Opening Minds for More than One Day

05/01/2011
There are days and there are days.

There are days I like: Thanksgiving; Labor Day; the first day of spring.

This is a day I’d rather not see again; Bloging Against Disablism Day, the sixth in what I fear will be a rather long run.

For the uninitiated, disablism is how most of the world treats people who have disabilities, like parking in a space reserved for handicapped people “just for a minute” while you run into the store. If that isn’t clear, a detailed description is available.

I’ve come across an example of disablism in my school.

Using underarm crutches.

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday there were two students in our library all day. They weren’t there to do research; they were there because they have injuries that require them to use crutches. Apparently our school does not allow students using crutches to go above the ground floor, but all our classrooms are on

the two higher floors. We have an elevator but students can’t use it.

While all of their classmates are getting instruction, they sit in the library. The teachers are supposed to send down work for them to do but they usually don’t. Even if they do, it is a textbook and a worksheet, not exactly inspired teaching.

While all their classmates are chatting, socializing and learning together, these two boys (last year it was girls) sit and talk to each other. Sometimes they get so desperate for conversation they talk to me!

These boys don’t really think of themselves as disabled but they are, at least for the next six to eight weeks. That is not the problem.

The problem, what makes this an example of disablism, is that despite kids repeatedly breaking ankles, legs and other things necessitating crutches, my school has not come up with a better plan for dealing with these mobility issues and the students who have them.

It is truly an issue of “out of sight, out of mind.”

People who have disabilities don’t hide like they used to, don’t make it as easy to keep them out of mind as it once was. They’re on the streets, in the stores and at work more and more all the time. That visibility is helping to create mindfullness.

I hope this blog post contributes to this growing awareness. With any luck I won’t have to write a post like this next year.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Oops, there I go again…

08/25/2010
White Tiger Mouth wide open!
Image by kabils via Flickr

I need to learn to keep my mouth shut more often.

This is doubly so when my ‘mouth’ is my fingers typing here, on Facebook or, most important, on Twitter where  I am known as Spedteacher.

Here’s what happens when I don’t.

I hate when that happens. But it is completely my fault when it does.

So now I’ll be easy to find on most Tuesday evenings starting at 8:30PM NYC time.

#spedchat is for teachers (and not just special ed teachers, either), parents, administrators, students and everyone else with any connection or interest in special education issues.

Topics proposed for the first chat on August 31st are:

  • How can parent-teacher relations be improved?
  • What do grades mean in special education?
  • Is inclusion working for general and special education students?
  • How do we get general education teachers to understand? (the current leader in the voting)
  • How have school budget cuts affected special education?

You can participate in the decision about what the topic will be by voting here.

To participate in the chat just log onto Twitter ( if you don’t have an account you can get one free, here ), then search for the hashtag #spedchat.

For a better explanation of all of this please visit my co-conspirator and #spedchat moderator Damian Bariexca’s excellent blog.

I hope to see you Tuesday.

I’ll probably get myself into even more trouble.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Academics or Life Skills? Yes! No! Maybe!

05/07/2010
Floor balance scales, foot lever and two dishe...
Image by Lichfield District Council via Flickr

Essential Questions are fun because there is no one right or wrong answer.

There are many answers, each with the ultimate potential to be right or wrong, or even change from right to wrong or back at any given time.

Our Essential Question today is: Academics or Life Skills? Should special education teachers emphasize one over the other, or is there a happy medium?

My answer: Yes.

My other answer: No.

My third answer: It depends.

I’m not trying to be difficult (there are those who will say I accomplish being difficult without any effort at all) but this is one of those questions of which the answer one gives depends entirely on one’s conception of the purpose of education.

My conception of the purpose of education is that it is essential that children be prepared to lead adult lives.

Vague?

You bet!

This is the problem with statements that need to apply to everyone.

Even if we narrow the statement to apply only to special education students;

It is essential that children be prepared to lead adult lives to the best of their individual abilities.

Not much clearer, is it?

The problem is that in stating the purpose of education, we are trying to answer an essential question.

Every student, whether or not in special education, needs an individually crafted answer to questions of whether academics or life skills should be stressed and to what extent one should be stressed more than the other.

It gets more basic than that: For each individual student the definition of what is appropriate to teach changes as each student develops.

When it comes to education, there are no easy answers.

It is time we stopped looking for them.

___________________

This is the third and final posting of a string of blogs for the Classroom Insiders series at We Are Teachers. I appreciate the opportunity I’ve had to reach their audience.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sticks and Stones… Yeah, Right

03/22/2010

It happened again.

I’m sure the person responsible for it didn’t mean to do it.

Why, I’m sure she didn’t even give it a second thought.

That is the crux of the problem.

We don’t give the words we use a second thought, at least not when we say them out loud.

When we write we choose our words carefully, aiming to get just the perfect nuance, the right shade of meaning.

When we write we recognize the power of words, how choosing one instead of another shifts meaning in subtle or overt ways. We use dictionaries and thesauri in tandem to aid us in our search for precision in language.

I do, and I am confident many other writers, cognizant of the complexity of our mutt-like English language, do as well.

While Professor Henry Higgins bemoans that “One common language I’m afraid we’ll never get,” the rest of us are free to revel in the diversity of words that Dutch, French, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Saxon, German, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Italian (itself a motley collection of distinct dialects), and more have contributed to what we commonly call English.

It is that very diversity that allows linguistic precision, and it is that capability for precision that makes it so very distressing when people who should know better use words carelessly.

It is one thing to use an imprecise word when speaking, but quite a different thing when one is writing and, perhaps, has the time to choose words more carefully then read and revise by picking a different word or phrase to better convey intended meaning.

Still, despite the opportunity to do better, I’m sure the person responsible for it didn’t mean to do it.

Perhaps I should say persons because the offending term appeared in a magazine article and this magazine has an editor who might have caught the offending term and suggested an alternative.

That this did not occur leaves me to presume dereliction of duty or, worse, intent.

I will not embarrass the writer, editor or magazine by identifying them, partially because that is not how I operate, but also because the offensive phrase is so commonly used.

Here’s what I’m going on about; just a few simple words:

“Regular education,” or in this specific instance, “regular classroom environment.”

I am known in many corners of the online world as Spedteacher. It’s a handle that takes SpEd, a common abbreviation of ‘special education’ and adds it to my job title.

Perhaps I should call myself ‘Irreguteacher ‘ instead.

The opposite of ‘regular education’ is irregular education. A classroom environment other than a regular one is an irregular one.

All people are different. We all come with a broad selection of abilities and things we’re not so good at doing. How can it be that only a very small group of that overwhelming selection of abilities is labeled ‘regular’ and the rest are implied to be irregular?

In the text for one of the many inclusion-themed t-shirts available from his Nth Degree Catalog (The Home of Wheelchair Boy Jeans) Dan Wilkins explains the problem with the phrase ‘regular education’ much better than I can:

“One of the problems I have with the Special” and “Regular” education dichotomy is that its very existence forces us to label every kid just so we know which box to put him/her in. It gets worse. Then we take all the kids in one of the boxes and we put each of them in their own box and slap another label on it…. perhaps two…or ten. After a while we forget about the kid in each box and just see the box (and all its labels). It gets worse. Inside the box, the kid, misjudges the edge of the box for the horizon and comes to believe ‘that’s all there is…’ In the eyes of everyone, including the child, the kid and the box become one. So much for dreams…the chase is over before it begins.”

There it is.

In general, it is better to call the classrooms most students are in “general education.”

Calling them anything else should be irregular.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

When You Have Lemons…

10/13/2009

lemonadestandawardThis blog never fails to surprise me.

I started writing this blog because of Twitter. On Twitter I found dozens, now hundreds, of people who seemed interested in what I was contributing to the discussion.

But saying all I want to say in just 140 characters requires a better writer than I

Here, I have all the space I need so I just start typing.

I am frequently surprised by what I write.

Sometimes I start typing intending to write about one subject and say one thing and I end up writing something completely different.

When that happens I usually learn something about myself, my teaching or my students. Those insights are addictive. That’s why I keep writing.

Some of the responses to this blog surprise me.

Most have been very gratifying.

My father now tells me he likes my writing. So do a few other people.

My last post got a particularly surprising response.

Hi,

Thank you for your blog. It’s good to see that people are still passionate about teaching. I’m glad I found you through Twitter.

Your blog has touched me for many reasons, mostly because I have a son with special needs, and his teachers are my heroes. To that end, I left you a present on my blog – I’ve nominated you for the Lemonade Stand Award. To accept, you must comply with the following conditions:
– Put the Lemonade logo on your blog or within your post. You can lift it off my blog (http://jonsmomblog.com).
– Nominate at least 10 blogs with great attitude or gratitude.
– Link the nominees within your post.
– Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
– Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.

Please accept the award. I can’t wait to see and follow the people you give it to.

Here goes. The blogs I’m going to list are mostly aimed at teachers. Some of them have to do with teaching children with special needs but many just help me reflect on my teaching and the context in which I do it.

http://teachingeverystudent.blogspot.com is a blog for special education teachers that introduces us to tools, techniques and ideas that help us help all kids.

http://learningismessy.com/blog/ Teachers aren’t miracle workers, we just do the best we can. This blog tells how one dedicated teacher does it and provides ideas, inspiration and information to the rest of us.

http://mizmercer.edublogs.org/ Alice gets it. She understands that students have needs that go beyond books and academics. She works hard to meet those needs as best as she can.

http://budtheteacher.com/blog/ Bud is a smart man who has a different perspective and comes to different conclusions. I don’t always agree with him, but he makes me think.

http://www.empowerpeoplechangelives.com/ In her own words: I am a disability advocate. As a young woman affected by a disability and a special education major, it is my hope that parents, students, teachers, and other professionals who assist students with challenges will find my work informational and educational.

http://lisaslingo.blogspot.com/ Lisa is the general ed teacher in an inclusion class who does amazing things with her students

http://christinesouthard.blogspot.com/ A look at the same classroom from the special ed teachers point-of-view.’

http://www.vickiforman.com/ Writer, mom, advocate for people with disabilities. Put them in any order you like and you come out with a literate, readable, sensitive blog.

http://www.specialeducationteacher.me/ Is written by a special ed teacher in Atlanta who loves her kids but not always the logistics of teaching them.

http://katjewave.blogspot.com/ A passionate advocate for public education, this blogger always titles her blogs with song lyrics.

I wonder if these bloggers also sometimes are surprised by what they write.

This time I wasn’t.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Disabled? Who? Me?

07/26/2009
450 mm by 450 mm (18 in by 18 in) Handicapped ...
Image via Wikipedia

People are always asking me silly questions. Well, they’re silly to me and I doubt the questions, or any answers I might give, have any real import to the inquisitor. Perhaps they are just trying to make idle conversation. I don’t know. I’ve never been good at that sort of thing.

I’m talking about questions like,

“What is your favorite song?”

“What’s your favorite fruit?”

“What single malt whisky do you like best.”

I answer questions like that by saying it is a matter of context. When selecting a whisky to sip during an evening of conversation with friends (defined as people who have never asked me anything like one of the questions above) I sometimes enjoy the peppery flavor of Talisker, but on a damp foggy night in late autumn when I am sitting in my chair reading and listening to the muffled sounds outside, the iodine-laced Laphroaig appeals to me. Or when looking for a light refreshment….

By this time I’m looking at a slack-jawed head nodding slowly up and down with “uh huh” emanating from it. You’d think that would slow me down, but I’m just getting going.

At some point I’ll really hit my stride and say something like, “you see, context determines everything, even what we call disabilities.”

A long time ago I was involved in the disability rights movement on Cape Cod. This was long before the American with Disabilities Act. I belonged to an organization whose main activities involved teaching what I then considered to be “normal” people (I know, but I was young and foolish and this story is about how I learned better) about disabilities. We’d set up obstacle courses at malls with steps, doors too narrow, with handles too high or opening the wrong way), and other situations people see every day. We would give people the chance to maneuver through these obstacles in a wheelchair, using crutches, or wearing a blindfold and using a cane. Then we’d give them our spiel about architectural barriers.

One evening following one of our mall appearances all of us went out for drinks. The group included a married couple who both used wheelchairs because of polio, a woman with muscular dystrophy who would go on to be named Miss Disabled America, and a young woman, named Brenda, who had a spastic form of cerebral palsy and who may be the funniest person I’ve known other than my wife.

It was summer and we were on a deck over Hyannis Harbor chatting about how people react to people who have visible disabilities. One person said that people would speak very loudly to him.

“I tell them my legs don’t work but my ears do.”

Then Brenda spoke.

“You know what I hate. I hate those well-meaning people who look at me and ask what happened to make me the way I am, like there’s something wrong with me.

“Well, I fixed a couple of them the other day. I was standing by myself in the mall waiting for my ride to the eye doctor. These two little blue-haired old biddies kept eying me. Finally they came up to me and said, ‘Oh, you poor dear. Are you all right? What happened to you?’

“I got really pissed off. I looked them in the eye (at this point we all start laughing because Brenda cannot hold her head still at all). Well, I looked them in the eye as best as I could, smiled sweetly and said,

‘Ladies, what you see here is the result of ten years of hard sex!’

“I thought they were going to faint.”

Later on that evening I asked Brenda what she meant when she said, “…like there’s something wrong with me.” The answer I got was one of those simple statements that change your life.

“What I am, HOW I am, is normal. It is normal to me. It’s the only frame of reference I have. I’m normal to me, it’s the world that’s different.”

‘Tis.


Word of the Day: Disablism

05/01/2009

Today is Blog Against Disablism Day. A couple of hundred bloggers around the country and world are devoting their post today to the subject of disablism. Some will be angry, some will be funny and some will be proud. Many will tell of personal experiences of being victimized by disablism.

What is disablism?

Disablism is not hiring Stephen Hawking as an astrophysics professor because his voice is artificial.

Disablism is not voting for Max Cleland not because you disagree with his positions on issues, but because he has no legs.

Disablism is not seeing Stevie Wonder perform because he can’t see you.

Disablism is paying more attention to what a person can’t do than to what he or she is capable of.

I learned at a very early age that everyone has a mixture of abilities and disabilities and that what someone can do is more important than what they can’t. My best childhood friend taught me. His name was Alan Kamen and I knew him in fourth and fifth grade.

Alan was so good at so many things that I was jealous of his abilities. He played piano and the accordion, hit the ball hard when we played softball and spoke two languages. He was also blind.

Being an ignorant kid and too young to drive, I had no idea that blindness was a disability. Alan went to the same school as me and all the other kids in the neighborhood; he was in my class. He read the same books we read; they were big, heavy and in braille, but otherwise the same. When we wrote with pencils he wrote on his heavy braille typewriter. Alan played softball with us almost every day. We used a ball with bells in it and when he ran the bases we stood on the base and yelled so he could find it. Those were the only concessions we made to his being blind.

Alan taught me that there is usually more than one way to do things, that adaptation is a necessary life skill, and that everyone has abilities that are very easy to miss if you pay attention to what they can’t do.

No one is asking you to do anything special, just let ability trump disability.
The world being the way it is, we can’t afford to toss anyone’s abilities away.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

Bookmark and Share