Friday, January 29, 2016

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.

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