No Sock Puppet: Teaching for Special Needs.


Sock Puppet

You may have noticed that I don’t write about my school on this blog. I rarely write about my district. And never about my students. It is not what this blog is about.

I write using my real name. I’m not a “sock puppet,” a term I recently learned. A sock puppet is someone who scams others by using a phony ID when posting on the internet. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods was recently busted for being a sock puppet when trashing competitors and manipulating stock sales.

I respect my colleague’s and my student’s privacy and stay away from postings that would identify them.

But I am proud of my school and the work that we do with Special Needs students. As a public school, we welcome all students that live in our district, regardless of their learning needs. We work with many children with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy

There are two factors here. One is that, as a result of struggle and parental demands, the law requires that public schools accept all children, no matter what disability they may have, and teach them in the least restrictive environment.

The other factor is that our school, parents, students, staff and administration have worked hard to make our school a warm, accepting, inclusive and safe place for everyone who learns and teaches in it. This is not something that happens by itself. It takes effort, sensitivity and consciousness.

So it is with more than a little anger that I read John Wooten, right-wing columnist for the Atlanta Journal.

In arguing for charter schools, he claims that one of their values is the fact that they don’t have to accept Special Needs students.

Critics note, for example, that private schools aren’t required to have curriculums tailored to special-needs children, or to hire certified teachers or those trained in special education. True enough.

They note, too, that competitiors are free to accept or reject applicants. True enough.

And hallelujah.

What’s happening here is that the locus of authority is tranferring from government to parents. For the first time in well over a century, the earth is moving in a direction that empowers parents — all parents, not just those with money.

For choice to be real, providers of education services should never, ever, be required to take every applicant. If they can’t serve a child’s particular needs — either because he’s disruptive, not up to grade, or deemed to have problems the school’s not equipped to address — they should be free to reject him.

When enough like-needs children exist, creative educators and entrepreneurs in the free market will create new schools.

This is a lie. It is public schools that have been the most responsive to the demands of parents, particularly to parents with Special Needs children. The more distant the school from the control of the public, the less they need to act on behalf of the common community. This has not happened without political action, nor has it happened quickly enough. But to the degree that there have been advances for those with disabilities, it has taken place where the public has leverage: in the public sector.

One thought on “No Sock Puppet: Teaching for Special Needs.

  1. I read Wooten’s comments with way more than “more than a little anger”! This is 2007! What a total disregard for children who are “different” in some way. Not only do they learn from “typical” peers, but “typical” children learn from special needs children as well; to name a few: patience and tolerance as well as a respect for and acceptance of people who are different than themselves.

    My daughter has an uncommon form of cerebral palsy and did not walk until the age of four. She attended preschool as a three year old in a public school with a ‘curriculum tailored to” her needs and with a highly qualified and certified teacher of children with special needs. Her educational program at this public school included physical, occupational and speech therapies which enabled her to become physically and communicatively functional within her classroom.

    By mid-year of her second year of preschool, she was walking in line down the halls with her “typical” classmates and speaking clearly enough to be understood by her peers and teachers most of the time. Oh, and the certified special education teachers employed by the public school also taught my daughter all of the academic and social skills she will need to succeed in Kindergarten next year.

    Thank goodness I didn’t have to wait for ‘enough like-needs children’ to exist in my community so she could be educated by ‘entrepreneurs’ creating a school for children with her disability. Thank goodness we have excellent public schools who could not ‘reject’ my daughter because she has physical and behavioral challenges and that are ‘equipped’ to address the needs of all learners.

    Returning to the acceptance idea, I have to share this story…. My Allie attended an in home day care from the age of three months to three years. During this time, the son of one of my colleagues attended also. He was three years old when my daughter started going there. There was another boy a month younger than my daughter, so this three year old watched these two babies “grow up”.

    He watched the boy start to pull-up, walk, climb, dress and feed himself, and speak clearly. He watched Allie sit in a bouncy seat or on the floor, be carried, dressed and fed by the babysitter. He saw the speech therapist come to the babysitter’s house to work with Allie. He watched the sitter encourage Allie to crawl, pull-up, feed herself, all more than a year behind the other little boy. This now six year old never noticed that Allie was “different”.

    Recently, my colleague, the mother of this wonderful boy, told me the story of how, her son, now a 1st grader, came home from school with a letter asking him if he wanted to be a “buddy” for a special needs child throughout the year. (His public school district has a wonderful special needs program that employs certified special education teachers and ‘tailors’ curriculum to each child’s individual needs, successfully meeting the needs of children of all ability levels.)

    This boy’s mother read the letter to him and his reply was, “What does “special needs” mean?” She answered, “Well, there are some students in your school who have a harder time learning or talking or playing the way you do, kind of like Allie. Allie has special needs.”

    The boy replied, “Oh, I just thought she was Allie.”

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