Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Special Education

I taught for a few years in public schools working mostly with kids with learning disabilities. First I taught children with dyslexia at three district high schools and one middle school. After that I spent two years working as an inclusion teacher in Middle School math and science. Before I had the full-time gig with the dyslexic kids I subbed in pretty much any kind of environment you could imagine--anything from a regular ed PE class to working with kids at the city's mental hospital.

In all that time, in all those schools, I can remember only ever seeing one student in a wheelchair.

I've been thinking about this since the day we ordered Charlie's wheelchair. Two of his therapists were over and they were getting into the school stuff: you need to make sure they're changing his positioning, you're going to need to make sure he has a good chair, you're going to need to make sure the speech therapist is coming out to see him like she should, you're gonna need to be a bitch, they're going to underestimate him. Is it any wonder that day sent me into a tail spin?

And they know what they're talking about. I've seen it myself. I've been in schools where I have had to fight to make sure my walking, talking, mostly-normal kids got what what they were required by law to get. I've had teachers blatantly refuse to do what was written on IEPs. I've seen administrators do it too. I've had my class sent to the auditorium, the un-airconditioned student center, or a closet.

I have always been a big advocate of public schools--especially when it comes to special education. I think they're better equipped, have more staff, and are better versed in working with special needs. Now that the time comes for me to send Charlie, I'm less sure. They may be better, but that doesn't mean they're good enough. Who will advocate for him when I'm not there? Will he be included or is he doomed to a life of watching and never experiencing? Will he be judged on his abilities or disabilities? Will he spend his high school days doing crafts and cleaning tables while his peers study history and literature?

I just don't know. Luckily, I don't have to decide today.