If we neglect our children, what kind of grandchildren will we face?
She was born that way; only one arm works, her vision is defective, her gait is forced and hesitant, and her intelligence level is low. However! She is a dynamo in the classroom with more friends than the head of the cheerleaders. She does her work with a contagious enthusiasm that screams her defiance at the disabilities, as if to say ‘I can do anything I want.’
At the other end of the spectrum, this smart, good-looking and healthy young man of 16 slouches on his desk and very reluctantly agrees to start on the assignment, which he will not finish. When I ask what the problem is, he simply shrugs his shoulders in a universal gesture of indifference.
They are apparently opposites, but they share a lot. Both suffer from a disability as labeled by diagnostic testing. The girl is mainly OHI (Other Health Disorder), while he is SLD (Specific Learning Disability). They both are part of the population of students with special needs. The main disability, at least in the case of the boy, lies deeply buried, where no test can penetrate; I discover by accident that he has foster parents, a fact that tells me a lot about this young man’s distrust of society. The young lady also has something buried: most likely an enormous sadness at being different, at being crippled, though she wouldn’t like that word at all. For her, it’s just an annoying obstacle that she feels she can vanquish eventually.
Where they are different is the way each has handled the situation; she, by standing up to her weaknesses and shouting her desire to enjoy life. He, perhaps wounded by abuse and/or drugs, simply gave up fighting and is content with sitting passively in the class. Yet, once in a while, as I try to discover the good student in him, I see a flash of the innocent teen who could, one day, ‘wake up’ from his ‘I don’t care’ attitude.
As an inclusion teacher I strive to detect such cases and, when needed, intervene and try to make a difference. Regular classroom teachers sometimes participate, but their main focus is on having good results on the state test. They feel the enormous pressure of performing, or else, thus losing the opportunity to do what they have always ambitioned: getting to know every kid and his/her circumstances so that we may help them in various ways, not just in memorizing capitals and rivers.
Coming back to these two students who appear so different and yet have so much in common, except for the way each has reacted, I wish I had the chance to seek and/or give counsel to the passive one. I simply don’t have the time; our paperwork seems to increase twofold every year, taking every free minute as I hug my computer attempting to extract twice as much work. I have now 23 folder students, each with a different story and each with 25 pages of information.
Our counselors are also swamped with bureaucracy, working even on week-ends to satisfy the paper ogre. So I can’t refer the kids to them, knowing that nothing would be done.
We have lost the most important focus of our work: the students. We could do so much more, if we had the chance. But that means more money to hire more qualified teachers and finances are, apparently, in bad shape.
Gee, I keep thinking of the supersonic bomber that cost 1 billion dollars each. Wow, education would love to have so much wealth wasted on wars that will never be fought….I hope.