SPECIAL ED (SP…ED) – “SPED”

“Things have changed since I was a kid.”  Yeah, we walked up hill, in the snow… barefoot (both ways).  My school bus didn’t even have seatbelts, and though we had them in the car, the only one I ever used was “Mama’s outstretched hand” which saved me from dozens of near misses, I reckon.  (Thanx Mom.)

This year (the first since pandemic), the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, Sojourners is sending kids to school.  As you can imagine, if you are particularly astute, the kids we send to the system for a public education require a few special accommodations.  The system still tries to “mainstream” them as much as possible (btw, that term is out of date, apparently).  So, they still go the same school as everyone, but a different teacher in a different room.  They eat lunch with the other kids, but they have special helpers.

Basically, they look (for the most part) and sound (for the most part) like most of the other kids.  They get a green student folder in the file room just like the other kids, but theirs has a small red asterisk next to their name.  Yeah, my kids are just like all the others except not.  We are all getting educated right now in education, in what it’s like to go to school and learn stuff – and being blended in with the mainstream to the extent possible makes it hard to know what bits are special.

But wait!  Aren’t all kids special?

But wait!  Isn’t telling kids they are special the problem?

But wait!  Doesn’t public education fail to educate?

But wait!

Yeah, as a parent of students in today’s public education, I am still trying to learn what to be outraged about.  “It takes a village,” as you have heard, and I believe it.  But then our household pretty much is a village.  I would call us “the village people,” except that name is already used.  But I certainly hope the village will help us, because for the last 2+ years, we have isolated from the village, and during that time, I have seen school board meetings come to blows like mudwrestling contests and trashy night clubs where everyone is drunk.

This year, I was called into a special conference with the principal, the teacher, and a handful of other staff to discuss goals, accommodations, expectation, and other policies.  I am sure I sat at a table with at least five professionals who were speaking in acronyms and jargon amongst themselves as they breezed through tons of information like the speed reader outlining all the contingent liabilities at the end of a medication advertisement on TV.  (You know… the one who always mentions “oily discharge” really fast, sandwiched between “headaches” and “thoughts of suicide” among other horrible things you might not want?)

I had to ask them to stop and slow down and repeat things several times.  I mean, they had me signing papers like I was buying a house.  I kept thinking about how all of this meeting was really about not getting sued.  This was a fancy production masking self-protection.  And the more I smelled this rat, the more distasteful the experience, which is sad because these were really nice people!

I didn’t personally attend a one-room schoolhouse, but we had one down in the canyon in the county where I graduated high school in the 1980s.  We also had two other local elementary schools that were not one room but had four grades in two.  My dad used to point out that with all the problems you find in public education, it was one-room schoolhouses that turned out America’s first astronauts.  (Let that bake your noodle.)  I couldn’t help but think of the image given me by Little House on the Prairie TV show when I was a kid.

Yeah, we have all this hifalutin specialness going on now days.  If you are a teacher, you specialize in primary education, math, science, art, history, reading, PE and what-have-you, but those first astronauts got the first eight years (or so) of their formal education being taught by mostly young women (some as young as 16) who taught only the basics to a room full of little, middle size, and big kids all at once.  That just sounds chaotic to think about now, but then again….

Wow!  If you strip down the experience to that today, you must be some nut!  I barely trust 16-year-olds to watch my kids for an hour!  I just hope they aren’t too absorbed on their phones to keep my kids from burning down the house!  Clearly, we can’t simply go back to the old ways and just pick up where we left off.

But still, sitting here through a CYA session with a staff of professionals has got to be barking up the wrong tree!  Surely!

I can’t help but think about my sixth-grade teacher.  We lived in a very small, west Texas town where everyone knew everyone else, and in fact, the sixth-grade teacher was a family friend (church friend, no less).  My dad is still friends with the man who was my principal, though mostly a Facebook thingy now.  That school kept records on me and sent home formal report cards, but my parents knew about my learning pretty much on a weekly basis through informal channels.  The paperwork wasn’t really necessary.  It was more a formality.

As I think about how “it takes a village,” that is what I mean.

Just the last three days, the local news coverage has pointed out that Texas leads the nation in banning books from schools.  We have an outrage about the things our kids might read or be taught (by strangers), and my state leads the nation in this outrage.  There’s a group of teachers and students in Austin trying to protest this trend.  They want kids exposed to all the books, but our governor and a handful of parents are leading a charge to expel a long list of books.  I just don’t want my kids shot!

Which way should I be outraged?

To be honest, I don’t know.  I am sure that right now, my kids are not in danger of reading anything except their own names.  I’m more concerned about putting my kids on a school bus with a driver I don’t know.  I’m more concerned with the security measures I had to go through just to get into that conference room for this CYA meeting.  I had met the teacher before, but none of the other staffers.  They don’t know me, nor I them.  Some of them don’t keep offices in that building or on that campus, even.  We were all strangers!

So, there I sat, signing here, here, here and initialing there thinking to myself, “You people sure seem like nice, caring people.  I get a strong sense of that.”

After a minute, I stopped signing, put the pen down, and suddenly it seemed like pulling the emergency cord on the bus or train.  Everything ground to a stop.  All eyes looked up from tablets, and I had everyone’s attention.  I stated the obvious, “It really feels like everything we are signing here today we are put up to by some lawyers.  I reckon I need to pretty much just sign whatever you give me, or else I need to be prepared to make a stink.  Honestly, ladies, the only thing I really care is this: Do you love my kids?

We were off script, I could tell.  But the response I got was unanimous.  These strangers love kids, they want to love mine.  They are here to educate, of course, but love is at root the common motivating factor.  I agreed to keep signing papers, but I insisted that without their personal commitment to love my kids, we were wasting our time.  With their love, I would abide with whatever the village needs from me as a parent.

I think it was a relief in the room when I said it.  Not sure, but I think so.  Love.  It’s a word no one dared to utter, except me.  We were sitting there trying to have it, trying to share it, but too busy choking the life out of it to even say it.

I really do hope my kids learn to read and write and do some math.  I hope they get some science, art, and history too.  I hope they learn to appreciate poetry.  But I think they are going to need a lot of love and patience to do it.  In fact, I think they will require sacrificial love and patience in order to thrive at nearly everything they ever do, nearly every day of their lives from now on.  In fact, since my kids were all born hooked on meth, I expect they will need extra helpings plus medication every day for the rest of their lives.

Honestly, if my kid gets a hold of a book I would rather he didn’t read or look at, I think love is a bigger deal, still.  In fact, I hope that my kids’ school will teach all the students there to LOVE and help my kids, to accommodate them as well as challenge them.  I think the world would be a better place.  In fact, if the world can’t do a little of this for my kids, then I’m not so sure life is really worth living.

I think I know what I am outraged about now.

It’s not the books.

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