Enough of the Sweet Talk
I don’t know about you but I am getting tired of the re-naming of things to make them more palatable to our sensibilities but do nothing to change the ground game.
I have been in special ed long enough to remember the days when kids were not “challenged” by low IQ’s, and were not intellectually ‘delayed’ as if they were caught in a traffic jam and soon they would catch up. Kids didn’t “lack social skills”; they were children who needed to learn to behave in public. OK, I get that people who lack social skills need to gain those skills so that they will behave appropriately in public but we need to stop all this beating around the bush.
The percentage of people with disabilities participating in the workforce as of April 2018 is 20.9%. The percentage of people without disabilities participating in the workforce is 68.3%. That’s a huge difference; particularly when you consider that severe disabilities make up only about 2% of people with disabilities.
So why is this? The first step to solving a problem is to identify it and name it. Then you can work out a path to the solution. We keep telling ourselves that people who are learning challenged can catch up if they are taught by research based methods and by specially trained teachers. This approach has worked beautifully for the cosmetic industry. People who are not very attractive can use special cosmetics and/or hair color and before you can say $58 for the small jar, they are now beautiful. Definitely- children with learning disadvantages will do better if they are taught by skilled teachers, no question about that. But will they get seven scholarship offers to prestigious colleges, probably not. And all those magical mystical cosmetics might ameliorate the problem but make the cover of Vogue, probably not.
Let’s get down to business and forget the sugar coating. Excellent teaching will ease some of the problems, but we need to acknowledge that there are differing horizons for people with disabilities and those horizons may be different but they are not necessarily bad. No amount of practice was ever going to make me a basketball player. I am too short and too poorly coordinated. I could have spent years practicing basketball skills in the vain hope that one day I would be almost good at the sport. Or I could spend that finite amount of time building on the skills that I did have and be something else. Fortunately that is what I did.
From elementary school on we need to recognize the skills that kids need to succeed in the work world and the social world. I get that this is blasphemy but the skills being measured by the PARCC tests are not important to most students with disabilities. Early on, we need to teach kids to be polite- corny I know but good manners go a long way. We need to teach good hygiene; no one like a smelly co-worker. We need to teach children to respond to supervision. For very young children that looks a lot like accepting re-direction for behavior. Recently a college student told me how when his psych professor held him to a standard he did not like, he gave an attitude expression to a near-by friend. When I told him that was a bad job skill, he gave me a bewildered look. He did not make the connection between attitude toward a professor and attitude someday toward a job supervisor. Job skills are people skills and will take us far.
Right now we are still putting energy into age level grade standards. We are sugar coating the reality that most children with disabilities regardless of how much research goes into their teaching methods and how good the teaching is, are not going to hit grade level academic standards. Could we get off the sugar diet and start teaching kids the skills they need- academic as well as job skills. It is no wonder that when these students hit the job-market they suffer from a sugar hang-over.