From the time our children are little, we teach them how to look after others who are smaller, weaker, less capable.
“Be nice to your little sister.”
“Help Grandma carry that.”
“Don’t make fun of that child, he can’t help how he is.”
We try to teach our children to be kinder, more caring people. “Stand up for the girl being picked on at school. Don’t be the bully, be the friend.” Our schools even teach this.
We try to teach our children to be accepting of others, no matter what they look like or what their family is like.
We do all this because presumably, our parents did the same. I was taught to look out for others, to be polite, to not be a mean girl, to give elderly people my seat on the train. I was taught, through stories from my grandparents, to not let people walk over me just because there’s something about me they don’t like, to not accept being treated like a lesser person, to stand up and do what’s right.
I guess that’s part of why I blog about special needs. Because someone has to say these things. Someone has to be honest.
So this is me being honest.
Why aren’t more people outraged with how our special ed students are treated?
Here are kids, who aren’t always able to speak up for themselves, who have already been given a tough start in life, and they enter our public school system only to be handed yet another short stick. They are consistently pigeon-holed, put in a corner, short-changed. The staff in charge of them are given too much to do with not enough resources. They’re expected to manage medically needy children with no training. They put their hearts and souls into these kids only to be told they can’t really help them the way they need. And the parents are told “tough luck, that’s how it works here” when they ask why. If they push, they’re labeled “difficult” and are suddenly pariahs. Why? For trying to do what’s right for their child, like any other good parent.
Did you know that to be an aide to a special education child, by law, you only need a high school diploma? To be a para-professional, you only need two years of college – in ANY subject. So the person who is in charge of the special ed student all day is the person with the least amount of training sometimes. Sometimes you luck out and get the person who has her degree in special education, and you thank God daily for her.
You aren’t allowed really to discuss things with the staff, not in many places. They don’t want “parental interference”. They take these children, who are such square pegs, and try to stuff them into a round hole. Why? Because it’s just easier for the school to make them conform to the school’s way instead of doing what’s right for the child.
All over the U.S., moderately disabled children – children with IQ’s between 50 and 30 – are expected to be mainstreamed. They’re expected to sit in regular classrooms with regular students and somehow glean everything they need to know to become as independent as possible. Which is impossible. They’re supposed to learn how to count and read and all those other lovely academic things, while life skills are somewhat ignored. These special ed students, many of who have a hard time with transitions, are expected to transition more than the average student, as on top of everything else the regular students do, they also have to do special ed time and therapy time.
Special ed students have more expected of them, yet are given less. The parents are expected to trust the schools, to do their best, and not complain if their child gets shortchanged, or jump through hoops to make school life easier, even if it means homelife suffers for it.
And at the end of the day – it doesn’t work. Our children fall through the cracks. And no one seems to care.
So I ask – where is the outrage? Where are the parents, at school board meetings, demanding that special ed students get what they need too? Why is it so hard for everyone to stand behind these parents who just want an appropriate education for their child too? We all get outrage when a school district tries to cut art, music, athletics….but special education funding is cut every single year and no one says boo about it.
Maybe I’m ranting because I’ve had two different friends deal with stuff that shouldn’t have happened to their child this week and I’m outraged for them. Maybe it’s because I’ve been part of such a terrific school system here that I’m terrified of leaving it. Maybe it’s because I’m still pissed off at the special education director at Maura’s old school, who for two years pointed all the loopholes out to me as Maura got shortchanged. Maybe I still feel that to her, Maura wasn’t worth the effort, the expenditure.
Maybe it’s all of the above.
I’m angry for my friends, scared for my daughter, and determined to do what’s right. Maybe others will become outraged too, and instead of criticizing the seemingly over-zealous special ed parent, they’ll ask what is going on, how they can help. Maybe next time the school district or federal government decides to try to cut funding for special education, they will stand up for it as much as they would for arts or athletic programs.
Because it’s not like we’re going to go anywhere – we can’t. In the U.S., the options for a special education child with moderate disabilities are few to none.
I’m not really a bitch on wheels, looking to make heads roll. I’m just the mouthy one who’ll say what other parents are thinking. I’ve seen the coin on both sides – what works and what doesn’t. I’ve dealt with some absolutely amazing special educators in both schools, and have worked alongside one amazing principal at Maura’s current school. You can say I’ve been around enough to know that our kids, and those who actually day in, day out, work with them, deserve more and deserve better.
It’s time we all do what we teach our kids to do every day. Stand up for the little guys. In this case, the little guy is special education. We share feel-good stories all the time on Facebook – it’s time we’re the feel good story makers. And for the love of St. Patrick, if you’re a special ed parent, don’t just share with your own kind, band together regardless of label.
Only then can we make a difference.
Every child deserves to reach their full potential. Even mine.