A Position of Controversy

Today was a professional day. As much as I dearly love my children, it’s nice to have a day without them now and then so I can get some work done without remembering that I have to ring the bell or take lunch duty.

During our professional training discussion, one teacher posed a very interesting question: What do other countries do with students who are learning disabled?

Good question indeed! After all, Americans are the stupid ones, right? We are the ones whose test scores have been dropping in comparison to European and Asian countries for years. Certainly, our government leaders have asked the question “Why?” Well to a large extent those countries take a more realistic albeit an arguably unfair approach to education. Some countries, Germany for example, are on a track system where students are identified early on. After middle school students are either sent on to complete high school and college. The rest are taught a trade. They become skilled laborers. I don’t know this for fact but I’d imagine that a child with disabilities is simply placed in the second track and left at that. So our high school test scores are based on a huge majority of the US population while test scores of other countries are based only on the top percentage of overall students who were sent to complete their education in the first place. Other countries recognize that for society to exist there must be people of all educational backgrounds. There have to be Doctors and Lawyers, Teachers and Sales Associates, Trash Collectors and AC Repairmen. In this country, we need all of these career fields as well, we are just made to believe that if you are not in one of the first two professions you got “stuck” with that career because you didn’t try hard enough in school.

So how does this affect children and could they be on to something? We, as Americans, raise children telling them that they can “be anything they want to be”, or, “If you try hard enough you will succeed.” (Translation: You can be anything that makes a lot of money and is recongized as an honorable career) I could not, with any sort of integrity, tell a student who is unable to add 1+2 without a calculator that they can someday be an astronaut. I could never encourage a child in a wheel chair to strive for that goal of being Super Bowl MVP. While these clichés are nice sentiments in theory, I believe they are severely emotionally damaging to a child with disabilities. A child who tries as hard as he or she possibly can, very well may still struggle but with these phrases in mind the only valid conclusion is that “If I don’t succeed, then I wasn’t trying hard enough.” They should not be left to feel as though they are a failure. They should not be forced into the conformity that all good people go to college and make lots of money and all losers don’t. There is a terrible sigma associated with the phrase “High School Dropout” exacerbated by the fact that in some parts of the country, acceptance into nursery school is a competitive sport. We place such a high value on attending college that we leave little else to focus success upon. Some people are simply not meant to go to college. I know this because they sat in the back of lecture halls talking or sleeping while Daddy paid their tuition, rent and fancy car payments. They distracted the students who were there to learn. They wasted their parent’s money and valuable years of their lives. Their time would be better served working, and earning an honest living, than wasting their time going through the motions of college.

It’s time to take a new stance on our values and I don’t mean the moral sort. Yes, I believe that children should follow their dreams but they shouldn’t be forced to believe that success in life is based on attending the Ivy League and starting out at 6 figures. Let’s begin telling children that their goal in life should be to live with integrity. Let’s encourage them to base success on how happy they are, and not how much they make. Most importantly, let’s change our minds about how we view people in all fields not just those we deem honorable.

Next time one of my students tells me that when they grow up they want to be a cheerleading coach, rather than crush their goal with “you could do better, they don’t make very much money” I’m going to congratulate them on thinking of something they can do that will give them joy and happiness. I don’t make a lot but teaching them is happiness for me. I have all the success in the world.

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