Friday, February 1, 2008

Military Brats

OCA recently posted about changing school systems and different age requirements for kindergarten following a PCS move. It brought to mind a very good book. I could have sworn I had already written about this in a previous post, but I searched back through my blog and couldn't find it. So I said to myself, "Self, you should write a post about Military Brats."

Mary Edwards Wertsch wrote a really good book titled Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress. One of the big take-aways I remember from her book was about the impact military life has on kids' education. In any given school district, they've developed a curriculum with a series of building blocks. First you teach them concept A, then you build on that with concept B, then you build on that with concept C. This is especially true in topics such as math and English. The problem is, when you PCS transfer to another duty station and a new school district, then that school district may have a curriculum where they teach concept B, then you built on that with concept C, then you build on that with topic A.

As a result, military brats have a tendency to score lower than their peers in topics like math and English, at least during the time period immediately after the PCS transfer. On the other hand, military brats have a tendency to score higher than their peers in topics like geography and history. I think that was due to the fact that they've traveled to a lot of places, they use maps to trace where their military parent(s) go on deployment, and they are immersed in the importance of history in the military culture.

This all "rang a bell" in my head, because I think I experienced it first hand. When my dad retired from the Navy, I moved from San Diego to Oregon in between my sophomore and junior years of high school. The Oregon school system had their requirements all mixed up and out of order compared to the San Diego school system. I'm not saying one was better than the other. They were just organized differently. Classes that I had already completed in San Diego as freshman and sophomore requirements were junior and senior requirements in Oregon. As a result, I found myself as a junior sitting in classes with a bunch of freshmen, "making up" the classes that would have been junior and senior requirements in San Diego. My first year in Oregon, I did well in those isolated classes like U.S. Government, but I got D's in 11th grade math and English. I came back though. I took the AP Calculus exam the following year and got a 5 out of 5. English was never my strong suit, but I still got a B.

Getting back to Wertsch's book, I will say that it's been a while since I read it, and the content and anecdotes are probably a little dated. There are a couple of dark and depressing chapters in the middle dealing with alcohol abuse and child abuse in military families. I don't have any data to support this, but I would like to think that the rate of alcohol abuse and child abuse have gone down over the years as our society has become more aware and less tolerant of such behavior. The other chapters dealing with education and social development I think are still applicable today as we military families continue to move from one coast to another every couple of years.

Tangent #1: How many times has ES moved now?
Born in Monterey, CA.
Move #1 to Groton, CT.
Move #2 to San Diego, CA.
Move #3 to Northern VA. Went to pre-school and kindergarten there.
Move #4 to Pearl Harbor, HI. Going to first grade here, now.

He's 6 years old and has moved 4 times.

He's 6 years old and he's living in his 5th "home."

Here's another anecdote in support of Wertsch's point about changing school systems: In spite of (a) the school he went to in VA was top-notch and (b) all the talk about how schools in Hawaii are no match for schools on the mainland, he's behind the power curve on certain things here because they teach them in a different order. They didn't work on penmanship or emphasize writing skills in kindergarten in VA, but they do at his school here in Hawaii. So his classmates who did kindergarten here last year all got that and he didn't. As a result, his writing skills aren't as good as his classmates, but his teacher says he is getting better. I've certainly noticed it getting better just in reviewing his homework.

Tangent #2: Or is this really Tangent #1 Part b?
Sometimes I really envy non-military friends of ours who are able to set down roots and stay in one place. It was a little frustrating to me in VA when we bought our second house, I found myself making many of the same upgrades to the house that I had already done once before in our previous house in San Diego. I found with a lot of things I did around our house in VA that I would have spent the extra money to get the longer-lasting or top-of-the-line solution if I knew I was going to live in that house forever. With another PCS move always lingering over the horizon, it just didn't make economic sense to me to shell-out the extra bucks for the 10-year rated water heater versus the 5-year rated water heater. [Aside: Our water heater has catastrophically failed and flooded the house in both of the past two houses we have owned. I think the next time we buy a house, we should just replace the water heater right away before it floods the house on us.] Likewise, if I were buying new countertops for me, then I would have bought an engineered stone like silestone, because as Wikipedia states, "engineered stone requires less maintenance and is more stain and bacterial resistant" than granite. But we knew we needed to sell our house, and "granite" is one of those magic words in real estate (see Freakonomics book) that grabs the attention of potential buyers.

I look forward to someday buying a house that we're going to KEEP and LIVE IN for a LONG time so I don't have to make the same upgrades again and I can splurge on the long-lasting solutions when things break.

Wrap-Up / Summary:
In any case, tangents aside and getting back to the main point of this post: I have frequently over the years referred friends to Wertsch's book as an interesting insight into how growing up in the military affects your kids. You should check it out. The entire book is available to read at the website linked to the picture above, but I know some people don't like reading books on their computer screen.


RM1(SS) (ret) said...

Professorial types tend to move around a bit, too. My father-in-law is an oceanographer; my wife was born in TX, and lived in MI, MA, MI (again), MA (again) and Ireland before finishing high school.

Sagey said...

On a side note, I think ES is ahead of his peers in reading. His teacher told me the other day that he is one of the few kids who can read a chapter book like Nate the Great. The old school system was great but because of the number of kids they need to educate they had to resort to half day kindergarten vs. the full day at ES's current school. Therefor emphasis was not put on handwriting. I feel really bad for him because he is already related to me so that would naturally put him behind the handwriting curve to begin with. :-)

One Crazy Adventure said...

Thanks for reminding me about that book. I need to order that soon.

TwinsAJ said...

I just found this blog. I think it is going to be very helpful to me. We are PCSing to VA this summer-another move. I am not feeling particularly postive about moving anymore. I haven't told our kids we are moving yet. Anyone here been in VA?

blunoz said...

Yes, we have been stationed in VA before and are most likely headed back there again in September. We're excited about it because we have many friends there. Have you been there before?