Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Equal but Not the Same

I believe all living things are created by God, and therefore have inherent and equal value. In my job as a special education teacher I have been an advocate of children who are "different." I am sure that they are just as precious to their parents as non-disabled children and hopefully treated as such in the public schools. Laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act have promoted that notion - allowing handicapped people equal access to public places. There is a law that states that all children are entitled to a free appropriate public education in America.
Recently Ohio adopted a "value-added" formula to measure students' growth on mandatory statewide tests (created by another law called No Child Left Behind). Value-added tracks whether a year's worth of learning is actually happening in the course of a year - regardless of whether the child passes the test at the end of the year. Hurray! Someone finally sat at a desk in Columbus and said - maybe all kids don't learn the same way at the same speed. DUH!
I think this is a step forward, but not an answer to yearly high-stakes tests for our public school students. Value-added has only been adopted in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and North Carolina in addition to Ohio. Really? In 2008 we've only come this far in understanding the realities of children and education today?
What should count is that a child has learned and grown academically each year regardless of whether he started kindergarten not knowing his last name or colors or shapes, or whether he was already reading at a first grade level. The problem for me is that my special needs students are often not equipped to learn a year's worth of anything in a year. They learn more slowly and at their own rate, so even though this idea is better it still seems punishing to them.
Does anyone really think that we are all the same? That all 10 year-olds for example, can and should understand algebraic concepts - or would be okay if they learned those abstract concepts when they are 14 years-old, when the brain is more developed - oops, they are failures already!
It is the same with some "politically correctness" I've recently had conversations about. Here are some examples:
Soccer teams playing against each other for years, but there are no scores and no losers, they are all winners. (do they really think the kids can't count goals?)
All-star baseball cancelled in one nearby suburb because the kids who didn't make it might feel bad. Unfortunately the kids who worked hard all season to earn it were the ones to feel bad.
End-of-the-year awards ceremonies in elementary schools where ALL the students get awards regardless of their achievement or behavior. ( and the point is?)
Lunch aides in an elementary building now being called "lunch teachers". I know they have a tough job and they certainly deserve respect - but I doubt if any of them spent years working on a Master's degree in education as the rest of us were required to do.
Does any of this seem strange to you or am I just a meanie?
In testing we expect all the students to be the same, and in real life the differences, the strengths and weaknesses they exhibit are to be ignored. What are we teaching them about life? They deserve anything the next guy has whether they worked for it or not?
And how is this fair to those who have put in the blood, sweat and tears?
There is only one possible exception to this argument for me and that is public education. I believe in America all children should have access to an excellent education no matter where their parents live or what the property taxes. (Ohio's school funding was ruled unconstitutional over a dozen years ago and nothing has been done to change it). The argument, not unlike my own, is that the parents worked hard to move into a good school district. But I say, if you worked hard to give your children certain privileges that only money can buy, they are still going to benefit through travel and experiences that many poor children never have. Why should kids suffer in school every day because their parents haven't achieved enough? This is America , isn't it?
Sorry for the rant and I'm not sure if I kept my thoughts clear, but you get the idea.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Yes, I get the idea. I saw a news story yesterday that illustrates this. A youth baseball league is trying to ban a 9-year-old kid because he can throw a pitch 40 mph. When his team fielded him anyway, the other team forfeited. Aren't those kids ever going to encounter a situation as adults where they run up against someone who is more talented than they are? Why shouldn't they start learning to deal with those differences now? Yes, they'll get discouraged and angry, but that's when you talk to them about other strengths they have and you encourage them to keep practicing baseball, etc. etc.

Have you ever read Vonnegut's story "Harrison Bergeron"? It is exactly on topic with what you're talking about. If you haven't read it, look for it.


well said!! Well said!!

Elizabeth :)

happyone said...

I couldn't have said it better. I agree 100% with what you said!!

Mary said...

Understood and I certainly agree.