Friday, 29 April 2011

Common Sense So Rare It's A Super Power

Before Dayton's diagnosis of PDD-NOS (a very, very high functioning form of autism), with no IEP (Individual Education Plan) in place, Dayton was failing kindergarten of all grades.  When I asked the school to hold him back and that I believed Dayton should repeat kindergarten as he started it late (in November, due to daycare issues), I was informed that the school division did not believe in failing students, and no, as a parent, I did not have the right to hold my child back a year.  While agreeing with me that Dayton did not meet the educational expectations for the school year, and that he would most likely not be school ready for grade one, the division's policy is not to fail him.  Would Dayton have even understood that he had failed kindergarten unless the teacher pointed this out to him?  Most likely not.  Failing kindergarten made perfect sense to me.  Especially since life got in the way.  My intent was to hold him back till the following year to enroll him in Kindergarten...

My little man didn't meet the educational expectations for grade one either.  Although this year, he did have an IEP in place.  "Can we please hold him back and have him repeat grade one?"  "No, we don't believe in failing students...  Even living in a different school division didn't help solve Dayton's educational needs.  The rules are the rules...  What about education?!  I gave up discussing keeping Dayton back in grade two.  He is now in grade three, and has not mastered the basics of reading, writing and mathematics.  He is coming home very frustrated, telling me his brain hurts.  The teacher does not believe in sending homework home for her students, so I do my best to try making some homework for him.  I purchased a grade one curriculum book from Scholar's choice (Dayton's cognitive skills are of a child half way through grade one), and he looks at me and says "What's the point momma, I'm stupid."  Yes...  social promotion (continually passing him from one grade to the next, whether or not he's met the educational expectations) is definitely helping his self esteem, isn't it?!  It seems to me that Dayton's low self esteem stems from not mastering the basics as the rest of his class has.  Furthermore, perhaps failing a grade would motivate him to work in the classroom setting...  Dayton struggles to do this not only because of his diagnoses of PDD-NOS, ADHD, and global delays, but because his full time aid is not trained to guide him to do his work.  The aid is not in charge of my child, Dayton is in charge of him as well as the class.  The school corrects his behavior by suspending him...  Let's get serious for a moment, shall we?  Suspending a child at 7, 8 and 9 years old is not a consequence to the child.  It is a punishment for the parent.  And yes, Dayton has been suspended since he was 7 years old.  His view of suspension is not "oops, I really messed up, I need to get my act together."  His view is more like "thank God I'm out of here!!!"  Sometimes children need CONSEQUENCES in order to be motivated.  If it is truly embarrassing and a blow to a child's self esteem to fail a grade, then perhaps facing the consequence of failing will motivate children to work.  Worked for me as a kid.  Makes sense to me!

I had a candid discussion with Dayton's principal last Thursday, discussing keeping Dayton back a year and having him repeat grade three next year.  I tried explaining to her that Dayton is fully aware that the rest of the class is far more advanced than Dayton, that it's no wonder that Dayton doesn't want to work in the classroom.  He's totally fine sitting on his own and listening to his teacher talk to the class, but once he's put into a "group discussion" with the other kids, he hides under his desk or misbehaves so he doesn't have to show his "group" that he doesn't understand what he should be doing...  Dayton's behavior is becoming out of control, and then I get the phone call to come pick him up early from school...  Every grade continues on the basics learned from the previous grade, and Dayton has missed so much!  And all this with a "full time aid at his side."  I stated my fears on what will happen when Dayton is older, expected to open a text book to learn about Science or English and expected to produce a report, when he can't read or write. 

The principal told me not to worry, as teachers no longer taught "curriculum" and taught each individual student by their learning capacity and that teaching from a text book is a thing of the past.  No one learns from text books anymore...  ARE YOU SERIOUS?!  Furthermore, the principal insist on passing Dayton to grade four next year, as it is more harmful to his self esteem if he has to repeat a grade than it is not meeting the educational expectations.  My son's self esteem has crashed to zero by knowing he is far behind his peers, and she sees him repeating grade three as being offensive to his self esteem?  What about his education?!  I need him to be able to read a job application and fill it out when he's eighteen...  I know I'm worrying way too much and thinking way too far ahead in the future, but my goodness...  Why is the school system not as concerned as I am about Dayton's progress?  While I realize that his autism provides him with an IEP because of his learning disability, it doesn't mean he shouldn't be taught!

Every school division in Winnipeg has adopted this policy!!!  Words can not describe how insane I think this policy is.  My child needs an education!  Every child out there needs an education!  What about our children's future?  Again, I'm not talking only about children with special needs, I'm talking about our future LITERALLY.  We seem to be a generation away from barbarism.  "Oh, you can't read?  No worries kid, you're gonna pass anyway...  You can't do basic math?  Don't worry about it mom and dad, we won't fail him."  So these kids are going to pass their current grade, but what about the following year where they continue where they've left off in reading and math, building on what they were supposed to have learned the year before?  How do you expect these kids to build on what they haven't mastered?! 

I am not concerned only about my son.  I am also concerned with children who are deemed "normal."  Ugh!  I hate that word:  "normal."  We view schools as the place for children to gain knowledge, skills and values to live their lives effectively as workers and citizens.  While I agree that this is also the parents role in their child's education, the school is ultimately responsible for their education, otherwise, why would we send our kids to school?  Our children, our future, are graduating high school and at least half of them are graduating without meeting the educational expectations!!!  Did you not see them last week at the annual 4/20 marijuana protest rally in front of the legislation building?  My neighbor's daughter was telling me that half of her high school population was there!

My friend's son who is 6 years old and in grade one has no disability label.  Early in the year, at the end of September, my friend was approached by her son's teacher and told her that her little guy needs a "reading recovery program" because he was not reading as well as the rest of the class.  It is now April, and the little guy is STILL ON A WAITING LIST.  Will the school fail him?  Absolutely not.  Whether or not he learns to read is not as important as his "social promotion."  The little guy will be going to grade two next September, whether or not he is able to read, putting him farther and farther behind the rest of his peers, because they don't want to hurt his "self esteem."  Can they honestly not see that his inability to read is hurting his self esteem more?  Can they not see that being able to master the basics of reading will give him the self esteem they are trying to give him in the first place?  No, no...  sending him home with the same book at minimum of twice a week titled "Buttons Buttons" will help his self esteem.  The poor kid has the book memorized, and is not even looking at the pages or the words on the page.  Does this sound like true learning?  No to this little boy's parent it doesn't, and it doesn't to me either.  Even though my friend wrote a note to her son's teacher, asking not to send this book home with him again, they disregarded her note and sent "Buttons Buttons" back home with the little guy the very next day!!!  In what moment of insanity did someone decide that this is acceptable?  Can they not find a book on zippers or something?!  Anything?!  If that's all they have to read, I think we're in some serious trouble...  It just doesn't make sense!

I do have one thing to be grateful for...  My step daughter Charlie-Anne...  she is every teacher's dream student.  She's smart, she's funny, and she CARES about her education.  She is on the honor roll and is not easily distracted by her peers.  She knows her education is important.  Thank God her mother raised her so well! 

Every single school division has different funding for their students.  Even if I move to school division one, my son can not attend their Autism Programs because they are full?!   Marlene Gregory of the Manitoba Education "student services," suggested that I fill out a "school of choice application form" and have it submitted by May 15th, giving me false hope for my son's future education.  More on this topic with my next post titled "Choosing The Right School Division For Your Child With Autism."  I'm hoping to get this post done for you for Monday.  It will explain all six school divisions along with the wild goose chase Marlene Gregory sent me out on.  I'm not a happy girl.

It seems that Winnipeg schools are not the only ones lacking common sense.  All of North America has adopted this same type of educational standards, believing in social promotion verses education.  Numerous books have been published on the subject, and it seems that our generation of educators have not only lost all common sense but completely lost their minds.  While there are teachers that do not agree with passing students who obviously have not met the educational standards, the principals are forced by their school divisions to continue passing students, whether or not they are able to read, write, or master the basics of mathematics.  As a parent, I have a major problem with this.  I rely on the school to teach my child how to read and write, and yet, my son can't do either.  It appears I may have to take Dayton to a Sylvan Learning or a Kumon Learning Centre in order to have Dayton learn how to read and write and learn math.  Where the heck is the common sense in this?  I'd like my tax money back, because this is NOT WORKING FOR ME!!!  And because it's not working, I need my tax money back to be able to enroll Dayton into one of these learning centres, as they're not cheap, and I don't think I should have to pay for the programs since I'm already paying for Dayton to go to school and learn these basics!  It just doesn't make sense to have to pay twice for his education.

There are some good teachers out there, who wish their hands were not tied behind their back.  They too have a problem with passing students for the sake of social promotion.  In saying this, I don't think that a special needs student should necessarily fail every year.  We need to draw the line somewhere.  Let's face it, some on the Autism Spectrum are not going to graduate with a regular grade 12 diploma, but for those that are able, they should be expected to.  You may or may not agree with me, and that's OK.  But being a year behind your peers is not the end of the world.  Some parents with children on the spectrum have held their children back a year before placing them in Kindergarten, which is what my original plan was with Dayton.  But then life happened...  another story for another day.  My point is that parents know their children best, and since the child in question is our flesh and blood, the air we breath, as parents, we have the best intentions for our child and should have a CHOICE in how our child's education continues.  Makes sense to me.  WE SHOULD HAVE A CHOICE!!!  Should we as parents not be able to have the choice of failing our child?!  Does it not make sense to have us involved in our child's education?!

For those thinking I'm on crack for the above opinions, you may want to stop reading this post right now.  It's not going to get much better for you, and I don't really like hate mail...   and as you can see, I'm pretty angry, and just might respond to them...  Not good for any of us.

For those of you that are in agreement with my opinion, I encourage you to check out this book:

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I'm using my medical leave to read, read, and read anything to do with education and autism.  Reading this book, I thought maybe Michael Zwaagstra followed me for the last five years and wrote a book about my fight for Dayton's education.  I have posted a few newspaper articles on Michael Zwaagstra on my facebook page and the Autism Winnipeg facebook page.  Having an exceptionally bad day, I looked the man up, found his phone number and called his home in tears.  His poor wife had to calm me down enough to understand what I was saying in between sobs.  She gave me her husband's email address and assured me that while Mr. Zwaagstra was a busy man, he would return my call as soon as he could.  And he did.  He called me that same night.

We talked for over an hour on the phone.  He patiently listened to Dayton's story of discrimination in the school system, and tried his best to comfort me.  He offered to send me two chapters of the above mentioned book.  I read them.  I bought the book and downloaded it on my ever faithful Kindle.

When I read chapter 3, I needed clarification...  Here's my email to Mr. Zwaagstra:
Hi Michael,

I've just literally finished reading chapter 3 of your book, and need some clarification.  While I understand that children with intent to disrupt the class or show lack of respect to the staff of the school need to be punished, what is your take on children with a neurological  difference?  For example, Dayton's auto pilot word these days is "no."  He could have a huge grin on his face and be laughing, yet when I ask him if he's having fun, he will say "no."  In the school setting, when asked to do work, Dayton says no.  Without asking questions such as "what, where, when, who and how" and remembering not to ask "why," Dayton is not able to articulate "why" he's saying no.  Sometimes I also have to draw pictures for him. 
A clear example of Dayton's misunderstanding was when I got a note from the principal saying that Dayton didn't like this little girl playing with a boy, so he hit her in the head and dragged the boy away from her.  In Dayton's view, the little girl was attacking the little boy and he was trying to help him by dragging him away from her.  He does not remember hitting her and swears if he did, it was by accident.  Naturally, the school staff wasn't able to get a clear picture from Dayton, leaving that work to me, in the mean time the damage was done.  What sort of discipline or action would you recommend in this case?

Mr. Zwaagstra's email response to me:
Hi Lou,

As you noted in your email, chapter 3 is intended primarily at situations where students purposefully break the rules. It is important for rules to be stated clearly ahead of time and consistently enforced as this makes it possible to have an orderly learning environment. It also benefits special needs students for whom order and structure in the school is particularly important.

It's difficult for me to suggest a specific course of action in Dayton's case since I have not met him and did not witness the scene. The first question that comes up for me is where was his EA during this process? This is the type of incident that regular adult supervision is supposed to prevent from happening in the first place.

In this particular case, Dayton would need to be removed from the playground for the rest of this recess since the other boy and girl need to be protected. The supervising teacher and/or principal should speak with Dayton about his behaviour and explain to him that hitting is not acceptable and that even if he thought the boy was attacking the girl, he can best help her by telling a teacher right away.

Again, not having met Dayton personally or witnessed the situation myself, that's about as specific as I can get. The point of chapter 3 is to set out general principles of discipline that apply to intentional acts of disobedience rather than provide a detailed set of guidelines for unique situations.

Hope this helps.


Yeah it helps!  I have a direct link to the author to explain what I don't understand!  Thank you Mr. Zwaagstra!!!  And you know what?  He never got defensive with me on any of his "opinions."  He patiently, and I mean patiently explained his points and views.  What I would give to have him teach my son!!!

Mr. Zwaagsta is not just an author.  He is a high school teacher, right here in Manitoba.  He educates children with special needs and the typical kids.  His view is very much the same as mine...  There's a problem with today's education system and we need to fix it.  In his book, he talks about school of choice, the Edmonton model which I would give my right arm to have implemented in Manitoba.  This would not only benefit children on the Autism Spectrum, but typical children as well.  Our special needs kids would not be herded into a building as a dumping ground for the inept and hopeless...  They would have educated staff to help them cope with their autism, as each school would "specialize" in something.  One school division, one Super Intendant, and NO DIVISION LINES.  I could put Dayton in school division one, which has autism programs!  Wouldn't that be heaven?!   Maybe we could make Mr. Zwaagstra our Super Intendant!!!  

The first time I called Mr. Zwaagstra, I begged for help.  The man gave me help.  He not only responded to every single email and phone call I made to him, he contacted everyone  he knew who had an understanding of autism to help me.  He forwarded all of their emails to me.  Every single one.  Every contact believed my son could be fully integrated in the public school system with supports in place.  Not one of them suggested Dayton be segregated into a dumping ground for the hopeless..  

Thank you Michael Zwaagstra.  Thank you for your kindness, your concern and your passion for education.  I wish more people took education as seriously as you do.  Your students are truly blessed to have you be an influence in their lives.

Consider yourselves hugged, and thank you for taking the time to read this long winded post.  


1 comment:

  1. Great post. totally agree with you on everything. I've asked the Education Minister, why should I pay for Nik to go to school or stay home and home school him when they are paid to educate him. I also say the other day during the leg. meeting Manitoba's education scores are the LOWEST in the country. LOWEST. Kids are graduating and going to get jobs and companies are saying, WTH? You don't know this? yes our kids need to learn socialism and they need to learn other things besides math and science, but common. How can the read an invite to a social event, or a job posting when they can't read a preschool school book made of pictures and one word on pages? Something needs to change. Not saying everything is wrong, but they need to come to terms that these are our kids. Be open to the idea that there might be more than one way of doing things?

    Again good post hunny.