My good friend Zonoma posted this article today on Facebook, and it set me off on a rant. The article mentions a boy with epilepsy who has a service dog. The schools won’t let him bring the dog into the school. Because he has upwards of 20 seizures a day, this effectively means the boy has to be homeschooled. This also means his mother can’t work outside of the home, because she has to care for him and educate him daily.
We’ve had our own recent issues with public education. Let me say from the beginning that we think our children’s school is fantastic and does the absolute best job it can with the limited resources it has. Yet because our son is “twice gifted”–both Aspergers and gifted–we have unique challenges that we are facing. The American school system is built around a standard model: lecture, learn, regurgitate and practice onto paper, then test and quiz to demonstrate mastery. This model works well for most kids. However, what do we do for the 30% of kids who aren’t auditory learners? The ones who are gifted or who maybe are project-based learners? Our son has both auditory processing disorder, ADHD, and is a project-based learner. The traditional model is killing his intellectual curiosity because he’s bored half the day. He wants to do, to talk about, to practice what he is learning. Yet there is no room for that in the typical 25-30 child classroom. How many brilliant men and women have graduated from school hearing “If they only would focus and apply themselves, they could do great things!” I present this idea: maybe they are doing great things at home. Maybe they go on to do great things in their lives–they just didn’t get great grades because the schools weren’t able to help them move beyond the routine and standard models.
The world of child education is changing, and schools are having a hard time changing with it. Integrated classroom learning means special needs kids with all kinds of challenges are now in every classroom–this by federal laws. The classrooms now need to be mutli-dimensional and flexible with learning styles. However they are facing budget cutbacks like never before, and states that are giving lip service to education but nothing else. Teachers have 25 different kids and none of the tools they need to meet these new demands. We’re going to have to make class sizes smaller, open up classrooms to new technologies, fund more teaching aides for the classrooms to help with the individualized plans, and empower the schools to do what is best for their student population, not just the district as a whole. But all of that costs money, and therein lies the rub. We’re going to have to put our money where our mouth is, and that is something our country never wants to do.
It doesn’t take a fortune teller to see that things are going to have to change rapidly. 1 in 100 children are being diagnosed on the autism spectrum. That alone is changing the face of our schools. Add in increased diagnoses, awareness and testing for learning challenges like dyslexia, ADHD, sensory integration disorder and many others and you’ve got a wide spectrum of kids with challenges entering every single classroom in America.
What is it going to be America? Are we going to go blazing forward like the trailblazers and innovators we like to believe we are? Or are we going to bicker, fight and keep our feet stuck in the mud as we’ve been doing for the past 20 years? Are we going to meet the needs of the leaders of the future, or will we make them all fit some old-fashioned mold? It is up to us, and we can’t wait any longer to decide.