Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You have a long way to go, baby.

There is an article today about a school in Tacoma that is apparently treating their special ed students like horse shit.

To sum up, a father recently found out (through other students) that his 17-year-old special needs son was routinely picking up garbage and performing other custodial duties throughout the school. The school did not obtain the parents' permission for the boy to do this sort of work, and it was never included in his IEP (for those of you not in the know, that's an "individual education program". It's mandated for all disabled students by law, and is generally developed in part by close communication with the caregivers). In addition to recycling and collecting garbage, the boy has been observed scraping moss from between the cracks of the sidewalks, scraping gum off of the lunch tables, and using his bare hands to pick up condoms and cigarette butts.

Now, I know that special ed students often have vocational training during their school day in order to help them adjust to society and to facilitate independent living. But this does not sound like it falls under that category. What is sounds like is that someone decided hey, those kids who can't speak for themselves would make AWESOME free labor. Get that kid a garbage bag.

This news item is disturbing in its own right, but I find that I am particularly sensitive to injustices such as this. See, my mom was a special ed kid. She developed epilepsy as a child. Her first seizure left her in a coma, after which it was apparent that she had developed learning disabilities. I can't specifically tell you what, if anything, she has been diagnosed with, because this was back in the 50s and 60s, and I'm not even sure if they had a name for it. My best guess is dyscalculia (think of it as dyslexia, but for math instead of reading), based on the fact that she was always in special ed classes for math (she was mainstreamed for most of her other classes), and that she seems to fit the criteria for it based on everything that I've seen. For instance, the difference between tens and tenths confuses her to no end. I don't believe that she has ever taken an algebra course, due to her inability to comprehend these concepts.

My mom is a person that tries very, very hard in everything that she does; however, her disability has left her unable to accomplish as much as she would like, and it often holds her back (she wanted to go to school part-time to be a phlebotomist, but when she looked into colleges and realized that she would have to take math courses, she stopped pursuing that goal).

But here's the thing. My mom has been held back by HER OWN TEACHERS so much more than her actual disability. She had to endure special education in the 60s at Baltimore public schools. Allow me to now share with you a couple charming tales from her school days:

-When the elementary class was graduating from fifth to sixth grades, the school had a cake and ice cream party for them in the cafeteria. The special ed students were not invited. When the special ed students complained, they were allowed in the cafeteria alone the next day to eat the leftovers from the day before.

My mother and her mother went in for a conference with the guidance counselor. In front of my mother, the guidance counselor proceeded to tell my grandmother that my mom would never amount to more than a cashier or a waitress, if she was lucky, and should stick to those things.

There are more horror stories, but you get the picture. Inept and insensitive school staff basically made my mother feel worthless and incapable of anything. She's pretty dependent on us for a lot of things that she is capable of handling herself. And it's because they basically took any self-esteem that she had and shredded it into a hundred pieces. And then they took those shreds and burned them into ash, and then took the ash and put it in a concrete block and heaved the block to the bottom of the sea.

So you can see the problems that are caused when school personnel fail to take the education of the disabled seriously. They squander potential and deprive their students of fulfilling lives. They do a lot of damage that goes on to do more damage (for instance, my own mathematical knowledge is lacking, which I feel is partially due to the fact that I was unable to get much support for it at home).

After hearing my mother's school horror stories, I always took comfort in the fact that disabled rights and education have evolved and are much more sensitive and sophisticated today. That if I had a child with epilepsy, she would receive all of the positive support and encouragement that she needs to succeed. That no one would ever tell her that there is something she "can't" do, when she may very well be capable of it.

But I guess that's not really the case, is it?

1 comment:

White Trash Academic said...

I feel you on this one. My grandmother pulled my Mom out of school in 8th grade because of incessant bullying..she was in special ed classes too.

There is a place in hell for people who use the special ed students as janitors..

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