Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mental Illness Is Neither Black Nor White

We have been told that we are our brother's keeper.  When we lose a member of our community, we feel a sense of failure.  Or, as Ira Socol puts it, "And so we might give up, the impossibility of the task before us. We might descend into depression ourselves, overwhelmed by the hurt."

Perhaps an oldish white man whose last name was  Black being killed by a young black man whose last name was White is meant to be only a perverse cosmic pun.  The fact is that both men ended up in the same homeless shelter because they both suffered from some form of mental illness.  Because of the lack of mental health facilities in this country, this was a murder waiting to happen.  As was reported, the young man had been going around the shelter threatening to kill somebody.  Why weren't these threats taken seriously?  Or were they shrugged off as so much drama?  “We lost two,” Mr. Ricks said. “We lost a young man who needed help and an old man who didn’t need to die.”  The problem is that both men needed help with very little possibility of ever receiving it.

 As Deven's son Jonas said on his Facebook page:

Although (my father) had struggled with mental illness for many years, he was unable to get the treatment he needed, and he fell through the cracks of a severely broken system. It is hard not to hate the man who took my father away from me, but ultimately I see my father’s killer as another victim. Had there been adequate mental health infrastructure in place, this tragedy would not have happened.

Perhaps it wasn't just a lack of facilities that prevented both men from getting the help they needed.  Perhaps in Deven Black's case it was also the stigma or shame of mental illness that stopped him in his tracks.  Ira and others in his community who reached out to him should not be so hard on themselves.

The hard lesson that I have learned over the last few years is that you cannot save anyone.  C., a young man we know, is an Iraqi War vet.  Given the shaky childhood he had as well as his war related PTSD, he will not take himself to the VA for treatment.  Whether it's some form of addiction or mental illness, the fact is he suffers from some altered sense of reality.

Much like you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink, you can lead an individual  to the VA or to a mental health facility but you cannot make them accept treatment.  Under such circumstances all you can do is wait and watch and hope that the individual will decide they have hit bottom. Hopefully neither too hard of a bottom nor too soft and sandy of a bottom which would only cause them to sink even deeper.

In her open letter to the president about mental health, Rachel Griffin vividly describes that sinking feeling as she waited on hold to find out about insurance coverage. She continues on to talk about the overall dismissiveness of some of the psychiatrists she sees before finally finding the right one who helps her discover a path to recovery.  Rachel states, "I haven't had any relapses since receiving this excellent care (7 years strong). I am a thriving, happy, valuable member of my community."

Clearly she has enough inner strength that allowed her to continue to stumble over obstacles that many either cannot or will not.  Rachel can advocate not only for herself but for others.  She adds:

People are too ashamed to get care because of stigma. They wait far too long and then when they finally try and it's complicated and hard to access. They finally get it and it's low quality. It's rushed. This all needs to change.

Perhaps Deven Black would still be alive if he had not felt ashamed, or, despite the fact that people reached out, not scared and alone.  Or, worse, perhaps feeling as if he would be a burden. That is what a very dear friend of ours keeps telling me. I have been trying to convince him that not only would he not be a burden, (a challenge, yes, but a burden, no) but ultimately a tremendous asset to our community.

Whether it's PTSD or childhood abuse or some other trauma, we need a way for people who are suffering from mental illness to feel that they are whole.  We need to find ways to prevent tragedies from happening, be it suicide or murder or simply disappearing into the ether.  

We need to do more than just convince politicians to stop closing mental health facilities in order to balance a budget.  Even if more resources are not available, we need to give those suffering from mental illness a way to feel safe. We need to let them know that no one will blame them for being mentally ill.  Although the message of all means all as expressed by Ira Socol is a powerful one, we need to realize that there simply will be people we will lose along the way.  It will never be our choice.  It will be their choice.  

Rachel Griffin invites us to join her on Twitter using the hashtag #iamnotashamed to which I'd like to add, #youarenotalone  And, of course, #itwillgetbetter.  

I don't want either Deven Black or Anthony White to be merely symbols of mental illness.  I want both of them to be remembered as men who struggled and who didn't receive much needed help. 

We need to see to it that everyone knows they are cherished gifts. We, as a society, need to stop both categorizing and dismissing people who we find to be inconvenient.  We need to find ways to form welcoming communities.  We all need safe havens.  We need to recognize that improving access to mental health is not merely a problem for those who are mentally ill.  We are all Black, and we are all White. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Kaddish for Deven Black

I am grieving for my friend, Deven Black.  I met Deven on Twitter back in 2009.  At that time he was a Special Ed teacher.  He came to teaching later in life than most.  We would often kibitz late at night about things that mattered to us.  We talked about our families.  We talked about how things were for us growing up.  Like me, Deven was of Slavic Jewish descent.  Like me, he cared about social justice.  We both wrote about Special Education. We both wanted to turn our small corner of the world into a better place.

A few years ago his principal urged him to train to become a school librarian and modernize the library they had at the school where he taught.  Even though he was no longer a Special Ed teacher, that still mattered to him.  He wanted those kids at that Bronx school to have a chance.

When I wrote about wanting to start a movement towards education equality, Deven told me to sign him up.  Well, I never got that off the ground, but I think he liked my idea of somehow building the educational equivalent of the underground railroad.  I wanted to create an organization and call it something like, "Follow the Drinking Gourd."  Or, at the very least, incorporate that theme into the quest for education equality.

I often felt out of my depth in discussing education.  Although I have a Master's in English and spent several years as a part-time instructor at several community colleges, I never thought of myself as an educator.  I had never taken education courses, and so I never felt qualified to speak about educational practice.  What qualified me to talk about Special Education was the fact that I have two daughters who are in Special Education classes.  I have roughly seventeen years of advocacy under my belt.  While other teachers would tell me to go play on the freeway, Deven took me seriously.  He was one of the few educators on Twitter and in "meatspace" who respected my experience, and, to him, my lack of knowledge in educational theory was irrelevant.  To him I was an equal.  

When I flew to Philadelphia to attend EduCon in late January 2011, Deven took me under his wing.  As soon as my plane landed, Deven was calling me on my cellphone.  He waited for me at the hotel we were staying at, and then whisked me off to a nearby restaurant and bar where teachers were gathering informally to grab a meal and schmooze.  Deven introduced me to people.  He saw to it that I felt at ease.  

Deven accompanied me on a tour of HMS School, a residential school for disabled children, graciously arranged for us by Dr. David Timony, another Twitter friend.  When David dropped us off at SLA, where EduCon is held every year, I didn't see that much of Deven after that.  

Deven and I continued to tweet at each other, but it seemed as if he was around less frequently.   When I was dealing with my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment in 2014, I don't think it occurred to me that I hadn't seen him in quite some time.  When I emailed him in 2015, he never responded.  I assumed it was because he was busy.  I am now thinking it's possible that he never saw my email, or, if he did, that he was too depressed to care.  

According to this New York Times article, Deven Black went from being a man who, in 2013, was honored by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences for his exceptional work as a school librarian" to being reduced to being  a substitute teacher in 2014.  And then in 2015 he ended up suspended without pay because of being arrested for grand larceny.  I imagine this is what ultimately caused him to end up homeless and a murder victim.  

The article describes in detail how a mentally ill young man savagely murdered Deven Black.  And concludes with a quote from this resident, Mr. Ricks, "“We lost two,” Mr. Ricks said. “We lost a young man who needed help and an old man who didn’t need to die.”

And that is at the crux of the matter.  The young man, who, ironically, is Mr. White, has a history of mental illness, and needed help.  And, Mr. Deven Black, who lost his life, also had something go wrong.  Both men were failed by society and "the system."  It is inconceivable to me that a man, honored one year was demoted to being a substitute teacher the next.  That is not how we should treat our educational heroes.  If Deven was guilty of the charges against him, I can only imagine that he may have been driven to that through desperation.  And, if guilty, Deven should have been given a way to redeem himself.  We all deserve an opportunity for redemption. 

I do not choose to remember Deven Black as a man who perhaps engaged in some questionable behavior towards the end of his life.  Instead I choose to remember Deven Black for his dedication to his students. I choose to remember a gentle man who nurtured others. I will leave you with this interview which gives a better lasting impression of who Deven Black was and what he cared about the most.  His comment, "I like that I had to learn so much to be able to do this job—learning is really what I like to do most of all," is what made him a valuable member of my Twitter circle. 

Thank you, Deven.  May you be at peace. 

We've Tried Nothing, And We're Fresh Out of Ideas!

Note:  Reposted from my defunct education blog.  Originally posted late January 2011.

In the eighth episode of the eighth season of The Simpsons, "Hurricane Neddy," which first aired on Sunday, December 29, 1996, Ned Flanders becomes filled with rage when well meaning but incompetent neighbors rebuild his house, which is the only one destroyed after a hurricane makes landfall in Springfield. He drives himself back to the sanitarium, where, years earlier, as an unruly little boy, he received spank therapy. His exasperated beatnik parents exclaim to the psychiatrist, "We've tried nothing, and we're fresh out of ideas!" Kid O was eight months at the time. Little did I know how well that line would come to symbolize her education.

Kid O has been a Special Ed student of the Chicago Public Schools since spring 1999. I figure out of eleven and a half years that Kid O has only had five good teachers. Even the better Special Ed teachers have needed way more persistence on my part than I have had psychic energy for. Furthermore, for years, I have been at a distinct disadvantage. I have had neither the language nor the skills to effectively advocate for Kid O.

"They don't listen to you, do they," Dr. David Timony asked me as he navigated Philadelphia traffic on the way to dropping Deven Black and I off at Science Leadership Academy for EduCon 2.3 I answered "No, they don't," but also thinking, do I really need to answer that question?

David graciously had arranged for Deven and I to tour HMS School where his sister used to teach and still volunteers. As I suspected even before we set foot into the building, these teachers and volunteers treat these children and young adults as if they are truly individuals. I asked the women who finished up our tour, as David's sister had to leave, about what the assistive technology options they had. And, as I suspected, was far and away better than what Kid O receives at her school.

While I was happy to see children given one on one attention in terms of therapy and education, I was acutely aware of what a sharp contrast it was to what Kid O receives through the Chicago Public Schools. And will probably continue to receive at CPS even when I report back to the staff at her current school. I am a thorn in their methods side, and so, no, they do not listen to my experience and to my input, as I mentioned here.

There's a sense I have of limited imagination and curiosity amongst teachers and therapy staff, that is excused away by lack of budget. Even of the most progressive thinking educators I have encountered at CPS quickly dismissed my inquiries into better technology for Kid O by saying, "not in the budget." At what expense it is to Kid O's psyche to not be able to fully express, not just what she knows and understands about the world, but her feelings? That is a huge psychic cost to bear.

David's sister spoke about a girl around Kid O's age who sounded a lot like her. Similar behavior. Similar sense of humor, and I bet, similar frustrations in trying to be heard as well as seen in a world that would largely wish her to be invisible. I have always maintained that Kid O would work the room if she could communicate.

The subject of good teachers versus bad teachers was briefly touched upon while we drove from HMS School to SLA and before I could comment we got distracted. Point is and I've said this a number of times to educators they need to pay attention to who their students are and what individual students need. As Holmes said to Watson, "You see, Watson, but you do not observe." Bad teachers only see. They have their curriculum and their methods lessons and they are going to go by that regardless of if it is really working or appropriate. Good teachers will ask why and break rules if they have to. Sometimes, however, good teachers have their hands tied by bad or indifferent administrators.

When I left HMS School, I felt a mixture of grief, rage and hope. Hope that some place somewhere was doing things right, even if I did perceive some possible blind spots. I felt grief because Kid O will never get this kind of an opportunity. I felt profound anger at the indifference of a system where resources are squandered and opportunities as well as time are lost. I felt joy when I saw that at least someone somewhere understood that neither learning nor therapy had to be dreary or regimented. I sat in this chill out chair, and it was surprisingly comfortable and easy to get in and out of. The staffer explained to us how beneficial chairs like that were for kids at the school. Helped them loosen up.

I am left with the hope that someone somewhere sees the benefit of innovation and not just "doing" education and doing it badly or, worse, yet, indifferently. In the middle of writing this post, I stopped to call up my husband and ask him him how to plug in the cellphone to recharge it. I told him about my visit to this school and what a contrast it was to what Kid O receives. He asked, "Don't you want to smack them upside the head?" And then he added, "we've tried nothing, and we're fresh out of ideas." When it comes to our experience with Kid O's education, we are on the same wavelength. We want more than what Kid O has received as an education. We want ideas. We want innovation. We want to see educators who are keen observers, and who teach with heart. What we don't want to see is a continuation of education as badly constructed as Ned Flanders' post-hurricane house. It's ill suited for Kid O and for just about anyone else.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Singing Into The Desert With Hannibal Smith, Or, How the Gift Economy Could Save Public Education

Note:  I decided to rewrite and partially combine two old blog posts from my now defunct education blog because of how education is being discussed as part of the political debates going on right now.

Given the failed education policies we have witnessed over roughly the last fifteen years, we need someone who fights for the underdog, cares about social justice, equality, and good at devising viable plans.  We need  someone like Hannibal Smith to come along and help us do that. That person could beBernie Sanders.   At the very least someone on Senator Sanders' staff needs to pay heed to whatSteven Singer has to say about this subject, especially this warning to appeal to those of us who advocate for true education reform.

The big difference between what I envision and what Singer discusses is that I also include using the gift economy.  In Caveat's post at the Burning Man Journal,The “Gift Economy” isn’t an economy at all, but that’s no excuse for your terrible, terrible gift, he speaks about being given a five foot tall copper staff hand with the only condition being that he hold it high and sing into the desert until the desert answers. Eventually, after he has sung his heart out, the desert did answer.

I have often felt, as I have advocated for Kid O, that I wandered through the desert searching for an oasis. Sometimes when I pour my heart out on Twitter, it feels much the same way. But every so often someone says, "Miss Shuganah?"

I am hoping that the person who calls out next  will be Senator Bernie Sanders.  I am hoping that educators will call out.  I am hoping that many members of many communities will call out.  And more than that, join with me in coming up with a plan for education equality, which would be true education reform.

How do we hold up the banner of education reform, and not have the ghost of George Carlin say, "told ya so." How do we move beyond good intentions? What I'd like to see from Bernie Sanders is a comprehensive plan that does not end up being yet another "terrible gift," that looks good and feels good, but doesn't end up being meaningful, effective and, most importantly, sustainable.

While we should consider federalizing public education as Senator Sanders suggests, we also need to go further than that. We need stakeholders within a community to be more directly involved in how all of our children are educated.

While we should consider federalizing public education as Senator Sanders suggests, we also need to go further than that. We need stakeholders within a community to be more directly involved in how all of our children are educated.

There are MFP (money follows the person) grants that help people with disabilities transition from institutions to quality community settings. What if we could produce this on a larger, more expansive scale and have grants that would lift up entire communities? What if we took the bureaucracy out of this entirely and found ways, within a community, to act as an open stewardship for an entire school district? We could do this through a gift economy, where people donated time and services.

 Think of the meaningful connections we could form. Mentally and physically disabled  kids could help one another. Or an ablebodied kid could tutor a kid like Kid O in math. That may be more of a challenge for most kids, but they would discover that Kid O had, at the very least, the gift of laughter to offer in return, and, at best, an engaged learner. Kid O could benefit from interacting with her peers, and they could gain insight into what life is like for someone who has physical challenges.

The best gifts we can give our children is a well rounded education where we can teach them how to lead authentic, ethical and honorable lives. We could all be enriched by engaging in collaborative efforts to teach all of our children. Some might donate resources. Some may donate time. Some may advocate for a better future for all. The way things are now, school is separate from community. Isn't it time that we reconnected school with the community? We underuse our school buildings. We could turn them into real community centers that served everyone in the community instead of just a certain segment of the population.

Granted, this would take time to develop, but what if communities ran the schools? What if a community took care of a school so that all needs were met? If we could shift attitudes that school is just for kids, then we could rebuild not just schools but entire communities. We are all responsible for the elderly, the disabled and the infirm. Everyone deserves opportunities to be part of a community, be useful and really thrive

Money is funneled into schools in a way that perpetuates inequality. The largest donors get the biggest say, not to mention ego boosts by having charter schools named after them.  That would not happen in a gift economy. As Caveat suggests in his blog post, a lot of people are unclear of the concept. Trinkets are OK. Sandwiches are better .At least they nurture the body.

When Bill Gates throws money at schools, he is allowed to have a say in educational policy that gives him power over communities in a way that is unconscionable. It makes him, as George Carlin would put it, an owner. That places an obligation on schools to produce, ie, capitulate to "owners" by adhering to untenable policies of standardized testing.  In his letter to President Obama,, Bill Ayers reminds us that "Education is a fundamental human right, not a product."

In order to reform education, we need to first strive for educational equality. It's difficult enough for kids in the General Ed population of a school to get ahead, but at least they have a chance. For Special Education students, the game is rigged. The stigma of Special Education is fully in place. Failure is already a given.

All kids could benefit from services to some degree or other. What we need then is a way to match up kids with services. Better yet,provide technology and resources to all kids as needed. This cannot happen under the current system of an unwieldy bureaucracy. We need smaller classrooms in smaller schools for starters. So how do we get there? We need a plan.

While others may be still waiting for Superman, I am waiting for Hannibal Smith.
Why John "Hannibal" Smith? Because, as leader of the A Team, he always seemed able to do the impossible and often with limited resources. Who better to reform education than a man with a vision, raw determination and a keen sense of social justice? Now, granted, he often managed to solve complex problems in less than an hour, but I can just imagine that, if you gave someone like that six months to a year, what they could do with the education system of a given community. Takes someone with ability to analyze, plan, have a passion for equality and social justice and a great sense of humor.

Yes, Hannibal Smith is a fictional character, and he's prone to violence. But there are real people out in the real world who have the necessary qualities. We have them on Twitter. We see them in "meatspace." Reforming education is not impossible. We are not helpless. We simply need to all be dedicated to seeing to it that all children have the resources to ensure for equal opportunities. Instead of waiting for a politician like Bernie Sanders to show us the way, perhaps we should show him.

Oh, one other thing. Hannibal Smith is a quick change artist. Allow me to remove my wig and my mustache. I am Hannibal Smith. You are Hannibal Smith. We are all Hannibal Smith. If we unite with the same steely determination that the A Team used in their fight for all the underdogs, then we can generate the much needed educational equality. We can reform the schools from the ground up. One community at a time. I am determined to ensure that all children have the tools and resources they need to get not just a good education but a great one.  If we all collaborated, we could see a good plan come together.

Imagine if we had a way to support schools without Bill Gates' money and without him and Sam Walton and other "owners" being able to dictate policy. So many schools are spiritually dead. We could, community by community, breathe new life into schools. if we sing into the desert, maybe we will answer one another. Joyfully and Resolutely.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

An Open Letter To Senator Bernie Sanders

Dear Senator Sanders,

I have always admired you for standing up for progressive values.  When you announced your candidacy, I was thrilled.  Finally, a landsman running for President.  Not only are you my fellow Litvak, but, like you, I am married to an Irish Catholic.  Shouldn't surprise you to know that I also talk with my hands.

Both you and your worthy opponent, Secretary Clinton, have talked about plans for higher education. Near as I can tell, there's not much that separates the two of you in regards to alleviating student loan debt and calling for free college.

What neither you nor Secretary Clinton have addressed in any detail is how to solve what is known as the school to prison pipeline.  Secretary Clinton recently made a remark, which I consider flippant and business as usual, about closing low performing schools. What I'd like to know from you is how can schools in poor, usually urban, neighborhoods ever turn around if they are automatically put on the chopping block?  Secretary Clinton's remark makes me wary, because both Bill and Hillary Clinton as well as President Obama are connected to the mayor of my beloved city of Chicago.  As you are undoubtedly aware, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has closed schools in poor neighborhoods.  He has also taken away aides and services for Special Ed kids, and given that both our daughters are Special Ed kids, I do take this personally.  Granted, this began before Rahm Emanuel became mayor, but he has  taken these budget cuts to extremes.

I want to remind you that these are Democrats who are talking about replacing public schools with charter schools.  These are Democrats who have rewarded donors by having charter schools named after them.  These are Democrats who, under the so called guise of education reform, who have closed public schools and replaced them with charter schools which can pick and choose who attends and who doesn't.  There are, unfortunately, many ill informed voters who go along with this.  Either they don't understand the ramifications of these policies or they are indifferent to them. It especially doesn't help that a lot of people have a built in prejudice against Special Ed kids.  They take a NIMBY (not in my backyard) approach to Special Ed kids attending schools in their neighborhoods.   

It's unfortunate that is advocating for our Kid O, who is severely disabled and cannot speak, I have to fight attitudes about whether or not she is ultimately going to be a productive member of society.  Why waste resources on her and other Special Ed students?  This lack of resources is further compounded by kids who happen to have been born of color and living in impoverished neighborhoods. Whatever we have experienced in terms of indifference, their parents experience perhaps tenfold or even higher.  It is difficult for me to gauge.  I do know that some parents of gifted children have expressed resentment at me even asking for civil rights on behalf of my daughters, let alone resources. 

My feeling is that children deserve resources regardless of how wealthy their parents are.  They deserve opportunities beyond the purely menial or vocational.  All children, as well as their parents, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  And, regardless of circumstances, not be treated as charity cases or objects of pity. 

Advocating for our daughters, whom I refer to as Kid O and Kid Q, is my passion, but I intend to advocate on behalf of many working class families, educated or not, of color or not, Special Ed kids or General Ed kids.  And to that end, Senator Sanders, I want you to do something for me.

I want you to help me prove George Carlin wrong. George Carlin tells us to not try to change education because, "they don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking." Carlin concludes: "It's called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it."

I want you to help me not only prove that it is possible for us to achieve  what I call education equality, that is, resources for all students regardless of race or economic means within a given community, but also to convince educators on all levels from pre-K through higher education why they should vote for you, despite the fact that the main union, the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed Hillary Clinton. 

My request to you is to come up with and speak about a comprehensive education plan that is more than the buzzwords and of greater substance than so called education reform. My request for you is to expand your message of economic equality to include social justice and civil rights for all students regardless of circumstances.  My request for you is to expand your message of economic justice to include opportunities for children like mine, who are at risk for not receiving educational and occupational opportunities simply because they are deemed not as worthwhile. 

While I appreciate that you are in favor of funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), this simply does not go far enough. Not does simply establishing vocational education programs.  My beloved Kid O has been deprived of resources by an indifferent bureaucracy, and so have others like her.  She deserves something beyond no, no, no, no, no.  And there are too many kids who have been denied a chance to shine. There are too many kids who are hampered by poverty. And it is time to change that.  For all of them. Not just the children of an entitled few.  

Perhaps someone on your staff noticed me tweeting at both you and Secretary Clinton using the hashtag #weirded.  That chat is moderated by Doug Robertson, aka The Weird Teacher.  It is an open ended and very creative chat about education.  That chat inspired me to write to you.  

I would hope that either you or someone on your staff would read his blog, He's the Weird Teacher, as well as the blogs of other educators I admire.  Several blogs are particularly important.  Naturally you should read Diane Ravitch's blog,  Ira Socol, who is a passionate writer about education, especially Special Education, and blogs at Speed Change  I would also urge you to read the Klonsky brothers, Fred and Mike and EduShyster

I would urge you and your staff to follow many educators on Twitter too numerous to mention. Through them you would learn about their passion for community as well as for education.

I have been through so much, Senator Sanders.  Three times I have been through the Department of Children and Family Services ringer.  I had to cash out my IRAs and pension to save our house.  I have been through cancer treatment.  I want to be able to vote for a candidate who will see to it that children all get what they need and deserve.  I want you to truly champion on behalf of all of these children.  I want you to provide a message to other voters, especially the educators I converse with on Twitter.  Before it's too late. 

Some wait for Superman, Senator Sanders.  Me, I wait for Hannibal Smith.  I am hoping that you will fill that role.  Like Hannibal Smith, I love it when a good plan comes together.  More to the point, I love it when someone like you expresses progressive values such as fairness and equality on behalf of many of us who feel like we don't have a voice.  Parents need you. Educators need you.  And, most of all, our children need you to advocate for them.  

Thank you.

Debra S. Gleason (Irish by marriage, Jew by birth, atheist by circumstances, and passionate warrior for all underdogs.)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Differently Deranged God of Special Ed Gathers Her Children About Her

The differently deranged god of Special Ed
gathers her children about her.
She laughs heartily.
She teaches them steadfastness.
She teaches them the art of surprise.
She teaches them that others will blink
and miss
their brilliance.
She councils them
Only reveal through fanned out feathers  .
Glimpses of your incandescent selves.

She tells them,
Others  will call you imbecile.
Others will call you idiot.
Still others will call you mental.
They will even call you retard.

She whispers consolingly
You transcend labels
they need
to compensate for their
vastly underdeveloped sense making skills.

Give no heed to those puny hearted souls,
who will never grasp that
you are more fully human than they will ever be.
While they puzzle out the mundane,
You shine. Divinely.

Special Ed Is A Fresh, Dysfunctional Hell

Special Ed is a fresh, dysfunctional hell.
The short bus putters and  sputters along its
intentionally convoluted route.
Parents in dogged pursuit are kept off kilter
by prevaricating bureaucrats who
cherry pick particular secrets
to whisper from sepia toned street corners
conflatable, untranslatable, untraceable
The answers are no, no, no, no, no.
Denials are signed in triplicate.

She is an educational anomaly.
A  round peg pounded mercilessly
into a square hole.
Wedged into a program that suits her better than most.
Programs and people do not coincide.

She giggles, grins and bears the unbearable.
I  yearn  to make sense of  the insensible.
Figure out the rhyme and reason.
Hoping for compassionate,
conscientious and competent teachers.
Settling uneasily for someone
marking time, holding places.
Education through the looking glass reflects badly.
She is proved unteachable until proven other wise.

Forget it, Jake, you are mistaken
if you think you can traverse
this craven, cratering landscape.
No one can cross the Special Ed steppes.
Hear the podcast of my poem.