Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An impossible question?

I was listening to NPR yesterday and heard an interview with a guy who just released a documentary about his son, Samuel, who has Cerebral Palsy. The documentary was centered on something called "Inclusion" which is the practice of sending a student with special needs or disabilities to a normal, public school. The idea behind the "Inclusion" movement is that every person deserves a chance to be educated with other people their age despite their physical limitations.

Samuel attended a public school in Philadelphia that was a sponsor and advocate of "Inclusion". As part of the documentary, the Dad interviewed a few of the teachers who had Samuel in their class. One of the teachers brought a few tears to my eyes. She talked very candidly about the extra stress of having Samuel in her class. And it wasn't just that she had to do extra work, she didn't mind that at all. What ended up happening by having Samuel in her class, was that she was forced to focus much of her energy on Samuel to ensure he got the education he required. By necessity, that forced her to shift her focus from all the other kids in the class and onto Samuel. She was heartbroken that she could no longer provide support to the early contender for valedictorian who needed help to earn the honorable position. She was saddened when she saw some of her calculus students inching towards failure because she spent her extra time with Samuel. She went home crying many nights because she could see her other students start to slip in their studies.

I was torn with how to react to the whole thing. On the one hand, by having Samuel in the class this teacher was forced to focus all of her extra attention and time onto one student. And by doing so she was actually excluding the other students from getting their fair share of education; the exact opposite effect of what "Inclusion" stood for. On the other hand, why didn't Samuel deserve the same chance at a good education that everyone else did. My own niece Esther-Faith has Spina Bifida. Does she not deserve to learn like other kids in a normal school just because she uses a walker to get around? We're gonna fight if you say otherwise.

So what's the answer? Is there an answer? If you try to be fair to someone with special needs and by default end up not being fair to kids without those disabilities, is that really fair? Or should the "normal" kids make a few sacrifices for the benefit of the person who is already making sacrifices by trying to live a "normal" life? We have to come to some kind of conclusion. But how are we going to do that when there as many answers to these questions as there are people in the world? I can see as many reasons for "Inclusion" being an ideal program as I can for an alternative approach. And the big question, who pays for all this extra effort? The parents, the taxpayers, who?

I don't know. I just don't know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my mind the obvious answer is the complete and total abolition of the public school system in this country. How's that for a third option?

9:37 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Sounds good to me.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Kimmy said...

If by that, you mean everyone is homeschooled, then I feel bad for the kids with screwed up parents who would not take the time to teach their kids. Public school may not be for everyone, but I think for some it has to be a blessing.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be the first to admit that while i'm a fan of homeschooling, i don't believe it's for everyone. What i would advocate, however, is privitization of the school system. Turn it into a business and you'll see quality vastly improve, and cost dramatically decrease.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Kimmy said...

Meaning that everyone has to pay to attend school?

1:42 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

I must say, Rob, I completely disagree. Privatizing the school system would mean more money goign to rich neighborhoods, and less to the poor ones, and the Gap between the classes would become even more extreme. The school system already sucks and favors white middle class, and privatization would only make it worse.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

A privatized school system is not a new idea to the United States. Many frontier towns in post-Civil War times had their own schools and teachers paid for by the parents of the children attending. Sure, some of the poorest citizens didn't have the resources to send their children, but that number was less than 5% according to records. IF cash wasn't available, people would pay with crops and animals and sometimes by boarding the teacher. Some would argue that's an outdated system, but it doesn't have to be. I'm tired of people crying foul when all they would have to do is get their hands a little dirty to earn their keep.

This has turned into an interesting conversation. Karin, where are you?

7:09 PM  
Blogger Lolly said...

You have some interesting articles here, Sam. Your comment above about people getting their hands a little dirty is true - in a sense. It's a complicated issue.

Check you later.

9:17 PM  
Blogger HennHouse said...

This is a very difficult and emotional topic for me to comment about. I don't just have one special-needs kid, I have three. To say that they make my life complete would be an understatement. We have excellent relationships with all of our kids teachers--and I think that our willingness to work WITH the teachers (and the doctors and the service coordinators and the principal and on and on) makes a big difference. My daughter is in a wheelchair and requires extensive one-on-one care while she is transitioning from chair to walker and when she is moving around. She also requires consistent and sterile catheterization every four hours. But she is also really bright and we are currently fighting to keep her in a "mainstream" school so that her pace of learning can continue. And even with all of her medical and therapeutic needs, I would wager a bet that my boys require MORE of their teachers time because of their behavioral and emotional needs. By no fault of their own, they are damaged. And because of some of what has happened to them, they have disabilities that are very difficult and oftentimes exhausting. But does that mean that they don't also deserve a chance at an education?

That teacher that Sam heard should NEVER have been the only instructor in the classroom. That she was is a failure by her school system--not by her or the students in her class--or the child who required more of her to learn.

Sam asked about fairness and I would challenge us to rethink what the definition of fair might be. Is is fair that my boys were locked in a closet for days at a time at a foster home? Is it fair that my daughter was born with a permanent disability through no fault of her own? Is it fair that children are born in this country every day and will not have even the basic necessities to survive let alone have "equal access" to education?

I think is may be easier for us to sit in our comfy chairs at our computers and laptops and debate this issue because we are not hungry, we have our vaccinations, and for some of us our biggest "problem" is what we're going to take next semester IN COLLEGE. There are more than 1400 children in Franklin county Ohio that will age out of the foster care system this year never having been told by a constant and consistent caregiver that they CAN be what they want to be.

So in the end, I guess it is the RIGHT and the RESPONSIBILITY of a parent to fight, push, argue, and demand the best for their kids. I do--EVERY DAY. You cannot tell me that my Isaiah will end up in prison because of his specific combination of disorders.

I simply will not accept it.

You cannot convince me that my Isaac may not graduate high school because he does not have the capacity to learn beyond a certain grade level due to the level and severity of neglect during his early months and years.

I simply will not accept it.

You cannot persuade me that my Esther-Faith will not be able to have any of the SAME JOBS as your able-bodied kids because she is in a wheelchair or requires orthotics to ambulate.

I simply will not accept it.

So if that means that I will fight every day to get equal access to education for my kids--I will do it. THAT SAID, I will also fight for ALL kids to have equal access to education. I will not allow my children to have services AT THE EXPENSE of other children's ability to learn. I would like to think that Samuel's dad felt the same way. But at the end of the day--it is MY kids that I will put to bed. It is MY kids that I will pray with. It is MY kids that I will wonder if I'm doing everything I can to ensure that they are getting the very best that I can give them.

I know it is a long, rambling answer that actually isn't an answer at all. Just my perspective as the mom of three very special special-needs kids.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thank you so much for your comment Karin. I often wonder how I have any right to question, or answer, life's difficult questions when they are something I'm directly affected by. But we all have to live in this world with everyone else. I have to, and very much want to, be a part of my neices and nephews. But I know that their teachers and doctors and therapists are going to see her much more than I ever will. And I want, and demand, that they treat her the best they can. And like Karin said, hopefully that's not at the expense of the other kids.

A tough situation to be sure.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Sweet Peripety said...

What a tough thing...Karin my hear goes out to you!

B/c my parents are in the school system..my dad teaches and my mom is an interpreter for the deaf, I have some opinions. Ella, also, is an inclusive preschool class..but preschool is different. There are helpers and special people that come to help those in need. Ella is not oneof the children with special needs, but she gets the attention she needs. B/c of the teacher/helper to student ratio.

I suppose do that for those classes that have those children, and you'd be a little close to having a problem solved. But that costs money. And where in the world would that money come from? Hopefully not the parents of the special needs child!

I feel for that teacher that felt like a failure for all of her students....it is afact you can't ignore. ONE TEACHER can't teach/fulfill obligations to each and every student. It's not fair. It's not right. We expect too much and there isn't a good solution anyways with the public school system. We're thinking of homeschooling...and will continue to do so...

5:46 AM  

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