Friday, November 27, 2009

Unless You've Been There

Crissy looked like every other teenage girl in the school. She dressed in stylish clothes. She carried the "in" book bag of the day. She always arrived on time to class and she never had to be told to open her notebook and get to work. She handed in homework daily.

I don't know the label Crissy was given but Crissy was educationally disabled, severely disabled. She was so limited she could not ride a public bus because she could not count out the change needed for the ride ($1.00 at that time.) She didn't speak much around strangers, not because she was shy, but because she did not want them to know how limited she was. It was only when she started working with young students who were severely disabled both physically and mentally, did she start to appreciate her own place on earth. She also worked in an old age home and brought joy to the seniors living there. In spite of this, Crissy never got over the feeling that she had the word "retard" emblazoned on her forehead for everyone to read. I don't know what happened to Crissy after graduation. I am hoping she ended up working with a population that needed her.

Peter was in Crissy's class. He was a warm, outgoing young man. He exuded confidence. He played the trumpet and performed in every school concert. Peter too, was educationally disabled. Peter learned early on how to cover up his disability. He learned how to hesitate and change the subject when the topic was too much for him to handle. Anyone who met Peter in a non academic environment was impressed with this friendly young man. While in high school, he started working at a local fast food restaurant and quickly rose to manager. Unfortunately, when the computer had a problem, he could not make change and had to get someone else to take over for him. Peter eventually got his diploma, got a job at UPS sweeping floors. The guys loved him, taught him to drive a truck and he moved ahead. He is married to a registered nurse and doing well.

Okay, what I am trying to point out here is that kids in special education have special needs. They may look and act like other students but they learn differently and quite a few do not have the same capacity to master the same material. (Before anyone jumps on me, I am not saying all kids in ISS classes are like Crissy and Peter.) And, even if by some miracle they can learn it enough to pass a test, what good will it do them? They can't go on to college, they can't become teachers and lawyers and doctors. They need to learn the skills they will need to function as happy, productive adults.

Dumping kids like Crissy and Peter in mainstream classes would have been disastrous for them. Not only would they have not been educated, they would have been totally demoralized and turned off to school. I'm guessing that neither one of them would have made it to graduation.

After teaching kids like Crissy and Peter, I learned to be more tolerant of others around me. I don't get angry when the cashier in Dunkin Donuts counts my change wrong or when it takes the supermarket checker 5 minutes to figure out how to fix the amount I've been over rung by. Unless you've gotten to know Crissys and Peters, you don't understand the problems these people live with. Administrators and guidance counselors are making decisions about their educations without knowing anything about them and it is not right. Educational policies have to be set by people schooled and experienced in the subject.

1 comment:

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

"Dumping kids like Crissy and Peter in mainstream classes would have been disastrous for them."

We have a new special ed director, and I'm having a hard time figuring out how--or if--she thinks. Last week at an IEP meeting, she decided to acquiesce to the demands of a 15-year-old (who is in 7th grade!) to put him entirely in mainstream classes in...8th grade! The 8th-grade teachers are appalled--and rightly so. This kid is being set up for failure, failure, failure!

As one of the 8th-grade teachers said, "As soon as he turns 16, he's going to drop out and we'll never see him again."