Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My own private nature studies

I had to take Ziad out of the nature studies program he was enrolled in. Man, did that ever hurt. It hurt him and it hurt me; several sleepless nights later I'm still sure I did the right thing, but I really wish I hadn't had to. The thing I think he misses the most is the thing I can never give him on my own -- freedom to be away from the family and off by himself, unsupervised and alone in the woods or by the ocean, just on his own. I have to be his mom. When I take him places, I need to know where he is. I can't be like the nature studies instructors, with their laid-back approach to basic safety.

Which brings me to the real reason why I pulled him out. On the day of his last class (not that we knew that it would be the last), another mom and I had gone to the beach with our non nature-studies kids. We were at the Fern Grotto, a secluded beach a short walk down from the cliffs, with caves hollowed out into the cliffs on two sides. We spent the day exploring the caves, watching whales migrating past (I saw spouts, but more than that, I saw flukes and backs), and generally hanging out. Imagine our surprise when kids from the nature studies class appeared in ones and twos along the bluffs surrounding the beach!

Yes, it was the nature studies class, come for an afternoon by the sea. Now, parents are not welcome to join in the nature studies class, but it seemed to us that we had gotten there first, and didn't need to leave just because the nature studies class happened along. So we stayed, and it proved to be very instructive. I saw lots of things that made me question the judgment and leadership of the woman leading the class, but the last straw was when we were all heading back to the parking lot.

The kids were supposed to be playing some kind of game where they hide near the path along the way, and everyone else is supposed to see if they can see the person hiding without tipping off anyone else in the group. Of course Ziad was one of the hiders! And of course when he decided to hide he ran out onto the cliffs, right past the sign that said "Dangerous cliffs! Keep back."

Did anyone mention to him that he might want to actually pay attention to that sign? That the existence of the caves on the beach below was ample evidence that the rock comprising those cliffs is on the soft side, and easily eaten away by the water? That the cliffs are unstable and prone to frequent collapse and that teenagers on school field trips practically make a habit of falling into the water and drowning? As far as I could tell, I was the only one who had a problem. So when Ziad told me the class was planning to go back to the beach the next week, my blood ran cold. Not my impulsive, impetuous boy, running around by himself on those cliffs with no one really paying attention.

And yet, in their infinite nonchalance, the instructors handed me a gold-plated excuse for pulling him out, one that is actually completely legitimate on his own.

The nature studies class has a written-out code of conduct. Core values, it's called. Students are supposed to respect each other, supervise their own behavior, refrain from derogatory speech. And yet Ziad has been an ongoing target of agressive and hostile speech and action from other members of the class. I know he can be annoying. I also know that letting students hit him, call him stupid, or generally blow him off when he is just trying to be friendly falls well outside the purview of "core values."

And really, if he is being a jerk, isn't that a good opportunity for other students to learn to deal positively with annoyance? What benefit do they derive from pushing him, yelling at him, throwing sand in his face? In an ideal world, I think, Ziad would be made to confront the fact that his behavior is not helpful, and annoyed students would be given a chance to tell him why he is bothering them in a way that is not in itself problematic.

But no. Apparently the leaders of this class have a problem with acting as "authority figures." So when another student threw sand in his face that day at the beach, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Enough is enough, I said, and the program director apparently agreed with me. Expressing his regret at Ziad's withdrawal, he immediately gave me a refund. Neither of the teachers saw fit to utter so much as a word of sympathy.

So now we have our own nature studies program. Along with a few other homeschool friends and families, we head for the mountains on Thursdays, and spend the bulk of the day in the woods. This is a commitment I have undertaken for my son, in an attempt to at least partially restore the happiness I took away. So I think that for the next period of time, Thursdays will be my day to post our nature studies report, much as the instructor of his erstwhile program did.

Something to look forward to tomorrow!

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Blogger zelda said...

I was wondering what had happened but didn't know if it would be right to ask. What else could you do in that situation? You would never have been able to live with the possible consequences of having him stay in a unsafe situation. The Comstock nature study book is a fun read, btw. Pricey but worth it. You can access it online too.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Lesley said...

You did the right thing.

I can't believe the instructors we're allowing that to go on.

12:08 PM  
Blogger zelda said...

Everytime I stop in here I start getting "Private Idaho" stuck in my head.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Whoah, the head teacher's name was Comstock. How odd is that?

Sorry about the "Private Idaho" thing.

I feel the need to add that I don't think that the program director was so nice about Ziad leaving because he (or the teachers) had a particular problem with Ziad. The kids who were giving Ziad trouble gave other kids trouble, too, and the teachers were really not providing good leadership in terms of helping the kids deal with and resolve conflict.

Well, when God closes a door He opens a window, as they say, and right now I'm just rushing around trying to point out lots of windows to Ziad, who still feels resentful that his all-time favorite class is currently not an option.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Vivian said...

I wonder if the instructors ever spent the time to show the kids in a positive manner how they should behave. It might not be part of the curriculum, but it's certainly having a big impact on the result of the studies.

Wish I can join you every Thursday in the woods. Sounds like fun!

11:15 AM  

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