Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Infantilization and School Supports

We as parents fight with our school districts to ensure that our children have every advantage that they possibly can throughout their entire educational experience. We talk, negotiate, threaten and eventually if necessary sue. We know what our children need and so do the schools, but sometimes they just don’t want to admit it. So what they do is deny that your child has a problem. They like to tell you that your child is lazy. That your child is not trying hard enough. That you are a bad parent. They lie to you about the law; do they not think you have access to lawyers or the internet? We all know people that have heard it all.

I heard another one the other day, in the state of Florida the legislature had passed a law revoking the concept of tenure for all new teachers and creating merit pays for teachers that are already employed. If a certain number of students didn’t receive a particular grade on state testing, then the teacher would be penalized by not receiving raises. OK. There was a letter to the editor from some teachers that said that if the law passes and the students didn’t do well they were going to sue the parents for their pecuniary loss. So here’s a new one, the teachers are blaming the parents for not educating their children. I actually had to read it several times to make sure I had read it correctly. You want to know why the state of education in this country is so crappy, well there’s your answer.

To be able to sue someone you have to have a cause of action. Someone tell me where there is a law requiring that parents sit and work on school work with their children? Someone tell me where there is the law that details how many hours a day you are to spend on homework with your children? Truth be told, the only laws having to do with you and your children’s education is that they must attend, and you must pay property tax to pay the bills. But other than that, it is the state’s responsibility to educate your child. It’s one reason why the schools have the authority of in loco parentis. By the way, you wouldn’t believe how many teachers thought that was a good idea. Like I said its why this nation’s SAT scores have been plummeting.

So we have now added another level of discord with the school system. It’s all the parents fault if the child doesn’t progress. It’s because you have not sat with them and taught them, given them therapy and helped them with their learning differences. It has nothing to do with the school. What’s next, if the child doesn’t reach a goal in the IEP and the district has to continue special education services, the district will sue the parents to recoup the services? The fact that your child doesn’t progress is not the fault of the person working with your child in the school system, or their incompetence. It’s now the parents fault. Example: last year highschoolboy’s case manager was supposed to teach him how to create a study outline. Well she showed him once and that was all she did. Once. She decided that that was all she had to do. She decided that he should know and that if he didn’t do it, it was his fault That he didn’t remember how, couldn’t organize and project what will be on the test or didn’t know how to even begin to study was just lost on her. Of course, the fact that these issues were written into his IEP may have given her an inkling that once with the study guide lesson may not have been enough, but nope it didn’t even dawn on her that any of these thing were connected together. She has no idea how to teach never mind how to teach a child with a learning disability. How she ever got tenure, I do not know. (By the way Govenore Crist of Florida vetoed the bill because it disadvantaged special education students.)

You would also think that when your child enters college that the persons involved with higher education may have a better handle on the reality of teaching and the differences of the individual. Not on your life. We hired many classroom coaches for collegeman and it was a necessary thing to do, Anyone who has read this blog for the past year knows full well I am fully aware of my child’s demeanor and how it has to be fixed. But the problem I am beginning to realize is that there is a downside to having the support with him. It is the infantilization of a young man who has a right to grow up. In fact I am having this discussion now with the disability director at collegeman’s school.

Listen, as I have said before as well, she is a champion of collegeman’s. She does understand him and wants him to succeed. So nothing she thinks he needs is done with the idea that he is not capable. She wants him to have the coaches in the classroom again. I can’t say that he wouldn’t need it especially to help in the transition into the new semester, but I think that the professors who knew him from before need to deal with him already. I don’t care that they think it’s about them. I don’t care that they come from another time and era and aren’t willing to change. I don’t care that they can’t take the time to learn about aspergers or autism or any disability for that matter. They think they have done their job as long as they grant the accommodations when asked. I think when you as a teacher have decided you have nothing more to learn, it’s time to quit teaching. When you as a teacher have decided that you don’t care about the new teaching methods or to learn how to deal with modern issues of the classroom, you need to quit teaching. I don’t care if you are 20 or 80 its time for you to go.

The truth of the matter is that part of the problem is that they see the coach and decide collegeman isn’t capable. That because he needs support in a classroom, more due to his anxiety than his aspergers I would actually have to say, even though he has had some aspergery moments recently, they decide he is incapable of the most mundane aspects of being a student, like group work. What makes them think this boy cannot work in a group or give a presentation? Is it hard for him? Yes, it is, but guess what, too bad. Is it easy for every student to work in a group? Considering when collegeman has worked in a group and the amount of times the group has lost points because of others inadequate work product, I wouldn’t want to work in a group either. The issue isn’t collegeman not being able to work in a group; the issue is whether the other student s can keep up with collegeman.

Presentations are hard for collegeman. Public speaking is not easy. But then again how many Oscar winning performers have stage fright? It doesn’t stop them from doing what they need to do. It doesn’t stop collegeman from giving his presentations when they are necessary as well. I have news for everyone, he does it well. He may be nervous before hand and review and review, but when it’s a subject he knows he does really well. Will he ever be able to be speak off the cuff and do extemporaneous repartee? I have no idea. But if it’s something collegeman will decide he needs to do then I know my son and he will learn how to do it. It may not come easy, but he will learn to do it.

My son has a right to grow up. He has a right to endeavor to become who he wants to become. He has the right to stretch his wings like any other young person in school. He has the right to take the classes he wants and he has the right to have the professors respect who he is. Additionally, part of developing into a full grown adult and being able to handle what life throws at you is learning to handle each step a little at a time along the way. I don’t’ know anyone who was born with such a glib tongue that they didn’t need to practice their oratory. The greatest actors take acting lessons and the greatest orators have coaches and practice sessions. Heck even the President of the United States uses a teleprompter, mostly because, I think, when he speaks off the cuff he tends to annoy somebody (don’t get all politically fuskity now).

The point is that no one has a right to decide who your child is based upon outward appearance or ignorance about a disability. They do not have the right to decide because they knew your child a year ago that that is who your child has remained. People have to recognize that because someone has an aide or support does not mean they are incapable of becoming a fully competent human being. In many ways these episodes give me a tremendous amount of respect for people who need wheelchairs or have a disability like cerebral palsy. How much disrespect they must endure on a daily basis because society can’t see past the outward appearance and try to see the person inside. Infantilization is not the bĂȘte noir of autistics alone. Society must catch up to the reality of what is and is not a disability. Society must be taught to see beyond itself and its narrow view of reality.

But at least we know one thing; teachers can’t sue parents when the children fail. That is still the educators’ job. You know that pesky thing they are paid for, to actually educate the children in their classroom abled and disabled alike.

Until next time,