Monday, June 28, 2010

The Chicken and the Egg

School is officially out for summer now, and there are lots of parents out there welcoming the break from packing morning lunches and doing homework.  But I'm willing to bet there's also quite a large group of people who will be spending their summer with their stomachs in a great big knot, because their little ones will be walking through those big heavy doors in September...and that's not very far away anymore.  And they're terrified about how it's all going to work out.  I know, because that great big knot used to be in my stomach.

It really makes me wonder sometimes about the very nature and practise of schools, as they are.  I know that many, many people will disagree with some of my ideas here...but, they are my ideas, so feel free to disagree.  It's just that sometimes I feel like the whole school set up is a disaster waiting to happen for a growing number of kids.  It is designed for the child who can sit quietly, attend easily, follow directions, take part in large groups, handle the many transitions and routines of a school day, not to mention the noises/sounds of a school environment.  Let's face it, this set up is perfect for the majority of kids....but for kids with differences, it is just a disaster waiting to happen.

So, what do we do?  Well, let's take a quick look at what we're doing.  We're educating teachers about exceptionalities, and they are working really, really hard.  We're having alternate learning environments, and filling the school with "accomodations".  But, aren't we having to accomodate an awful lot?  Doesn't that indicate that the "typical" classroom setting, mode of teaching is perhaps not enough?  How many accomodations and exceptions do you have to make before you realize that perhaps the prototype just isn't working.

Imagine if you were selling cars.  For one driver, you had to shift the position of the steering wheel and the pedals.  For another the seats were too far back.  For another, the windshield needed a different tint.  For another you had to change the way the cylinders fired in the engine.  For your next customer, the radio was all wrong.  The next customer simply couldn't function with the interior carpeting....  How long would you go on selling cars before you came to realize that you just needed to shift models altogether????  Can it possibly be that all those drivers are the ones with the problems???  Just a thought.

This isn't an attack on teachers, special educators, administrators or student assistants.  I think that people want to do the best that they can.  But let's face it, it's hard to make every child successful in an environment that just is tooooooo much, plain and simple.  That doesn't mean we don't try...but it may be time to make a paradigm shift.  Instead of trying to make all these kids function in about making schools function for kids????  Smaller class sizes, less sensory-overload, etc, etc.  The answers I do not know.  But I do feel that the kinds of mass instruction and cooperation just isn't possible for everyone. 

And what about our use of early intervention?  How much of it is spent preparing kids to survive a classroom and school, instead of working on key skills.  How much of all our work with children with special needs is spent trying to find ways to make them fit into unnatural situations.  I'm not saying they shouldn't be's just that maybe it's not always the kids who need the fixing.  I truly believe that all kids should get from school what THEY need most, and that all kids deserve an education that works for them.  Not what's easiest to accomodate and to afford.

It's a classic chicken and egg...what came first: the behaivours needed for school success, or the school set up?


  1. This is a great post, Natalie. I recently had the opportunity to hear Jonathan Mooney speak ("The Short Bus") and he mentioned many of these same points. Much food for thought. Thank you!

  2. I really enjoyed this post! Very thought provoking. I posted a rant about some of my family's lack of understanding about autism.

  3. "School" is such a catch 22. You need a system to deliver school because of the volume of kids, but the nature of systems is that they won't accommodate differences, they are slow to evolve, they miss nuances.

    My take on school is that it comes down to money. 20 years ago it would have been more an issue of philosophy - the ingredient needed to even recognize the need for accommodations and diversity in the classroom. But as you explained, we're there now. We've got a pretty good handle on what a broad range of kids need to be successful. We just don't have the RESOURCES to accommodate them all.

    That comes down to money, and money for education comes from taxes. One of my biggest pet peeves - and really it's too massive to be called a peeve - is how north americans have been indoctrinated to fear and loathe taxation.

    Taxation is what got us this comfy society in the first place. Spreading the wealth, acknowledging that if something benefits others it will eventually come back full circle to benefit you. School taxes are always a huge political firecracker because so many people don't have kids or no longer have kids in school, and many of them feel they should not be paying any, or should paying less, school taxes. How absurd! Whether you have kids or not, you benefit directly from a society with educated, happy, well adjusted children!

    North Americans need to start INVESTING in the education of ALL children. Because while it may mean an extra couple hundred dollars at tax time, it's just the right thing to do.

  4. Caitlin, you do know I'm North American right? lol... I would have agree with you on the short sighted stingy people that surround me. By all means, support our police force so that you can be protected from criminals-but don't give a dime to education so that our schools can turn out educated employable individuals that will aspire to do great things. Lack of money is a big issue for our schools.

    Another issue that I ran into, and Natalie touched on, is trying to make our kids fit... A common IEP goal for my son as well as others in his Special Education classroom was to remain seated. They wanted our kids to sit in their seats when they actually could focus better standing. The year prior, main stream classroom, my son was allowed to stand and do his work. His school OT praised him for knowing what his body needed, some input to his feet. His teacher could care less as long as he did his work and wasn't a distraction to the other kids. He moved to a special ed class and was not allowed to. They would rather he sit and learn 'less' than stand and do his 'best'. A simple accommodation not allowed because all kids sit to learn and he should to, it looks better (the school PhD actually said that to me). This is not an accommodation that required money, but rather an open mind and flexibility. That year was all about shaping the children into the traditional mold. A mold that my son will never fit.