Wednesday, February 23, 2011

silent 'b', tears, and reasons to homeschool

At the boys' school, they have set up a really neat and useful system for parents. It's kind of an intranet type thing for which each family has a user name and password. Once logged in, it's possible to read notices from the school, email teachers (and possibly other parents, though I've never tried), pay money owed to the school, check the academic history of your child... and also check pending homework assignments. 

Liam's teacher, Mr. A, uses the system to send home the weeks' spelling words.

The spelling lists generally have a theme: 'oy' words, camping, silent 'k', etc. This week it's silent 'g' and 'b'.  The list contains the following words:
- gnomes
- gnat
- gnaw
- numb
- dumb
- bomb
- thumb
- crumb
- doubt
- tomb

You might not see it right away, but look at the fifth word down... 'dumb'? Really? With the vastness and richness of the English language, 'dumb' made the cut for words with a silent 'b'?? I realize that the word can be used properly -as in the deaf, dumb and hard of hearing- but I seriously doubt that's context in which most seven year olds use the word.

I know that 'dumb' isn't the worst word out there and that many seven year olds likely use it as part of their daily vocabulary. Liam, however, does not. While we wouldn't punish him if we did hear him using it, we would take the opportunity to talk to him about words that are respectful and those that aren't, and about the importance of being careful with the words we choose to use. We hope our children will grow up to be eloquent, articulate adults who can string together a sentence -even and especially in anger or frustration- that doesn't include base four-letter words.

I did send Mr A an email explaining my disappointment with the word choice, even suggesting some alternative (ie, comb, lamb, climb, etc). His response was kind, if somewhat dismissive. Apparently the word lists come from some National Literacy Strategies board in the UK (since it's a British school) for students in Year 3 (grade 2). He did say that they take the opportunity to talk to the kids about the true meaning of the word and its appropriate use, but still.

Am I completely out of line -and a total prude- to still think that having the word 'dumb' on a spelling list is questionable? It's not like Liam misspelled the word in an assignment and the teacher simply taught him the correct spelling... they're teaching the kids to spell it!

In the interest of full disclosure, this wasn't the first email I'd sent Mr A...

Last week Liam had a couple of very rough days at school. He told us all about what happened when he got home (and I'm quite happy that he still feels safe and confident enough to be that open with us, something I hope will continue for years and years to come!) but after hearing his account, I was a bit surprised and upset that his teacher hadn't written to us himself, either an email or in Liam's agenda...

Liam spent 10-15mins hiding under his desk -crying- during one of their breaks and his teacher didn't think it warranted a mention.

And so I sent Mr A an email (not harsh, but not overly cheerful either) explaining what Liam had told us and asking for an explanation as to why his teacher -the adult that we've entrusted with our son's care- did not feel it important enough to tell us himself. And Mr A did respond, quickly, with a very thoughtful email. I'll give him that.

But I'm pretty sure I've now cemented myself in his mind as the over-protective-overly-attached-prudish-mother-to-the-new-kid-in-class...


(The school just called and Liam has a fever. So I have to stuff some food into Andrew and I, change us out of our pjs, jump in the car, and drive the 30-60 minutes (depending on traffic) to the school and back to pick him up. Hmmm, wouldn't be doing this if we were still homeschooling...)


  1. welcome to the world of school.
    i can't say that all my experience has been fabulous over the years...but it has had some very good moments...but the bad ones always give you pause.

    he is open with you, and for that be hppy:). my 15 year old is still open. school does not need to change how you work as a family unit;) - it may just take a while to find the balance.

    i have a very...different approach to school than many of my friends. it is important...until it is not;). real life education always takes precedence over classroom learning for us, and we have been lucky to have never butted heads with the school system over that. it can work. and my kids get the best of both worlds.

  2. I have to admit, I stopped when I read that word in the list thinking it was a bit strange too. I do have to say, as a side note, that saying "deaf, dumb and hard of hearing" is not proper either. Deaf ppl can't hear...they are not "dumb". That saying needs to disappear. Just a few years of Deaf studies/sign language coming out here!! :)

  3. i did stop at the word and thought it a weird choice. i sort of like the teacher's explanation that they discuss the word and it's meaning, which is a grest thing to do. then you can bring in the discussion of whether it's appropriate or not, and what is respectful language. but again, there are a tonne of other words out there that could have been used.

    what upset me more was that the teacher didn't get in touch with you about liam's situation. that i find to be a big miss step.

    hopefully you find the balance that you are looking for.

  4. So sorry to hear that Liam had a tough day at school and now a fever. Praying that he feel better soon and that no one else gets it.
    The word list was/is a little off...I too stopped and had to wonder.
    Praying things work out!

  5. I think that it is an odd word to be putting out there for 7 year olds, but I am a mom who wouldn't want my child to be using it either. Though spot for you. I guess you can take solace in the fact that they will discuss the meaning and appropriate use.

    So good that your son will talk to you about his difficulty at school. That's more upsetting to the parent in me, that the teacher didn't let you know. I am not sure that my email would have been all that polite...

  6. That seems like a very strange word to study. It is one that I am trying to not have in the house, nevermind inviting it in. :-)

    Good for you for talking to the teacher. I need to be better at that.

  7. I have to admit, I spotted the word 'bomb' before the word 'dumb'. Regardless, they will both be words that they will read and hear so as a parent we just need to provide our kids with alternate words, which is exactly what you are doing (props to you). I had a similar concern with the words 'stupid' and 'retarded' but I made sure that Ethan was not using them when referring to a person. I would have told him to not use them at all but I use those words myself so I couldn't exactly say "Do as I say.....". The word that makes me cringe more than any other is 'gay'. I absolutely HATE IT when people say things like "that's so gay". What does that even mean? I digress. Don't feel bad about emailing the teacher. I think we've all done it.

  8. Amy, sounds like you handled it well. Many teachers appreciate concerned parents with lots of questions and observations. Hope Liam is feeling better and no one else got whatever he has. Hugs, A. Dianne

    PS Any chance you can observe or help in the classroom?


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