Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Friendship 911

Last week this story came to my attention and at first I couldn't believe what I saw. I thought perhaps it was a passing thing, but now, a week later, it is being talked about by newspapers and bloggers around the country. So I couldn't let it slip by without saying my two cents on the subject.

"A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding" is a title that sounds innocent enough, but what does that really mean? It means that schools and camps are now advocating that children focus on groups of friends rather than a single best friend. It means that the days of the paired up children who can always be found together is over. It means that these adults think they know better than the kids about who their friends should be and are interfering with the normal social dynamics of growing up. They say they have good reasoning for doing this; such as preventing bullying and cliques.

Now I agree that bullying is not a good thing. I have seen some of my own students become victims of bullying because of their delayed social development or physical disabilities. Bullying has always been an issue at schools where a student is singled out for some reason or another. I was bullied as a child myself. In fact, I remember a girl one time got mad at me when we were playing and told me that the only reason she was being nice to me was because the teacher had told the class to be nice because my brother had died. I look back at that now and see this intentional manipulation of friendships as its own type of bullying that will do more harm than good, in my opinion.

You can't possibly be friends with everyone in the world. Why? Not everyone has the same interests, values and experiences from which to build a friendship. That doesn't mean that we throw common courtesy out the window however. Shouldn't acceptance and inclusion be taught rather than going to the extreme of trying to interrupt the natural tendency for people who share commonalities from being together? I wonder how this will play into the continued erosion of the family and marriage in this country? I have to agree with the psychologists on this one, "
If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?"

With that in mind, who is your best friend? Why do you consider them to be your best friend? Mine is my husband and it is because we share everything. That doesn't mean we always get along perfectly. However, through the ups and downs I had with best friends growing up, both betrayal and bonding from the time I was a child that continue into my adult life, I have learned how to deal with the emotional fall out and truly share my triumphs with someone who also shares in my beliefs but can add perspective to my life. I don't believe that this would be possible if most of my childhood friendships were staged and yes, I am glad that the girl who told me she was only being nice because she was told to was honest with me. Perhaps I was a spoiled child who was selfish and needed to be ostracized by my peers in order to learn a lesson that has helped develop me into the compassionate, loving adult I am today.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

School Reform

School reform is a tired phrase that we hear over and over again. Reform the curriculum, change the name of "special education" to "student success," or even update the building, hire a new position, etc. all in the name of school reform. Where has all this school reform gotten us? Back to where we started.

Today a good friend and retired special education teacher brought this article to my attention, "End Them, Don't Mend Them." She was unsure if they went a little too far in the article, but then realized that we had been talking about this exact thing for the last 4 weeks.

P.J. O'Rourke makes a good case and his use of humor through use of wild exaggerations gets his point across while still evoking a chuckle at the expense of the reality of the situation. Humor aside, he does have a good point with regards to our current state of education and the whole reform movement.

Look at how much money the school spends per pupil; U.S. Average of $9,683 per pupil according to National Center for Education Statistics. If you are like me, you think "Wow, there is plenty of money going to education." Yet, our students are still not performing as well as we feel they should. That leads to the question of where is all the money going? I direct you once again to the article "End Them, Don't Mend Them," because he shows you that the money going to administration is draining away the money that should be going to our kids in the classroom. How do I know this to be true? Check out this website put together by teachers in the Boulder Vally School District, They found that the local school district is increasing administration pay while student enrollment increases and the number of teachers is staying flat. When it hits you locally, the truth hurts.

Now what do we do? How do we really reform the schools? Honestly, I don't know that we can reform the system we currently have and I am of like mind with Mr. O'Rourke and Sharron Angle of Nevada that perhaps it is time to eliminate the current system of a "one size fits all" attitude and get back to community based education instead.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Special Education Parties Eliminated

Boulder Valley School District is planning to eliminate special parties for special education students, district wide. Read this article to get all the details.

Kim Bane from the district cites 2 reasons in the article for eliminating the program. Her first reasoning is the time of the events, often during the school day which takes away instructional time. Her second reason deals with inclusion.

Let's start with the second reason, inclusion. While it is important to include all students in activities at the school, this is already common practice. The special education students are always encouraged to attend and participate in all school activities. They haven't changed a policy to suddenly allow these students at activities they weren't permitted to attend before. Meanwhile, the schools are already part of the national trend of inclusion at the school on all levels, so these students are interacting with their peers in the traditional classroom daily. In fact, this past year I witnessed an honor student who worked in the resource room with special education students and was talking to one girl about whether she would be attending the basketball game later that night. This special education student who is in a wheelchair was planning to go. Plenty of inclusion going on at this school and bonding between peer groups. So in my opinion, the inclusion argument is moot.

Going back to the first reason, missed instructional time, the article notes that these students are pulled out during the school day for 2 hours, 4 times a year for these activities. Not a huge loss in instruction time, especially if you know that in special education courses it is taught that recreation and leisure activities are something that need to be taught to special education students. Therefore these could be considered additional parts to the curriculum in providing opportunities for these students to meet new students from across the district. Furthermore, let's add up the number of hours that sports students miss from instructional time to drive to a game or meet. Do you think it would exceed 8 hours in a school year? What about that missed instruction time?

In my opinion, this isn't about instruction time or inclusion. So what is it all about? Money. Plain and simple. Special Education students often require special transportation because of their needs. The article does mention this, but it seems to get lost in the controversy and focus of the issue. Students with special needs have exactly that, special needs. They need to be taught special life skills to help them assimilate into society. Transportation is one of these life skills. So why can't the district use this as a teaching opportunity for these students? Why not teach them how to use the public transit system to get to these events? I still know of special education adults who "hate the bus" and won't make it to classes just for this reason. Why do they hate the bus? I don't know, but perhaps if the school taught them this skill to attend a special event where they would meet new students, they would be more likely to participate in events on their own as adults by using the public transportation system.