Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Shunted aside

The kid was acting like an ass.

While it has been known to occur in high school hallways, particularly on hot spring days, especially near the end of the day, this young man was taking assery to a new level.

Then I saw the scar--an old, jagged line on his neck. My brain flipped back into pediatric mode--his head was small, and then I noticed the bulge behind his ear.

He clearly had a shunt--his brain's excess fluid now drains into his abdomen. I saw the preemie sitting in an isolette, fighting to survive. And he did.

Arguing with him about anything seemed silly now.

I smiled--he was momentarily confused, but then he smiled back.

School is an unkind place for those of us with bad brains. I doubt he will pass the HSPA, New Jersey's version of the NCLB test.

Let's call him Jason.


The tide rises, the tide falls.

I live near tidal water. Millions of people do around here. Few feel the tides. Few see the moon's phases. You can get a high school diploma without knowing why either happens, but you better know a little something about algebra.

Jason will not learn algebra. We might be able to get him to memorize an algorithm he doesn't understand in order to get lucky on a few questions on the math part of the state test, but he'll no more use algebra than I'll use a polo mallet.

He can watch the tide rise, fall, then rise again. He can watch the rising water erase his footprints leading to the stone jetty where he sits.

He can see the sea slaters scoot along the rocks. He can watch the barnacles open up as the new tide rewards their faith in stasis. A seagull drops a full oyster onto the jetty a few yards away, until the oyster's shell cracks.

Here he is not judged. Here he is not stupid.


A ventriculo-peritoneal (VP) shunt is a tube place into the ventricles of the brain to allow excess cerebrospinal fluid to drain off into the belly. The ventricles are deep--the tube must pass through brain tissue to get there.

The benefits of the surgery generally outweigh the risks, but the fact remains that Jason has had a tube shoved into his brain, a tube that runs down his neck into his belly.

Many children with VP shunts can pass the HSPA, many cannot. That is not the same thing as saying that many will not.

Some cannot pass the test, no matter how man cartwheels I might do in the classroom.

My former pastor once mentioned in a sermon that our ability to read and write makes us more, well, human.

Last thing I need is another pissing match with a pastor, but the corollary is that the less literate among us are missing something. Maybe they are.

How much are we missing because of our literacy? How many of us can see beyond titles and deeds? How many of us spent today chasing symbols, rearranging them, analyzing them, fixing them for a boss, or sweetening them for a lover, or changing truths so they fit more smugly into our internal worlds?

How many of us sat on a jetty today watching the tide rise, then fall, then rise again?

Would it have been a waste of time if you had?

The VP shunt diagram was lifted from the Schneider Children's Hospital website here.


Kathryn J said...

Good observation about "Jason" that I'm sure most would miss. I agree that students can miss the forest when it is camouflaged by facts and formulas.

I taught conceptual Chemistry this spring and the freedom from the constraints of numeracy skills was refreshing. Students could spend more time on the whys and wherefores rather than the how manys and what units. In the long run, they may know more about Chemistry than their counterparts who memorized constants and formulas.

Betty said...

You see what is important in life. When I was a regular classroom teacher, I always had a few students who just couldn't catch on to higher level math. While many would walk around claiming that the state tests were easy, these poor kids did not pass the test. Watching the tide seems like a better choice.

lucychili said...

is a blog a kind of shunt?

i know you don't know me from adam
but some of your posts catch me
like a rabbit in a spotlight

yes. i admit it i have spent a week
noodling with words and symbols
for no good reason, just for the feel
of the language and its spatial ghosts

either i am somehow transparent shunting my soul into the internet's gut for digestion, or we are all sitting in the middle of the road and your spotlight has us word geeks pinned. be merciful =)

captainawsome said...

MmMmMm... I was just thinking today how crazy the kids get on a nice day in spring. We spent the day in our new garden, tiding up and planting some beans. Some kids that never so much as pick up a pen in class cut lunch and studyhall to be out there in the dirt longer, while some wanted nothing to do with gardening.
I have to constantly remind myself that all children are not the same and that I have no real idea of what they are coming from. Thanks for the reminder.

lucychili said...

Blogspot is a bit approximate with its wysiwyg so imagine the flux in space means youre viewing it through heat haze or a watery window =)

John Spencer said...

Who better to have a pissing match with than a pastor?

I find it interesting that there are only two recorded instances of Jesus reading or writing. He left most of that up to uneducated fishermen and formerly self-righteous Pharisees.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the whole notion of the upside down kingdom and what it looks like in a classroom setting.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

I teach the low level freshmen physical science class, and I love being freed from the constraints of teaching to a test. No one expects much, and paradoxically my kids get more.

Dear Betty,

I had an interesting discussion in class today--we are talking about evolution, and quite a few kids were surprised to learn that there was a genetic component to intelligence.

Imagine being a slow student convinced her slowness was all because she did not try hard enough. Sad.

Dear lucychili,

I read your stuff, and you read mine, so I suspect we know each other better than either of us knows Adam.

And a blog is a kind of shunt--I'll be toying with that for the next few days.

Dear captainawesome,

You hardly need reminding--you're in tune already. Now if we can just get the national folks to see this as well.

Dear John,

I thought of your words as I walked to school. I do not mix well with organized religion, at least not with its power structure.

The Christ was an anarchist in the ancient sense of the word. I'm not sure formal education does us much good in many of the things that matter.

(I'm not opposed to education--it's a wonderful tool when applied in the right conditions--but it is a tool, not an end.)

John Spencer said...

I'm becoming more and more convinced that "organized" and "religion" (or at least faith) is a bit of an oxymoron.

christine said...

I'm longing for the spring of the east coast - redbuds and thunderstorms and GREEN. Another cancer patient friend of mine has had seven shunts. She's 22. They can't get them to work right. She was a graduate student, now sometimes she slurs her words.

There is no conclusion here, just a string of random observations.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I think you once suggested here that we have very different views of the universe (in so many words); at the time I thought maybe not so different as you might think, but figured we'd figure it out sooner or later.

I know this much--I enjoy the way you explicitly lay out your thoughts, your words, so others can see.

Dear Christine,

Winters can be wearisome, but spring rewards us. Spring is grace.

Your observations hardly count as random--but you know this already. Even now the first scent of the rotting magnolia reminds us that rebirth can only happen if we acknowledge death.

My words are far braver than I am, and I have the temporary luxury of pretending mortality is meant for others.

In a weird way, spring reminds me more of this than any other season.Not sure why.

Maybe the futile arcing of a tiny, deformed pepper plant towards the fluorescent lights reminds me that things are not (and never will be) inherently fair.

I (of course) think of you often, and you do not need reminding of this. Last thing you need is another mention of your courage.

But it's true anyway.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Michael.

Ah, the mind of a child! How wonderful that this piece of matter has so many recesses, gifted to each of us through a matter of time. That there are myriad ways the organ can function and no two people use it the same way. That even the classified can bring to us, distilled out of their few ounces, thought and innovation never conveyed by our own.

How precious that the tormented bring forth solemn countenance, as Vincent and Amadeus demonstrated so ably.

It is the residue of the earth that appreciates earth itself and brings forth sweetness to those that otherwise cannot taste.

Thank you for bringing to our senses an appreciation of how other minds see and comprehend.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth