Monday, November 10, 2014

Dammit, Not Again

For about a week now, I've been plagued with the feeling of "who cares?" Otherwise known as "FTW." Or "I give up." These are not good feelings. At first I chalked it up to the truly depressing election results. But then, yesterday happened. But first, why am I telling you this anyway? Because--people need to understand that mental illness is indeed a disease. Not something I make up. Not some drama queen thing I do for attention. Not something I want. I hate it. I hate it so bad. So come and take a walk in my shoes for a day and see what it feels like.

Yesterday started out like the rest of the days this past week--not caring, going through the motions, hanging in there, hoping that things were going to improve. But the day just got worse and worse. As I've said before, nothing specific happened. Nobody said anything or did anything that made my day tumble down a dark tunnel. It just did. Depression took me there without my consent.

In the middle of doing simple, normal things, I could not fight the urge to burst into tears. I struggled all day long to keep going, but it didn't work. Eventually, I flung myself on the bed and cried. Sometimes crying is a cathartic release to people. Maybe it helped in a way, but it didn't feel cathartic. It felt scary. I have nothing to cry about.

As I lay there, all I could think was I hope I'm not going down the dark hole again. I don't want to go there. It's the most awful place ever. You can't dig yourself out of it. It's deep and lonely and fearful. Monsters lurk in tiny pockets all around. Monsters that want you to give in, give up. Monsters that bite and feed off the panic in your heart. Monsters that try to convince you that you are nothing. That it would be best for all if you just fade into the walls and become one of them.

Self talk does nothing at this point. Reminding myself that people care about me does not help. Knowing that others out there suffer too, probably more than I do, doesn't help. Thinking that maybe I'm just having an off day, like any normal person, doesn't help. Because nothing can get me to stand up and go back to what I was doing. I kept lying there, zoned in on visual details next to me--the ridges in the pile of clean clothes stacked on the bed, the pores on my hands, the tiny ripples on the end of my sleeve. They all seem so much bigger than I am. I am so small, so insignificant. Nothing.

Dammit. Why is this happening to me? Again. Why do I have to put up with this? Why does my family have to suffer along with me? The depression monsters dig in their heels, telling me I should relieve my family of this burden. Stop participating. Go away. The pain in my gut makes me want to scratch my face off with my fingernails. I worry I will have to go to a pysch hospital. I worry that I will fall down the dark hole and never emerge. I suddenly understand why cutters do it, because somehow the idea of slicing myself seems like it might be a relief, a distraction from this even worse pain in my own head. It's very real. No wonder people jump off buildings. That seems like no pain at all. I imagine the quiet relief of going for a walk that never ends. A walk into the mountains with my dogs--except I don't want my dogs to suffer either--where I just go and go and go until I have to stop. Then I can just lie down to rest. Forever. Yeah, this is what thoughts of suicide sound like. I hate that they are pestering me, because I WILL NOT give in to them. Yet they sound so enticing.

Fighting this much just to make those thoughts go away is exhausting. Sitting at the bottom of the hole is easier than fighting to climb out. I don't want to be there. I want to get out. But I can't fight anymore. That's why someone would do it--kill themselves. Because they are just so tired of fighting between the desire to get out of the hole and the need to rest.

So by now the damn monsters are making me think that I'm in really deep now, deeper than ever before. I am sincerely scared. I wonder if we will have to change meds again. Or maybe there are not meds strong enough. I am already taking the maximum dose. I imagine being hospitalized. Infantilized.

Here in the dark hole, I am capable of nothing. I am as useless as an infant. I can do nothing but stay here, letting the monsters eat away at me. I hate it. Bloody hate it. Could someone just make the pain end?

All of these thoughts run through my brain like a locomotive in a loop, repeating and repeating. Even a religious person who knows that there is a god and a spirit--in that moment, nothing can reach you.

And then, in walked my one true love, my husband, who said, "Are you okay?"


He stayed with me while I got up the will to speak, listened to me while I shared my fear, knew what to say and do in the moment. I had worried he might have me admitted right then. But instead he offered me dinner, cajoled me into getting on my feet, hugged me, and didn't push. Didn't prod. Just offered me a hand to hold so that I might climb upward, yet again. Those marriage vows, the part about in sickness and health--this is what that looks like. He reminded me that we can handle it. We have doctors. We have help. We don't have do it alone.

So I got up and ate dinner and finished the evening. But I felt physically sick. Oh, I'm not depressed, I'm just coming down with something. No. I have something. I have an illness. Don't minimize it. Don't wave it off. Pay attention. That commercial that says depression hurts--it's true. That feeling that I've just been kicked in the kidneys, that's where it hurts right then. When I first started facing my depression, I read somewhere that ancient cultures believed the kidneys were the center of our being, kind of the way we talk about our hearts now. So it's no surprise that my kidneys scream at me. They are my center, telling me to take notice.

Okay, mind/body/spirit,  you got my attention. I'm here. Paying attention. I will fight.

Is this too honest for you? Would you rather not see what it's like for people like me? Or are you serious when you say, after yet another celebrity suicide, that we need to do something to improve our mental health system? Are  you willing to hold someone's hand while they attempt to climb out of the dark hole? I don't want to burden you with my illness. But I absolutely cannot fight it by myself.

I am still here today. Writing this down in the hope that someone will hear. I'll see how tomorrow goes. It's probable that I will give my psych nurse a call this week. I don't want to. Because I might have to deal with changing or adding meds. Or worse. Or worse. But I will.

For now, it is sunny outside, a slightly blustery fall day. I think I will take the dogs for a walk. But not a forever walk. A healing walk. One I come back from.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Insights into Depression

So I went to church today. Not an unusual event for a Sunday morning; I'm a fairly regular church attender. But the fact that I went today is kind of big. Because I am in the middle of a "flare up" in my depression. That sounds weird, I know. Flare ups are what people with MS or fibromyalgia have, right? Autoimmune disorder type of a thing. But people with chronic illness of any kind, including depression and other mental illnesses, can have them too. Or maybe I should call them flare downs. Or low energy.

I've dedicated myself to being open to talking about my depression, not because I feel so special or anything, but because I want others out there to know they are not alone, that what they are feeling is part of a disease. Sometimes knowing that makes a lot of difference. I don't pretend to speak for a people with mental illness or even all people with depression. I think it's a bit different for everyone.

I've written on this blog several times about depression, so if you want to know more, feel free to read those posts. But what compels me to write today is the realization--for the umpteenth time--that clinical depression, for me anyway, never goes away. It is here 24 hours a day, every day. Even though I take meds, try to eat healthy, try to exercise moderately, get lots of sleep, and try to keep the stress to a minimum, I will never be free of this disease. Sure, the meds keep me functional and temper the depression so it doesn't overwhelm me. And all those other things help. Talking helps. Crying sometimes helps. What helps most is for me to allow it to be what it is and not wish for it to be something different. And to be in nature.

What I want the world to know is this: I am happy, despite my depression. I'm not depressed because I'm not happy. It's not that life has given me a raw deal and it makes me depressed. Nothing bad--seriously bad--is happening to me that is causing my depression. It's just as much a part of me as my green eyes or which toes are longer. During my flare downs, I want to withdraw from the world. Maybe it's a self-protection thing, like if I don't interact with others, you won't be able to notice that I'm not quite myself. Or maybe it's just a desire to be within my own self and not have to explain stuff to others. For sure, there is a hefty dose of feelings of unworthiness and self-deprecation. Even self-loathing. When I am in a downturn, I tend to be grouchy with everyone, and I know it, and I hate that. I don't really want to be that person around others.

Which is why going to church today was a big deal. I wanted to be curled up in my bed, away from the world, separate in myself. One of the scriptures today said that God sees each of us as her masterpiece. That's a feel good thing. I believe it. I feel it. But does it make the depression go away? No. Therefore, the only conclusion I can come to is that I am a masterpiece, and part of that masterpiece is my depression. My dear, long-suffering, patient husband affirms that he loves me, all of me, depression and all. That is certainly comforting. I know love is unconditional. And I'm even pretty good at loving myself unconditionally--most of the time.

Believe me, if it were possible to intellectualize oneself out of this disease, I would have done that by now. I can perform all manner of self-talk and other methods to lift myself up. But it doesn't make the depression go away. I know most of those who spend time around me see a smiling, laughing person who loves being with my friends and family. Which is true. That doesn't mean the depression has left. It just means I'm having a good day. And, thankfully, I often have more good days than down days.

On down days, it takes every ounce of strength, courage, and sheer stubbornness to do something as routine as get dressed and go to church. Even though I know I will be lifted up. Even though I know love will surround me. Even though the music and words soothe my soul.

Is there a point here? I don't know. I don't want pity. I don't want sympathy, even. I want acceptance and understanding. I want people to see mental illness as a disease that is managed to greater or lesser degrees, but a disease nonetheless. A disease that cannot be fought and overcome, but must be accepted and lived with each and every day. And I want people with this disease to know that  it can be part of a happy and productive life, that the struggle is worth it, that even a down day, our existence is still a masterpiece.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Candida and Me

Okay, so candida. Kind of an icky topic. I won't go into a lot of depth here, because you can google it. Basically, it's an overgrowth of the natural yeast that we all have in our guts. Supposedly, I have it. I didn't make this up--it was tested by my doctor and a lab, via. . . how to put this delicately: that stuff that comes out of your gut, your poop.

That's quite enough of that. What I really wanted to write about was the ensuing month of special diet I have had to consume, along with a smorgasbord of supplements, to try to heal my gut. I'm 3/4 of the way done with my four weeks of treatment. I can't wait for it to be over. But I have learned a few things about myself through the process.

Let me just say that I was given the option to approach this now or later. The wonderful staff at my new doctor's office are well aware that this is a difficult regimen to undergo, and they said I should only do it if I could stick to it. So I decided to go ahead, and I decided to pursue it with conviction and concentration. (I have actually been treated for this in the past by other practitioners, but I didn't approach it with the degree of effort I have this time. And I have much more support and information from my practitioner this time.)

Sometimes, I find it useful to prove to myself I can do something hard. A couple of years ago, it was backpacking in Yosemite. Birthing a 10 lb 10 oz baby was enough of a challenge nearly 18 years ago that I didn't need to prove anything for a very long time. This seemed like a good opportunity to prove to myself that I could focus on food as merely food and not entertainment. That I could live without my favorite vices.

The regimen I have been following is kind of scary. I am not allowed to eat any of the following: dairy, sugar or other sweeteners except for stevia, alcohol, grains of any kind, starchy vegetables, anything fermented or made with vinegar, or fruit except an occasional few berries in a protein smoothie. If you know me, you know that I love dairy AND bread AND fruit. So I knew this would be an extreme challenge. Basically, I can eat meat, beans, eggs, non-starchy vegetables (of course, all my favorite vegetables are of the starchy variety), nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.

Being the rebel and the self-directed person I am, I did a little of my own research and discovered that there are many variations in what is considered allowable on the candida diet. For example, raw honey is allowed by some. And as I have developed a distinct hatred for stevia, I decided a teeny bit of raw honey would be okay. I also have developed a gag reflex when drinking a protein smoothie, so I decided berries were acceptable if eaten with other types of protein, like meat.

My doctor had already okayed one cup of coffee per day, but no sugar. I started by using stevia, but I really don't like its flavor, and I had already been reducing my intake of sugar, so I now drink my coffee with no sweetener. Just cream. (I was allowed that tiny bit of dairy in my coffee, since they viewed that as better than opting for fake creamers.) So one thing I learned is that coffee really is not bad without sweetener. Who knew?

Here are a few other things I've learned:

Attitude is everything. I'm 51, and I should know this by now. But I kind of need a kick in the pants every once in a while. I went into this process with a positive attitude that it would be a chance to explore new foods, try out some other options I'd been wanting to try out anyway, and see if it really was possible to live without anything made out of wheat or any other grain (including oats) for a month--I thought missing grains would be the hardest part. The attitude has helped immensely. Duh. Hey, I gave up alcohol for three pregnancies. I gave up cheese while nursing Peter because it seemed to make him miserable. I can do almost anything for just one month.

Not to sound all new-agy and stuff, I have become more mindful about eating. Of course, that was sort of a by-product. I've had to think about literally every single thing. Mustard and ketchup? No, those have vinegar. What to have for breakfast when almost all of my prior breakfast choices have been grain-based? Eggs. Love eggs. Have not yet grown to despise eggs. But every morning? Today I drank the dang protein smoothie just for a change of pace. But I've discovered the wonders of almond flour and coconut flour and how you can make edible pancakes and muffins and even substitute hamburger buns out of them. On this diet, it is impossible to step into the kitchen and grab a snack without thinking, so yeah, mindfulness. Maybe more mindfulness than I would like. How delightful it will be to go grab some fruit for a snack without having to come up with something involving meat or veggies (not that I have anything against those food groups in particular).

Tastes I really, really like. I have become a big fan of the multiple uses of lemon juice. (I can have that where vinegar might be the norm, say in salad dressing and stuff.) I love lemon flavor. And it can be used in almost any kind of dish to add zing. Also avocados.  I've always loved the smooth and creamy texture of avocados. This month, I have been putting avocados on and in everything. Guacamole is my new love. I loved it before, but now I'm planning on eating is as often as possible. Coconut everything: flour, oil, butter, milk.

Perfection is impossible. Already knew this, but a nice reminder is useful. There have been one two occasions where I did use mustard or fruit or something more than I was supposed to. I have been allowed to have a very small amount of extremely dark chocolate, which I may have eaten slightly more than the allotted amount. But hey, I'm a writer, and writers can't write without chocolate.

On the other hand, I am made of stronger stuff than I anticipated. I never, ever thought I could survive without some sort of grains. I could go without wheat, if that's all it was. But rice? Oats? Yes, I can live without those as well. It's been a nice surprise that I am able to do this thing that I thought would be next to impossible. I have walked past tables of sugary treats without blinking, or even feeling tempted. I have eaten out with my family and not even cared that they were eating my favorite things, while I was stuck with more chicken and green salad. (Okay, I might have cared a bit. I have done my fair share of whining and complaining.)

It hasn't been all joy and wonder. Not at all. It has been a pain in the butt, to be honest. For starters, I'm not the kind of person who likes a regimented lifestyle. I was told I had to eat three meals and two snacks and they had to be 2-3 hours apart and at certain prescribed times. That has not happened. I knew it wouldn't. I eat when I'm hungry, and I'm still asleep at 7:00 a.m. so I'm not going to be eating breakfast between 7-9. I figured that was optional. I have tried to make sure I have some food every few hours, and I call that good.

And while I really do love a wide array of vegetables, not being able to eat fruit is practically killing me, especially at this time of the year, when all the fruit is ready to eat. That's why I've always been glad that the food pyramid or plate or whatever has combined fruits and vegetables into one category. Thank goodness I am allowed a few measly berries a day. I think fruit might be the first thing I eat when I'm done.

I really haven't missed dairy all that much, as I typically don't consume tons of dairy products anyway. But I was just falling in love with raw milk, so I will be glad to have that back. And cheese--like on sandwiches and pizza, and with bread and wine.

I don't really miss sugar that much, but I was already cutting way back on that and using low glycemic choices for sweeteners. So that will be something I can carry forward. I'm sure I will eat sugar--I must have some ice cream soon--but I think I can pick only the truly special treats that really mean something and leave most of the rest of the sugary stuff in the past.

I hope this kills the candida. Because if not, I might have to do it again, and I would not enjoy that at all. However, I wasn't having many of the symptoms of candida to begin with, and I don't feel any better or worse after the first 3 weeks. I have had some headaches and been very tired, but isn't different than before. I don't feel less brain foggy. I don't have more energy. My digestion doesn't seem any different. So aside from being grouchy whenever I pass Fanci Freez, I don't really feel different at all.

Therefore, when my month is up--coincidentally on the exact date of my 30th wedding anniversary--I will not feel at all guilty about enjoying myself with some wine, cheese and bread, and strawberries with whipped cream. No meat or vegetables in sight. I have proven to myself that I could do it, and it has definitely been interesting. But it's not the way I want eating to be for the long term. So if at the end of this the doctor tells me I can never eat grains again, I might be okay. But is she tells me no fruit, there might some extreme negotiations to work out. And lots of screaming.

My two most important take-aways are things I was trying to work on anyway: eliminating or significantly reducing my sugar intake and eating less or no processed food. I have done both of those things, and I think they are definitely habits I can continue.

It's been a journey, with some illuminating new insights. But  mostly I can't wait to be done.

Friday, April 18, 2014

How a Rational, Educated, non-celebrity Chose Not to Vaccinate

There’s been a lot of vitriol aimed at the “anti-vaxxers” lately, blaming non-vaccinators for recent outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, and whatever else rears its head. Some people have written posts calling parents who choose not to vaccinate “ignorant” and “selfish.”
Well, I am here to defend these parents, and I am not afraid to state right up front that I am one. It’s been nearly 25 years since I made this decision for my babies, but I think time gives me a substantial level of objectivity, since I’m no longer personally insulted by the hatred, nor am I afraid that people will think I’m some sort of bad mother—my children have all turned out to be very healthy, intelligent, and worthy human beings who have yet to spread anything worse than a cold.
I realize that people don’t like their long-held beliefs challenged, and this certainly applies to vaccinations. It is far easier to simply yell louder that vaccines are essential than it is to actually do the research. But look at all the ways the medical community has changed its mind about tests and treatments it once considered perfectly safe. Overuse of antiobiotics led to the rise of super bacteria that are resistant to the available antibiotics. Another example: for decades now, they’ve been telling women they must have mammograms. Now, science is starting to realize that this strategy has resulted in many women being treated unnecessarily, as well as other women feeling reassured when fast-growing cancers that would kill them in a few months were not detected by a mammogram.
I did not make the choice not to vaccinate my children lightly, by any means. I did not simply decry it as a government conspiracy or a medical waste of time. I initially thought like a lot of you, that vaccines were the way to go, so I wasn’t on board right away. A couple of acquaintances suggested I check out the information on both sides of the issue—a strategy that has served me well throughout parenthood.
So I researched. I read dozens of books. I looked at questions that had been asked about vaccines that the medical community did not have answers to. If I had found satisfactory answers to my questions, I might have chosen to vaccinate. But I did not. The research on long-term side effects of vaccines just did not exist. The research on short-term effects was not very convincing, either.
I probably read more about vaccines—both pro and con—than the average pediatrician/MD. I know that the medical practitioner is often influenced by several factors, such as the pharma reps who visit their offices regularly, not to mention the reluctance to buck the system. I read books by several physicians who had bucked the system, and they were basically shunned by the medical community, even though they had been previously well-respected.
At this point, if you’re reading this, I urge you to read extensively on both sides of the issue, and please avoid rash judgments on the intelligence and parental responsibility of the person who chooses not to vaccinate. If you want to have a respectful discussion of the actual science (or non-science, as the case may be), I welcome that, but unless you have read extensively on both sides of the issue, it can’t be a true discussion.
I made the decision not to vaccinate because the evidence in favor of it did not seem complete enough to me. One common reason given to me in favor of vaccines was the obvious “fact” that many diseases had been eradicated because of immunizations. Nothing proves this, however. In most of Europe, there was never a mandated immunization program as there was in the U.S., and they experienced the same decline in diseases at the same time. What I learned was that the incidence of most contagious diseases ebbs and flows. So, simply the correlation of mass immunizations in the U.S. and the decrease in diseases does not prove causality. I could just as easily correlate vaccinations with increases in childhood obesity, auto immune diseases, cancers, ADHD, depression, etc. (I believe this type of correlation is what makes some people claim that immunizations cause autism. I don’t buy that. I know non-vaccinated children with autism.) If vaccines truly worked the way we are told they do, then no one would feel threatened by my unvaccinated family, because supposedly you are immune to the disease and therefore cannot get it. In addition, if the disease can be carried by people who aren’t immune, then it can be carried by both the unvaccinated and the vaccinated, since obviously there are some who have been vaccinated who are not fully immune.
In addition, I learned that there are numerous ways to increase the strength and effectiveness of an immune system. An MD won’t tell you about these, because big pharma doesn’t knock on their doors once a week promoting it. (I realize my bias is showing.) Many of these methods are hundreds of years old and easily achieved.
The first and easiest way to promote a baby’s immune system is by breastfeeding. I will not go into much depth here, because there is a ton of information to back this up. In fact, the evidence supporting a myriad of breastfeeding’s benefits is overwhelming. Even the medical community (which, incidentally, was not always so pro-breastfeeding) now recommends breastfeeding as the best form of infant nutrition. Among all the many benefits is the mother’s antibodies are passed to the baby through her milk, which is the perfect way to help the baby fight diseases specific to the environment where the mother lives.
Giving mass doses of vaccines at the vulnerable age of infancy can put more stress on the immature immune system. Which is why some parents take a middle road approach of delaying vaccines until the baby is older, and then spacing out the vaccines instead of administering them all at once. There is some reason to believe this might be a good compromise. This way, if there is a reaction, it is clear which vaccine was at fault. People often cite the bad side effects of the diseases in question. I have seen first-hand equally devastating effects after vaccines.
But most of the information I read indicated it was best to avoid all vaccines until children were much older.
Some other ways to promote the health of the immune system are things you read about a lot these days. Herbs and vitamins are useful. Less processed food, low sugar intake, and the like help. Good gut bacteria (which is supported by breastfeeding).
Also low intake of antibiotics. My children rarely received antibiotics. And they really didn’t need to—because they had really strong immune systems that had been allowed to develop at a natural pace through breastfeeding, healthy food, and by fighting off diseases with a supported immune system. Interestingly, it was once considered a no-brainer to just pump kids with antibiotics “just in case,” and we now realize that this causes resistance to antibiotics as the formation of super-bacteria. What will a couple of decades teach us about the long-term problems with vaccines?
Let me address just a couple of diseases specifically. Let’s talk whooping cough, as this is one of the illnesses that always gets the pro-vaxxers up in arms. The fact of the matter is that whooping cough vaccine is one of the least effective vaccines given to kids, so the fact that lots of incidents crop up should come as no surprise, and should not be blamed on the kids who aren’t vaccinated.
Right now, it seems measles is a big issue in New York City and more recently in LA. According to what I’ve seen in news reports, many of those who are getting sick have been vaccinated. Again, if the vaccine worked, they wouldn’t be getting sick.
I am not entirely against vaccines. When people are older and the vaccine serves a specific need, then I see some good reasons to administer them. Foreign travel, for example. Our bodies are not used to the viruses, bacteria, and illnesses of unfamiliar parts of the world, so an older teen or adult being vaccinated prior to travel seems prudent. Exposure is perhaps another reason. If you work in a hospital, which is rampant with all kinds of nasty stuff, it might be wise to be vaccinated. But this is when our immune systems are much more developed and able to handle a big influx of vaccines.
For some people, the risks of living are scary, and that includes the risk of childhood diseases. A generation ago, before vaccinations were the norm, these same childhood diseases were the norm, and nobody thought twice about the possibility of getting measles, for example. In fact, you were the strange one if you hadn’t had the disease. A couple of things I learned through my research were that these illnesses are normal childhood illnesses that are less dangerous in young children than they are in older children or adults. I can attest to this from personal experience. I never had chicken pox as a child, so I got it at age 30 when my children had it. I was extremely sick, dangerously so. My children were hardly even uncomfortable. The other thing to note is that having a disease like measles confers lifelong immunity, a much better risk avoidance technique than an unsure roll of the dice with vaccines. Because people frequently forget to have boosters, there are more incidents of these illnesses in young adults, which can have even worse side effects than having the illness as a kid.
I do not judge those who choose to vaccinate. There are reasons in favor of it, and I know that every parent makes the best choices we can at any given time. But as I said before, I have read more on both sides of the issue than probably most parents, doctors, and the general populace. I made my decision based on information and rational thought. So please refrain from calling me ignorant or selfish. I made the best choice for my children—not selfish, just what any parent would do. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

My Pretend Ideal School

What follows is my attempt at thinking about a way to "do" school in America without all the annoying assanine problems we have right now. I was so hopeful that the nice-sounding mission of Common Core was going to be awesome, but its implementation has proven to be far less than promised. And the College Board--don't even get me started. So how would I--a highly educated mother of three very motivated students--structure the school system?

First, we need to think about the point of education. I have a bias about this, so let's get it out there right up front. I believe education is supposed to produce an educated population, one that can think critically and analytically, one that can discern mumbo jumbo on Fox from actual news, one that understands other cultures and governments, one that has a broad range of culture literacy. I don't think education is there to prepare people for jobs or whatever. A well-educated populace will be prepared for all kinds of things, jobs included.

My ideal school would be a free (no-tuition), private school, not subject to the rules of idiots who run the state department of education but who have never ever worked in the school system. I shall for the time being--since this is just a hypothetical school--invoke the debater's method of fiat for funding. In other words, for the sake of argument, we'll assume there will be funding for this idea. (I mean, why get bogged down in reality?)

Admission to the school will be based primarily on the student's willingness to abide by the standards of the school--such as no bullying, respect for self and others, self-motivation, etc. Under no circumstances will socio-economic status be a deterrent to admission, nor any other factors such as race, parental involvement, etc. In fact, the goal will be to provide the most diverse population possible and to have an atmosphere that welcomes and respects all people from any race, religion, gender identification, neighborhood, nationality, and any other factors that are commonly used to exclude.

The curriculum at this school will be written by the teachers, not a corporation. For now, let's pretend it's K-12, although some of my ideas might be best only as you get into the high school years. Every student will take Latin from the very beginning. Until they leave. Yes, it's a dead language, but the skills learned by studying Latin serve the mind well in conquering a whole host of other things, such as our own language, logic, etc. Every student will also take another foreign language. It doesn't have to be the same one from k-12, but each language should be studied for a minimum of three years to achieve some basic level of fluency.

The rest of the coursework will be very rigorous--really. Not the way Common Core promised to be rigorous. Students will be expected, say through the course of high school, to study the history of the world, not just western civilization, but also Asian history, African history, and South American history. Same with literature. In fact, ideally, all courses would be aligned so that students are studying the period of history and literature and science together. Writing well shall be emphasized across all subjects.

The emphasis of this school will be on classic education: language, history, math, literature, science, art and music. There will not be vocational programs. All courses will be the same for every student, based on the idea that all students are equally capable of mastering all subjects. Some may need more time, and the structure of the school will allow for that. Students who are able to progress more quickly may do so, and thus take higher level courses. There will be daily time for physical activity, whether you want to call it recess, PE, or whatever. It will focus on activities that might be life-long joys, whether team sports, or solitary running, hiking, skiing, etc. I think religion class aimed at learning the basic tenants of all world religions (probably incorporated into history and literature) would be good. Not as evangelism, but as learning to understand the rest of humanity.

There will be NO standardized tests of any kind, and teachers will be encouraged to write tests that really test a student's mastery. No multiple-choice, but a combination of short answer, essay, and analysis. Nobody will learn to write 5-paragraph essays. They will learn to write cogent, thoughtful essays of a length necessary to state and support the thesis.

Grades will not be given. For the purpose of transcripts, grades will be recorded, but will not be released except for specific requests. The theory of this is that students will be putting forth their best efforts at all times, aiming for mastery of their subject, rather than trying to figure out what to put for an answer that will give them the best grade. Homework will be assigned solely for the purpose of practicing and repeating necessary skills, but not for a grade. Students will understand that doing homework will help them master the material faster.

Multi-age classes and subjects will be encouraged, as will collaboration between teachers to teach lessons that are coordinated with other subjects. Students reaching the necessary level of subject mastery may move on to the next level, whether it takes one quarter or three quarters to make that next level. I like a trimester system, because it allows for more intensive exposure to more subjects.

Teachers will be in charge of the school. There will be no administration making top-down decisions. (There will be administrative assistants doing the necessary tasks like attendance, record keeping, scheduling etc. Just not someone making decisions about the classroom.) Teachers will be like owners or shareholders of the school. All teachers will be hired based on creativity in teaching, years of experience, and knowledge of subjects. One would not have to be state certified to teach in this school, but would have to demonstrate a high level of skill in teaching and knowledge of the subject. At least one teaching assistant will be in each classroom. These will be hired from a pool of new college graduates and/or new to teaching professionals. All teachers will be expected to mentor the teaching assistants. All teachers will be expected to work in a highly collaborative capacity with fellow teachers, even co-teaching whenever possible and practical. Teaching assistants may move into teacher positions when they have received a certain level. I don't know what that would be. Maybe five years of assisting/being mentored before being eligible to be a full teacher.

To accommodate the additional time needed for assessment and administrative tasks asked of these teachers, one day a week will be given to teachers for collaboration, inservice education, and admin. That day will be one in which students will focus on individual studying, writing, presenting, under the supervision of the teaching assistants. Teaching assistants will also receive one day per week for in-depth learning experiences with mentor teachers.

The school day will start later than most schools now. Maybe 9:00 a.m. It will end later as a result. Probably around 4:00 or even 5:00. The school year will start in September, with three months in session and one-month breaks as follows: Sep/Oct/Nov will be first trimester. December: break. Jan/Feb/March is second trimester. April is break. May/June/July is third trimester. August is break. This kind of schedule avoids summer breaks that get way too long for most students I know who are highly motivated. It also allows plenty of time for extended family vacations. Students at the high school level may be encouraged to use their breaks for internships, self study, or even work. Those who plan to take SATs or ACTs or other tests (not required by the school) might use that time for study aimed at those tests. Perhaps, if parents were interested, special classes could be offered during breaks--to meet their childcare needs, mostly. Things kind of like summer or spring break day camps do now.

In this school, all teachers and other personnel will be paid a highly competitive salary. (Fiat on the funding, remember?) A professional level salary. For each year a teaching assistant stays, their salary will increase until they are eligible to be a full teacher. Full teacher pay will reward teachers for longevity, creativity, extra learning opportunities, and so forth. Maybe there will be some sort of master teacher levels that will allow for further pay increases. The idea being that teaching is one of the most important professions and should be paid accordingly, and in a professional manner.

I realize there are probably many practical and realistic issues with some of these ideas. This is just me, thinking of what sounds good. I welcome input and further discussion of these ideas and more. Because I'm really sick of the way it's been done for the last ten years. And I live in the best school district in the state. And I've been pretty happy with the education my kids received. But that has been a factor almost exclusively of having really fantastic teachers who teach for love and having really motivated, smart kids. All students should have teachers like the ones my kids have been fortunate enough to have had. And I think we need to put education back in the teachers' court. Train teachers through mentoring and expect high levels of work from our students.