself quietly under the table or behind the couch. The posture he chooses does not impact the effectiveness of his nutritional intake. I hope you can see the direct comparison I am making.
The final thing I’d like to accomplish with this letter is to establish a plan for the remainder of the school year. What I have in mind is a proposal that will address my son’s needs and reduce the demands on your time. Seems as Jeremy is an only child, and is now in school all day, I find that I have a surplus of free time. I would be happy to take the role of teacher’s aid in your classroom. Naturally, although it would be my priority to support Jeremy’s development, I would be available to all of your young charges. I am sure there are other students who would benefit from my gentle, yet firm, mentoring style.
I know the school budget is tight, so I am offering my services as a volunteer. My presence in your classroom will go along way to creating the supportive, nurturing environment that will allow Jeremy, and the other members of your class, blossom.
I await your reply,
Mrs. Bernard Matthews