A Noncontroversial Post A Short Time In The Making

by Courtney Sirotin on July 30, 2013

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A few weeks ago, Jay offered the suggestion that my blog would benefit from more controversial posts. I know he’s right, as people love controversy, so his words have been in my head ever since. The problem is, I’m a very noncontroversial person, so trying to write something edgy for the sake of being edgy makes me super uncomfortable. But I’m going to try to do it anyway, in my own way. You guys will have to let me know if this post is worth the internal bleeding.

Even when I feel strongly about a topic, and there are many that I do, I can also see how other people may have different opinions because of their beliefs or unique circumstances. To come out (sort of) publicly on my blog and take a stand on something goes against my gut instinct to be open-minded and accepting of other people. Also, I would never want to make someone who reads this blog and feels differently about a topic feel guarded or unwelcome here.

To exemplify what I mean, I’m going to broach a controversial topic. I’ll try to take a strong position but more likely than not you’re just going to see how my head gets all messed up when I try to make proclamations about something and I end up coming down somewhere in the middle.

This all feels so arbitrary.

But here we go anyway…

To make Jay happy Winking smile

Recently, Dylan had to go through an evaluation to see if he needs any services beyond speech therapy next year. The assessment and meeting that followed made my skin crawl because he was being judged and labeled according to a series of tests that I find rather arbitrary and not at all a true reflection of his many unique skills and talents. I will go out on a limb and say that I really don’t like how inflexible and test-heavy public schools are these days, or how quickly they want to label kids that don’t fit into a standardized norm as disabled or deficient in some way.

I strongly feel that what makes some kids fall outside the norm can be huge gifts to those children — and all of society — if viewed from a different perspective. If my kid, for example, has a strong will and would rather pursue his own learning agenda instead of that of his teacher’s, he is definitely going to have a hard time in school, and might even get slapped with a few labels, but if left to his own devices, he may create or discover something new and amazing that the world desperately needs. Einstein, for example, didn’t talk until he was five years old. (I want everyone to read this.) If he were alive today, he would be labeled with a speech disorder at minimum and be in an early intervention program. Somewhere in his schooling, Einstein would probably show signs that something is off about him, maybe a speedy or hyper-focused mind, and he’d probably end up on meds to help him adapt to the structure of the school and interact better with his peers. Possibly, after a series of well-meaning interventions, Einstein’s brain chemistry – or view of himself – would become altered in such a way that he’d never go on to develop the general theory of relativity or set the groundwork for quantum theory.

In general, I would like to see educational systems adjust to the unique learning styles of kids rather than kids having to change (or take medicine) to adjust to the systems. That said, I don’t know how anyone would go about doing it. Here’s where the flip side comes in because I can also see how challenging it must be to be an educator with the task of imparting knowledge on large groups of children and making sure they are ready to succeed in the world. Obviously, that is where systems and processes come into play. I just think that we can’t let systems get too big and the attention paid to individual children become too small. In my opinion, and having grown up in a family of educators, I think most teachers accept the challenge to teach all kinds of children and are able to do so if they are given the freedom to approach their curriculums with creativity and instinct within a loose system.

Anyway, I believe that we are all different and that for the most part our differences should be celebrated and explored. I hope that when Dylan gets into school I will be surprised to find that they are more flexible and accepting of children that fall outside the norm than I think they are right now. As a person and parent with my specific point of view on this topic, I’m pretty sure that I will try to shield Dylan from too many labels and will avoid giving him medicines to alter his brain unless it is really, really necessary.

That said, I can completely understand how different people come to different conclusions on all of this and I can also understand why some parents feel they need to treat their children with certain medications. I know that I don’t know what it is like to have a child with an extreme case of autism, for example, so I would never judge what they need to do to help their child through school. I can only base my opinions on what I have experienced thus far along with how I want the world to be. If my circumstances change, it would make sense that my position on this topic will too.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that I have certain opinions, but I can see other sides, and I want the freedom to change my mind. If I declare every thought I have on this blog it would be very awkward for me to alter them later on. And that’s why I’m not very controversial.

And now I am going to go crawl into a hole.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

JASON SIROTIN July 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Great post and I could not agree more! I think we are over medicating children in the name of profit for drug companies and doctors. It’s all about the bottom line and its disgusting. The more I learn about the public school system the more it scares me to have our son participating in it. I just watched a special on CNN with Morgan Spurlock about the World education system. In America he looked at several charter schools that were doing a good job and getting great results and it was mainly because they were doing things so differently than public schools in the USA. What really shocked me was when he traveled to Finland, a country that leads the world in education, where students have a completely different experience. Shorter days, less homework, and a focus on individuality seem to work really well there as they lead the world education. I actually was like…”Maybe we should lose to Finland” another cool thing is you get paid to have Kids in Finland plus large at credits. Best of all in Finland college is free so everyone has the opportunity to get a degree!

Great post Courtney!!!!!

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NANCY CHARLOW July 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I have a somewhat different view. I work in the public school system. I usually work with kids that are on the spectrum. I am in a regular school, my kids are mainstreamed. Some are quirky and just march to a different drum, some are behavioral, some have learning disabilities. They usually do not need special Ed, sometimes just a special hand. The teacher has too many kids to give attention to everyone that needs it. I use to work one on one, but no one, parent and kids knew who I was there for as I helped every kid and did not hang over “my kid”. Now with services being cut and hardly any services being granted, these kids suffer. I have never been into academic achievement as much as social skills as that is what you need in life and usually these kids are smart.
As a mom with a kid that was “different”. I wanted a diagnosis, not to be labeled, but give me a name to this behavior so I could understand it better. Most of the kids I work with are not on medication. I have seen however medication make a big difference in some kids, allowing them to learn because their symptoms are subdued. I do not like medication (some) in the middle school because that is when sexual awakenings usually happen and it subdues the natural flow of things. Since I am the aunt, feel free to personally contact me.

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NATALIE SMALLWOOD July 30, 2013 at 2:22 pm

As a mother with a child who is “different” I could not agree more. I come from a long line of teachers and my mother told me Jackson was special at a young age. She also told me I would have to fight for him- every day, so he would not get lost in the public school system. Jackson has a 162 IQ, he loves Science, Math and Computers. He is brilliant, creative,blunt and extremely sensitive to others- even if he can not express it verbally. Jackson has Aspergers. Medication and test have been a constant battle in my home for 11 years. I think his “different”, “not the norm” behavior and ideas make him wonderfully special- for me and the world. Medicating him is not an option. I tried every ADD medication out there, and all it did was make my brilliant boy- numb and took away his light. As his mother, I will fight for his education everyday, cry in private and fight with teachers to “See” him with a smile on my face and courage in my heart. No one else will- not with 30 + plus kids in a class room. Public school teachers do not get the opportunity to find a way to reach every child in their classroom. They are under paid and made to follow extreme guidelines that the state finds important( ie- CRCT and Iowa test scores). The teachers eventually let go of the labeling issue due to Jackson scoring high on all standardized test. He makes the school look good in the states eyes and in turn gets them more funding, but they don’t reach him. Jackson knows he is different, he does not know his “label”, he is not treated any differently in my home. Expectations are the same for all of my children. In knowing me, you know I am not “normal”, neither are my children- thank god. Court, you are an amazing mother. The best I have ever seen. This is not controversial- this is from the heart of a momma lion. Well Done!

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COURTNEY July 31, 2013 at 12:36 am

Wow! I’m actually glad I posted this and it’s cool to hear some different perspectives. I kinda agree with all of you, except I don’t want to move to Finland. The hard thing is that a lot of a child’s experience at school depends on the teacher and you don’t have any guarantees on that from year to year. I mean, I would trust that Dylan would thrive no matter what in my mom’s classroom because she is a warm, accepting and creative teacher with a lot of experience working with different kinds of kids, but the teacher next door to her might be totally rigid and focused on nuances of testing instead of the nuances of teaching. The only consistency in a kid’s education is, like Natalie said, the parents.

Natalie…you and I am on the exact same page and I would do just what you are doing with Jackson. He’s a perfect example of a child with unique gifts and the potential to do great things with them whether or not (probably not) they are celebrated at school!

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DONNA CUSHING July 31, 2013 at 2:22 am

The philosophy of education in Finland intrigues me and I think we could definitely learn from them. It sounds as if they are moving in the right direction. One thing to keep in mind about public school in America is that we accept and teach everyone. When we read statistics about the success of students in other countries we need to keep in mind that their schools are not always open to everyone. Even in America, the results obtained by charter schools and private schools cannot be compared public schools because their populations can be so different. In public schools now there is a real push to standardize education with the new common core standards. The only problem is that children are not standard. Every child has his or her own quirks. They develop at different times in all different ways. Those who do well in the things we teach in school think they are gifted. Those who may have talents that are not so valued in a school setting start to think they are not smart and nothing could be further from the truth. I agree with you , Courtney, that we need to celebrate each child’s differences. Good teachers differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of all the learners in their classroom. Teachers need to be given the flexibility to design lessons that reach multiple intelligences. All the technological aids we have now like smartboards and iPads make it easier to do that . Dylan is lucky to have you as his champion. He amazes us all the time with the things he can do!

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CAROL July 31, 2013 at 2:28 am

Courtney, I noticed that your mom didn’t get into this discussion! As a retired teacher, I can see the many sides of this coin!! I believe in developmental education but that doesn’t fit the norm either! Everyone needs to be in school by age 5 and therefore have to fit Into a certain grade. That doesn’t always work for everyone. For all the differences children have, the parents have as well! Some parents are very active and involved in their child’s education and others are not. So teachers have twice as many differences to deal with!!! So, Courtney, you continue to advocate for your child and take what the educators give you and make your own decisions. You have to be your child’s advocate! I have also seen the educational system in Finland and there the educators are give much more respect than they receive I this country. Now a days, everyone thinks they can do the teacher’s job and sometime the wrong people get the control!

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CAROL July 31, 2013 at 2:30 am

Sorry, Donna. I didn’t see your post so my first sentence is off base!

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DONNA CUSHING July 31, 2013 at 2:30 am

I would also like to say that I think it is commendable to be able to appreciate different points of view while having your own opinions. Things are seldom always right or always wrong, You are very perceptive and can examine situations from different perspectives.that is a gift.

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