Changing Things Around

For years, I have been blogging on education–or at least trying to keep up with what’s going on and sharing what I’ve learned.  For years, I’ve had two education-oriented sites: this one and another at called Eleanore’s Ramblings.  I’ve tried blogs for critiques on children’s books and other topics, and I found that I cannot maintain so many sites.  So  I basically stopped blogging altogether, except for a post here or there.

Part of stopping the blogging experience has had to do with a relatively mild depression, that came on me after various surgeries, each of which brought my activity level lower and lower.  Part of the stop was because of the malfunctioning computers or internet services over the years.  Another part was that I was simply overwhelmed by both the amount of information on education–good and bad–and government policies related to education that have been terribly depressing as well as irritating.  For example, I had high hopes for Arne Duncan when he became Secretary of Education on President Obama’s cabinet.  I had gotten the idea that he had a solid education background, and knew what he was talking about.  Later, I learned that his knowledge of education came from a summer study he did for a project at Yale(?) as an undergraduate, and that he had neither classroom nor educational experience related to education at all.  That accounted for some of the irrational topics he has discussed and the less rational projects he has supported and developed.

After a while, with the government clearly knowing less about education than the average houseplant, I lost interest in almost everything having to do with education in the US–and then outside the US.  So I realized that anything I had to say about education and learning would be of little or no help.  Once I moved to the Caribbean where my husband had accepted a position in a medical school, and I saw the mess that education is here (on a smaller scale but just as ridiculous and very corrupt), I lost all interest in the subject I studied through hundreds of graduate education credits from good universities, and which yielded me both a Master of Arts in Education and a doctorate in Educational Psychology.  The doctorate was not in the precise area I wanted to study, but that’s another story…

Anyway, I lost the will to do much about writing about education in any form.  Every now and then, I would get a serious energy surge, but truly, I had given up.  After all, what do I have to say that is of any importance to teaching and learning?  I am no longer an active teacher at any level–neither K-12 nor postsecondary level.  I am months away from official retirement–although I’ve been unofficially retired for almost ten years.  I used to keep up with new theories and techniques only to learn that the internet search engines–even the specialized educational and psychological databases–were concentrating on the past five years, and that special parameters needed to be entered to go back further.  Over and over I saw “new” theories of learning or “new” methodologies that I had already cycled through at least twice in 40 years.  And I began to wonder if there was a point to anything having to do with education.

Thus I came across the main reasons for my reluctance to blog on education and learning issues.

At one time, I was a computer programmer,working for major companies in the greater NYC area.  I was good at what I did, and knew every quirk of different models in the same hardware series of mainframes by IBM and DEC.  I knew that on one machine my code would have to have an extra line while on another that line would cause a program crash.  I knew the best logic to use on various machines for the most efficient results–and in different programming languages.  But over the years, although logic is still logic and works across all platforms, I got behind.  I would put off learning the quirks of a newer version of a programming language for a few months, only to learn when I returned to it that I had to start over because the internal circuitry acted just a little differently, or the language had been “upgraded.”  Before long, I was so far behind that I could no longer keep up with all the changes because I would have to start too far back and work forward–or suffer the consequences of wondering what the heck a new command meant or how it could be most efficiently used.

The reason for the programming explanation is that I had started this particular blog when I understood how to design the page and add new “buttons” or specific functions.  Each time I went to update the layout or change the format, I found I had less and less that I could do on my own, and I was unable to afford someone to help me create a site the way I wanted to.

Next, I wanted to add webinars to this site, but then reality hit.  Who wants to look at an old lady giving brief lectures and slotting in a diagram or picture here and there?  Besides, I hate make-up and the idea of having to return to putting it on every day was rather off-putting.  What I really need is someone to help me put a good site together for very little money, and people who do that–inexpensively–are almost impossible to come by.  As for finding someone here in the middle of the Caribbean–well, actually on the very edge of the Caribbean as our eastern-most coast borders on the Atlantic Ocean–is more difficult because the technology here is so far behind the times that I’ll never get what I want no matter how much I pay.  And money is still an issue.

I know there are “bundles” that I can buy and persons that I can hire from GoDaddy, where this site resides, even though I use WordPress.  I know that there are old books available on getting WordPress up and running in stunning and useful ways, but technology does not wait for an old woman to read up and practice.  Thus, it will take a while for me to get this site–as well as the sister professional site–up and running.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because this site will take me forever to make it into what I want it to be–to be a place to learn and exchange information, to host small webinars, to discuss innovative and “tried and true” teaching methods and techniques, to argue about new theories… But I will continue to work on that even as I resume blogging on this site.  I have made the decision to blog here once a week, on issues that relate not only to teachers, but also to parents/caregivers, education specialists in emotional and behavioral problems, various learning disabilities including reading problems, and, of course, autistic spectrum disorders.  Although I want to do as much as possible for free, the maintenance of this site will not be inexpensive, and I will monitize it with relevant books and teaching aids, as well as specialized workshops for schools, organizations, and care-givers.  Most of those will probably be on my professional site, .  However, I want to keep as much free information and resources on this site as possible.

Please take the time to send me your ideas for what you would like to hear me blog about, as well as what you would like to see on my professional site.  All comments are welcome, even if I do not get back to you right away.  Appropriate responses will be added to the comments section, whether entered directly or through the contact form.

Next week I’ll be back with a blog post, as I will be writing here once a week.  I haven’t yet decided on a day, as I have been keeping myself very busy with new hobbies–I’m learning to draw and have progressed from sickly stick figures to decent drawing of subjects during the past five weeks; I finally got that DSLR camera  I’ve been asking my husband to give me as a gift for the past ten or fifteen years and am learning to use both the camera and its assortment of lenses, all of which need thorough learning to use properly and keep the images from blurring because of my hand tremors; I have started a business specializing in foundation garments that help us older adults stand a little straighter or look a bit thinner, along with dietary supplements that can help memory, weight loss, diabetes control (along with prescribed medications, of course), and other general health issues.  So I am keeping busy and finding myself with too few hours in the day to learn everything I want to explore, keep up with education news, keep up with news in general, and still find time to cook and eat.

So once a week–that will be the release parameter for this blog.  But I will make it worth your while if you come back to read it.  Nothing will be frivolous; techniques will be for immediate implementation (although for many suggestions you need to know that your own time will be needed to understand and implement it right, with the understanding that the first attempt will undoubtedly fail, or the set-up will take more time than you want to  spend, etc.–nothing good comes without some effort), theories will be explained for their benefits to the classroom and when and why to use different elements, inclusion techniques for special education students will be discussed, guest bloggers will be invited to contribute their knowledge, etc.

Please come back toward the middle of next week (about May 13, 2015) to check what’s new.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you…without you and your input, this little experiment in exchange of information regarding education and learning cannot succeed.

One last thing: Last month, I took my gajillionth class in writing at WordPress’ Bloggers U.  It was not a blogging course.  It was a course to develop writing skills. My posts can be found at a page called Eleanore’s Ramblings at and it will be dedicated to my progress in learning to write.  If you need ideas for yourself or your students–at any grade or postsecondary level–this is a decent place to start.  I will try to update any assignment where I failed to do so at the time with the prompt for the post as well as the “twist” that the facilitator wanted us to attempt. University level students who want to learn something about general writing are welcome to read the past twenty-something posts of assignments for that class as well as my continuing struggle with becoming a better writer.  I originally started taking such classes–usually paying big bucks to take them (this one was free and is offered at least twice a year) to help me report sensitively on special education students and clients being tested for learning problems.  Clinical reports are usually so–well, so clinical.  They generally consist of nothing but dull, insensitive, and largely head-ache producing facts; I wanted mine to have meaning while providing the same information in a readable format that could be understood by anyone who needed to read them. Before taking a number of writing classes, I would struggle for hours writing a single progress report on a single student to express what I wanted to say in a way that was positively structured and readable, including the negative behaviors or regressions without making the child sound like a basket case or sociopath.  Trying to write up 15 of such reports at the end of a week left me with little sleep, and the last reports were grumpier than I wanted them to be (so I never wrote the reports in the same order).  The classes have helped me to be able to say what I need to say about a child with reasonable efficiency and speed, and without sounding like a police report.  If you can’t take a formal class in writing for one reason or another, at least take the time to look at the prompts and twists, and the resulting “story.”  You will also learn far more about me than I ever thought I could share honestly with people I don’t know.  But that was part of the deal about taking the course and learning to write better.

Until next time,

Dr. Ellie, Ed.D.


I’m Ba-ack!

This post is an explanation of my absence, and a preview to anticipated changes over the next several months.  Read on…

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything.  A few days ago, when I tried to enter a new post, I discovered it had disappeared.  All I could think about was years’ worth of data down the tubes.  Quite a bit of activity involving this site occurred during the past several months, it turns out, which collectively resulted in the site “going away” temporarily.  No, I didn’t miss any payments; and no, I didn’t accidentally wreck it myself. Here’s what happened.

Recently, this site was to be updated by someone, a professional site developer and marketing person who also happens to be a relative. Instead of being updated, the site was basically destroyed.  My suspicion is that the updater was less familiar with the site configuration than she believed herself to be.  Unfortunately, she did not want to admit this and made the classic “young person’s” mistake of not backing up the site before “updating” it.  I was afraid I would need to start all over again.  However, between WordPress and GoDaddy (where I host this site), enough backup information was available from the last successful post on this site that everything was restored.  (Hooray for WordPress and GoDaddy!!)  From now on, all changes will be done by me, regardless of my limited computing skills. Both companies offer plenty of resources and certified web site developers that, if I get frustrated, professional help is available.

Another reason for no activity here: a month or two ago, a serious illness knocked the wind out of my sails, leaving me unable to work much on the computer at all, much less at almost anything else.  Although I still have more “off” days than “on” ones, I’ve made the decision to concentrate on my blogs and the distribution of information related to education, and stop worrying about consulting.  There will be some changes to the way the site looks as well as the way the site operates.  However, the information will be as up to date as possible, and I hope to reach not only education professionals, but also parents and other professionals who work with children.  Features I hope to add include webinars and recorded videos targeted at learning problems and behavioral issues.  There will be guest blogging professionals, both in text and visual media.  Links to related reading and other materials and resources will be increased for your convenience.  These changes will take place gradually, so don’t expect everything at once.  As I said, I’m no longer a professional computing person, and it will take some time to get everything up to speed.  But updating this site will be as much a learning experience for me as a way to share what I know, especially about special education and behavioral issues.

So please bear with me as this site gradually develops into something more useful to all of us.  Thanks for your patience with me and support for the posts to date.  Without your readership, this blog would have folded long ago.

Watch for the changes!

Mostly, watch for my next posts that might be important to you and your students or offspring.


St Maarten’s Education: An American’s Impressions–Part 2

University of St Maarten

University of St Maarten

A couple of months ago, I began to address the topic of education in St Maarten–specifically, special education (see previous post). At the time, I was going to review my notes, as well as check the local news for updated information. What I discovered over the next few days was that there was very little education-related news, and that there were no promised updates on the government web site. The official government pages do not contain much more than department contact information. [Click here for what passes as the official policy information page. (There are no public links beyond this page in either English or Dutch.)]

My attempts to learn more about official updates to education policy–or even news–have been rather futile. Except for a few special activities at specific schools–school or student awards, student activities, special events, charitable contribution presentations, etc.–information related to general elementary and secondary education policies and other government-related information has not appeared in local newspapers or government web pages for quite some time. Thus, what I have learned about education here in St Maarten comes primarily from “old” public and government information, much of which was uncovered during my original interest in the country’s education system; and through general conversation with island residents, both “recent” and “native.”

Here is what I have learned since my last post. Topics include general policy issues, ministry responsibilities, special education isolation, education funding, disappearance of “special education” language, teacher training, and “NCLB-like” programming policy.

  • There is much vague language in what apparently passes for educational policies in publicly available documentation. In fact, this information appears to be limited to the “about” page of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs. There appear to be no policy additions or modifications to the description of educational services on official Parliament ministry pages, except for some minor additions in Dutch which can only be found with much “digging.” Noteworthy here is that, although Dutch is the official language of the country of St Maarten, the lingua franca is English, as a very large portion of the population speaks Spanish, French, Tagalog, various dialects of India and Asia, etc., in home and community. Thus, the majority of the population can neither read nor comment on what little official education policy information is available because such policy is available only in the Dutch language. It should further be noted that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs is the only cabinet department that had not made an English language version of their policies available until recently, and that–to date–the “policy” is more of a wish list of overly-generalized education department “mission statements” and objectives.
  • Although one of the mission statements of the Ministry of Education (etc.) clearly addresses alignment of education with Dutch and international norms and practices, the lack of explicit language addressing special education services is like a black hole in the center of one’s living room where the coffee table used to be. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because the goals and objectives also encompass the “culture, youth and sports affairs,” all of which may or may not be directly linked to educational outcomes per se. That no “Oxford comma” is present between “youth” and “sports” is also interesting, since–until recently–the version of English language instruction in St Maarten was British rather than American. What makes this interesting the disproportionately large financial resources that go to “culture” and “youth and sports” (or even “youth” and “sports”) as compared to resources budgeted for education. Since special education services are expensive, the lack of explicit language allows each individual school to offer or ignore resources to students with special needs. In a private chat with the current Minister of Education, Patricia Lourens, I learned that her estimate of special needs students in public education is closer to 40% than my church-affiliated school estimate of 20% to 25%. If Minister Lourens’ estimate is correct, then there is good reason to require that many special education services be available within the regular classroom. However, this would also require substantially better training for teachers through the local university, which attempts to offer special education “specialization” at the baccalaureate level as two courses, roughly equivalent to 6 credits or fewer at an American or Canadian university. (More on teacher preparation below.)
  • A school building originally slated to become a stand-alone school for behaviorally (and socially or emotionally) disturbed students continues to stand empty. Vacancy appears to be due to some disagreement as to who should administer the school–one of the numerous religious affiliations with elementary and/or secondary facilities, or the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs (official public/free education provider). That upgrades to the school whose purpose is to provide education to learning disabled students has been tentatively stopped may indicate that the government has plans to expand special education; or it may indicate that one of the country’s church-affiliated schools has “won” oversight of the building and the program(s) to be offered there.
  • Education funding has once again been cut severely for a variety of political and economic (openly legal or corruption-driven) reasons, including loss of tax revenue–but the latter will be discussed at some future time. Interestingly, a non-academics oriented high school has recently been awarded public funds that were “withheld” by the Ministry of Education (etc.) despite parliamentary budgeting for these funds. The local court apparently felt that it was illegal to cut funds from an already existing government budget.
  • The topic of special education appears to have all but vanished from any dialog related to public responsibility, so much so that the single school for learning disabled youth, the Prins Willem Alexander School (PWA), has not been mentioned in the press for months. Until the beginning of the current school year, special education services were provided by this single school site officially and specifically reserved for learning disabled students. The problems with the PWA are that 1) the classrooms are overloaded with students presenting with behavioral and emotional issues that cannot be addressed within regular education; 2) the average class size is reportedly 20; and 3) teachers have not trained to provide special education services. Other than the worst cases of learning or behavioral/emotional difficulties, special needs students are expected to be handled within the regular classroom with some support from individuals whose official function is to serve as liaisons between school and home. The reality is that this latter group tends to serve instead as individual or small-group tutors, often with responsibilities that go far beyond the official job description. This is especially true of church- or foundation-supported but publicly funded schools.
  • Teacher training and experience are inadequately defined by the Ministry’s education policy, allowing private and church-supported schools to hire as teachers individuals who are straight out of high school/secondary-level education institutions, without a single post-secondary (college or university level) credit to their resumes. Granted, once hired, the individual must register in a teacher preparation program and show continual progress toward credentialing/certification. Teacher qualification does not require the attainment of a bachelors degree, especially at the elementary level (to be honest, I am not sure that a bachelors degree is required for secondary level teaching, either, as information is not readily available). Other islands in the Caribbean have grown to appreciate the skills and knowledge base associated with teacher training through programs leading to a baccalaureate degree–especially those programs that include liberal arts as part of the curriculum–but I believe that education is not as important a topic in St Maarten as in larger Caribbean countries.
  • Despite apparent public documents in place prior to St Maarten’s declaration of independence from The Netherlands Antilles (“10/10/10″), teaching continues to be done to prepare elementary school students for official grade-level year-end exams and the “FBE” Exit Exams given in the final year of primary level schooling (equivalent to what in the US would be sixth-grade). The testing and education policies for which the testing was created more closely resemble US No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policies than anything else I have encountered in international education standards and practices. Since, in the US, almost every one of the 50 states has elected to return to federally approved state-developed curricula–implying that NCLB did not meet local education needs–the success of the current (and two decades old) Dutch-established education system will be interesting to further observe and evaluate. Observation might be entertaining, as even the Dutch have recently declared the parent of these practices to be a grave mistake.

What is becoming more and more clear to me as I interact with the citizens of this country is that parents are becoming more accepting of causes other than home for their child’s learning difficulties (specific learning disabilities, dyslexia and discalculia, attention disorders such as ADD and ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders, brain trauma, behavioral/emotional disturbances, etc.) and are asking why services to address such issues are not directly provided for their children.

It is unclear to me whether the lack of information related to education–especially education policy–is due to lack of further action because of funding or time constraints, the absence of forward movement, or the upcoming parliamentary elections which are tentatively scheduled for late August. As with many matters political, sometimes it is better to do nothing before elections and stand on one’s old record than risk statements and/or actions that may be deemed as sensitive or unpopular. However, candidates and incumbents for office should consider that not all their citizens are as willing as they were in the past to simply vote for the familiar names and faces. The younger voters are questioning whether their needs might be better served by political representatives who appear willing to be more responsive to the constituencies they would represent.

More on St Maarten education soon…