Doors Slamming Shut

Once again, Will Richardson’s blog inspires me. Well, it makes me mad – not at him, but again, at the public school system.

I’ve been saying for years that if you’re in education and you’re not feeling uncomfortable right now, you’re not paying attention. Our collective discomfort with the system should be growing. And the window for action is closing pretty quickly.

I have been uncomfortable with education for many years. Like Mr Richardson, I have two teenagers about to head out into the world. One graduates from high school in a matter of days. The window for her in K-12 is closed. It slammed shut a couple of years ago, although in retrospect, it had been slowly closing since entering public school. (It is one of my biggest regrets that we kept her in this school and didn’t move her. We first seriously considered moving her in 3rd grade. Oh, how I wish we had.)

The damage – and it is significant – has been done. Because she doesn’t learn in a way that fits the traditional mold, the message has been pretty loud and clear that she doesn’t measure up. I, however, see her as a creative, insightful person who has tremendous gifts. I can only hope her next stage of life rewards this instead of snuffing it out.

Grade Level

Recent Huff Post article by Dan Peters, “Smart Shaming: Sorry but Your Child is Too Bright to Qualify for Help” hit home.

I get the limited amount of money, I really do. I also get that there are kids who need services “more” than others.

The real issue for us wasn’t so much the “services.” We were able to get a 504 with accommodations. We weren’t asking for anything that cost money or took any staff time. The problem was the pedagogy, assessment and expectations.

Most of the struggles came from doing tasks that will not be needed elsewhere: memorizing facts and spitting them back on tests, writing structured 5 paragraph essays and doing detailed math problems. There was little struggle in class discussion, creative projects or similar assignments.

Yet, the cumulative effect of failure or poor performance on the “essential” elements of how schools measure kids had a significant impact. She shut down. Motivation was gone. You can beat someone down for so long. That in itself is a disability and hurdle to overcome, along with everything else.

Classroom Stress

Wonderful opinion piece by a women whose family is spending 6 months in Norway. Her son has ADHD, but has not been taking meds while in Norway. Her son has no sign of ADHD. Why?

What accounts for this dramatic change? Neither his diet nor the amount of “screen time” — two factors sometimes implicated in the rise in ADHD — has changed significantly. What has changed is his school experience.

Bold is mine.

What’s the difference? More recess, small class sizes, lack of chaos and no testing. Less time in school, field trips and more unstructured time.

It’s a quick read and worth it.

Dear Student Letter

Posting this “Dear Students” letter to keep it in my list.  She has great one-liners, such as

I’m sorry that you are forced to sit for six hours each school-day despite research that reveals the detrimental cognitive and health effects of excessive sitting.

This teacher puts into words what I feel, but cannot say — not being a teacher. It’s what I’ve seen happen to my daughter, in particular, as she went through a traditional high school setting. Of course, she needs to take some responsibility for her own education, but watching these last four years has given me an entirely new perspective on the kids who don’t appear engaged in school.

My personal world view held (past tense) that academics were the be all and end all. The measure of success was your GPA, where you went to college, etc.  Of course, you’d be engaged in school and get As. Kids who didn’t were just lazy.

Watching my daughter’s journey through school, especially high school, has changed my perspective tremendously. A kid who is “shut down”, doesn’t do homework or participate in class likely has a very good reason. It may be the “problems at home” excuse we hear about. This is certainly a legitimate reason and a very real situation for many students.

The one reason I’ve never heard from her school is “problems with school” — not that my daughter is having problems in school, but that the school set up itself is the problem. No one has ever suggested that the reason she’s shut down and not engaged is because the school atmosphere is overwhelming (2000+ kids in one space for 6 hours?) or that the emphasis on test prep (be it the state tests or AP tests) might lead to a type of learning that is not enticing beyond the drive to get a 4.0 GPA.  Could it be some of the reasons mentioned in the Dear Student letter?

My daughter with ADHD and dyslexia became a classic shut-down learner (see Dr. Richard Selznick’s writings for more) after 9th grade, and totally shut down after 10th. School was (continues to be) a major (I’d say THE) contributing factor in depression and anxiety issues. Yet, right now, she is directing a full-length student produced musical with 70 cast members. She has the entire show blocked in her head — exactly where 70 kids will be on stage, how she wants the songs to sound, the set to look and more. She’s actively making decisions, working with a production team of peers, and directing a cast of her peers (much harder than an adult directing high school kids). She was forced to choose between two best friends for the lead. Frankly, I think this is a tremendous learning experience — and honestly, more valuable life skills than some of the academic work.

I don’t buy the “blame the victim” attitude that it’s all her fault that she’s not engaged in school. (And that is what I often hear. Most of her teachers have been caring and understanding, but the system does not allow for any flexibility unless one pushes VERY hard. That’s a topic for another post.) I certainly couldn’t tolerate the conditions in which she has endure  to be at school. It’s true that some kids thrive in school — which is awesome. But, just because some kids look and act like they don’t care does not mean they are bad kids or not worth it. Look deeper — there’s likely a pretty valid reason and we owe it to these kids to meet their needs. Maybe, just maybe, it’d be worth our time to make some of these bigger, systemic changes like mentioned in the Dear Student letter that would mean all learners would be engaged, have a positive experience, and grow into thoughtful, caring and successful adults.

Positives of ADHD

LOVE this article about Scott Barry Kaufman about ADHD, “The Innovative and Creative Power of ADHD”.  I’ve heard him speak, and I find his messaging about ADHD to be so wonderful and empowering.

Listen to the audio interview – it adds much more to the article.

Kaufman says that parents need to work with schools to identify learning formats that don’t stifle creative thinking.

He talks too about students needing some autonomy in their education. I don’t see either of these things happening in the large public high school we interact with. It’s driven in large part by rule following, fill-in-the-bubble tests and classes that don’t value creativity. I won’t go on and on now, I’ve done that in the past. I think I’ll just go get Kaufman’s book

I’ve blogged before about Scott Barry Kaufman

2e

Awesome article about Twice-Exceptional kids, Gifted + Learning Disabled = No Desk for You by Daniel Peters in the Huff Post.

This is EXACTLY what we’re going through. It’s a scary article for me to read – exactly what we’re seeing.

He outlines 3 paths for these gifted/LD kids:

  • ID’d gifted, never id’d LD
  • ID’d LD, never id’d gifted
  • strengths and weaknesses cancel each other, never id’d as either.

Love this quote — this is almost verbatim to what we’ve been told:

If you have advanced cognitive and/or academic abilities, you are able to score below to low average and then considered to be doing “fine.”

 

This one gives me strength to fight again:

We do not need our 2e children to be famous, but we do need them to get the assistance they need to do well in school, and further to bring their talents to bare. They have a civil right for a free and appropriate education and the protection of special education laws designed to give ALL students equal access to learning and achievement.

 

This is crucial:

4. Legislators and educational administrators should eliminate any absolute performance requirements from federal, state, or district policies for the identification of children with specific learning disabilities that prohibit the inclusion of higher ability children from needed services.

 

We have been told over and over again that since our daughter isn’t failing, there’s no way she’s getting any help. Thank goodness she has had a few teachers who have, without questioning, provided necessary accommodations that have allowed her to access the education she has a right to access. One problem is that the type of accommodation differs depending on the class. The school allows only one set of accommodations. Again, thankfully we’ve had teachers who have been willing to work with what is needed.

She’s never, ever, ever gotten any specific help for learning disabilities. We’ve been told over and over that she doesn’t qualify and they can’t give her any help.

The little help she’s gotten has been at our expense. As things are getting worse in high school, I so wish we had pushed harder and had sought out other solutions.

In reading the recommendations, I feel somewhat better — as we’ve done ALL of this — over and over and over. Without success. I’m not sure what more I can do.

1. Trust yourself. You know your child better than anyone. If your child is struggling and he/she is not performing to her perceived potential, advocate for him/her.

2. Talk to your child’s teacher and/or appropriate personnel and let them know where and how they are struggling. Request a meeting to discuss your concerns and for strategies to be put in place.

3. Request a comprehensive evaluation in writing if your child’s challenges are not improving despite initial school intervention or services. Pursue qualification for an IEP or Section 504 Plan.

Every student deserves the room, the space, the opportunity to excel — the metaphorical equivalent of a desk of his or her own.