From Disability to Difference to Normal

When I was young, people in wheelchairs were who I thought of when I considered disabled. I think it was in the 70s that the Rehabilitation Act pushed forward the accessibility laws and cities had to give curbs an overhaul and make the sidewalks accessible from the road for people in wheelchairs.  With this minor change, the public found that not only was it a benefit for the wheelchair bound individuals, but it also helped countless other people to roll off the streets.  I had already learned to hop my bike up curbs, but I doubt I’d have gotten so good with a stroller.

This peripheral benefit to the population is the same thing I’ve been pushing for education at times. We already know that some people learn better through auditory methods or better if they have notes ahead of time, and we also have learned that giving students who don’t need them these “perks” doesn’t significantly improve their learning, so then why do we see schools requiring an IEP in order to receive this “special treatment?” Why not give every student the best possibility of success?

In the 90s I read about a rock climber who was disqualified from competing because his prosthetic gave him an “unfair advantage” and it really got me starting to think more about this idea of disabilities and what it really could be. I don’t think it was Hugh Herr who was disqualified, but it he has pushed the concept certainly.  I saw a TED talk with him a while back, and I think he also sees more than just physical prosthetics as possible.

I’m a fan of Sir Ken Robinson, so when I first saw Changing Education Paradigms I was thrilled. I feel we do have to change the way we educate our children.  Looking at our blog and reading about how so many kids are getting the benefit of homeschooling makes me feel even more strongly that schools need to change. We can try to say that schools are only missing the kids on the fringe, those who are gifted and those who are LD, but I think there is a lot more to it. Especially when we start getting into 2E and those who fall out side on both ends.

I can understand why random people on the streets don’t understand the concept of 2E, especially after watching a few Jay Leno clips of Jaywalking, but school administrators and teachers should really know better. …School officials should also understand that intelligence has nothing to do with learning disabilities as well, but I guess that’s not the case either.

Alright, so I’ve rambled on and on without putting a cute little bow on this post, so let’s go with this:

Our education system is failing to meet the needs of the 2E community. It’s failing miserably, and these are the kids who see the world differently and will see the world differently as adults as well, and who come up with creative solutions than nobody else could. Who better to encourage and educate?

We currently have the stigma that if you receive special treatment in school, you’re less of a student. I had an instructor in college who told me directly that he did not feel if I received extended time on my test, that I should even be in college because I didn’t “belong” in college, but he would give me the extended time because he was forced to by law.  In an earlier post I said we needed to understand the differences and distinct aptitudes, and build on strengths. Rather than just looking at how to work on the problem though, we really need to address the social aspects of being different. Why can’t we make school a safe haven for learning for ALL students by changing school?

Just as we became tolerant of wheelchair abled individuals and learned how more alike we all are, we made the world a better place. As we begin to understand the contributions each person can make by seeing the world differently and seeing numerous possible solutions we improve the world again. These differences need to be welcomed as close to “normal” as possible to include people who see the world in different ways, and until then we will segregate and ostersise kids who should be included. I’m 100% against hegemony of education and if it takes an education revolution to get things right, in the words of Thomas Jeferson, “I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

14 thoughts on “From Disability to Difference to Normal

  1. Public school can be a horrible experience for anyone with disabilities, 2E or otherwise. I remember sitting in a Sylvan tutoring waiting room, waiting for the latest installment of undo the ghastly things a pair of private schools had done to my daughter, and talking to a mom about her daughter. For the first two years in public school, her daughter had learned exactly, zero. Her daughter was finally diagnosed with a LD and Sylvan was trying to catch her up. The mom had to take a lawyer to school and threaten to sue them to get them to give her daughter an in classroom tutor an hour a day. Every so often, they would decide that they just weren’t going to do that. She would have to ask her daughter, “Did the special teacher come today.” If the answer was no, which it was sometimes, then phone calls to the teacher, then the principal, and then sometimes a face to face visit to remind them of the lawyer’s visit. This was her day to day life. The money wasn’t as tight then as it is now in CA. I can only imagine what ghastly things people experience now.

    1. Very true that budget cuts have made things even worse, but sometimes things need to get really REALLY bad before enough people realize the need for a revolution.

  2. Christine Fonseca

    I will tell you as someone who works in public school and works with kids who have unique needs, schools can also be a place where a lot of good things happen. I know that I am someone who really works to find solutions for all kids – whether they are eligible for services through Special Education, or not. I am a firm believers it doing what we can to meet the needs of all learners. And yes, sometimes schools fail. And we all have to work together to prevent that from happening again.

    1. I agree that there are some people who work in schools that are doing a great job and also understand what it means to be gifted. Unfortunately I don’t think that is the norm and I think it’s getting even rarer. If we had more people like you Christine, I think I would be far less frustrated with the schools, but if you worked in some of the schools I’ve seen, I think you may be even more frustrated than me.😉

      1. Christine Fonseca

        Oh I get it, trust me. I really do. Especially in my current position. But I stay in it because I know I can make a difference on a larger scale.

      2. Hey Christine, I also must say that sometimes it just takes ONE teacher to make the difference in a child. One teacher who is accepting, tolerant, inspirational, or simply caring that makes a student not drop out (mentally or physically). In 3rd grade I was literally dragged to school while screaming that now that I could read, I didn’t need to go to school anymore since I could learn what I needed to on my own. I needed somebody who could see the G/LD hiding inside. You being in the schools does make a large difference even if you had only helped a few, but I know you have helped a lot more.🙂

  3. Robin

    I have been recently impressed by what technology has done for my kid’s elementary school. Math and reading programs which let kids go at their own pace. It’s the old SRA box, but so much better.
    JiJi or ST math is an impressive program. Take a look.

    1. Hi Robin,
      I’m 100% against hegemony of education, so individualized options like using the Jiji/ST Math looks like it has great potential. I personally hated the SRA reading boxes in school. I didn’t hate the reading itself so much as I didn’t like everybody knowing everyone else’s color they were on. I recall several times purposefully grabbing colors that were way outside my area and seeing the reactions from my fellow students …but I was not very good at conforming.

      1. OMG, Tom, I am with you! I hate SRA too! At first I was fine with it, until sixth grade when I made the mistake of following the rules. I read the story before I attempted to answer the questions. The other students skipped that part, went straight to the questions and finished in the allotted time. I didn’t finish in time so I had to stay in a color group that I had already passed the year before. I tried explaining to my teacher but she would not listen. She made me stay in that color group. While I learned my lesson and breezed through the rest of the cards using the “cheating” method, it still put me behind where I should have been.

      2. Robin

        I can’t fathom answering questions on a passage I hadn’t read. But then, I did become an English teacher.
        I liked the boxes. I liked the reaction I got from the teacher. I didn’t like her because I was conscious that all the ALPs kids annoyed her by leaving once a week and messing up her lesson plans. I liked when her eyebrows went up when I got to the last box. I couldn’t or didn’t follow directions well in class, and always had to rewrite things because I had left out words, but I loved reading and comprehension questions.

    1. The concept of UDL is excellent, but I have not seen it used in schools yet. Teaching flexibly in multiple ways was pushed by Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory, but teachers found trying to do lesson plans in many ways was too much work to get through all the content expected. I think UDL may suffer the same fate, but I do like the concept.

      Response to Intervention (RTI) is similar in that the concept is sound. Allowing schools to change how they approach teaching/testing a student before diagnostic/psychological testing has been done makes sense. The rub is that some schools, despite specific warning, are using RTI to delay or even not have the child tested. Another issue with RTI is that the lessons learned are not often transferred from one school to the next and without a 504 and IEP, there are no legal legs to stand on as a parent when a school decides not to accomodate. RTI also does not discern between LD vs. other issues that may cause learning problems due to other factors. RTI also only steps in when a child is failing, not when they perform below expected levels. When a gifted child scores in the 30% percentile, they are still passing, but could also have a learning disability. I strongly feel RTI is destroying our Free and Appropriate Public Education for kids who have learning disabilities.

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