I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is:
Perchance, because we see not to the close;—
For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death;
Nay—God my Christ—I pass but shall not die.
-Alfred Lord Tennyson
During my childhood and into my adult years, I was fortunate enough to know a woman named Yvonne Oshiro. She was no ordinary woman. Not by a long shot. She was the mother everyone should have, most especially if you were a child with special needs. Yvonne had a love larger than the sun and hopefulness beyond the rays of said sun. If belief could make something into being, Yvonne would have been the most important and significant alchemist.
What I learned from Yvonne is too large to put into a blog, journal or book. It was the experience of a lifetime in small bites over a long period of time. I learned there are no Children of a Lesser God, there are only children who become adults. Don’t get me wrong, Yvonne did not think every born child was functional. She knew better. Yvonne grew up in Italy bordering on France in a time when surviving winter was an endeavor. Yvonne knew some children were not able to live. She loved them anyways. For the children who did live, Yvonne waged a campaign on ‘the system’ to make sure those children had access, education and human rights/dignity. Each child had a purpose and was going to live a life worthy of dignity.
Throughout my life I have worked with students at various levels. At times I am hopeful a child has some possibility at living a meaningful life and I know when I wish we had better euthanasia laws in this country. I do not say this with cruelty or any sense of mean spirit. I say it from the point of view of the oath doctors take – do no harm. We can and often do things which are beyond reason in the name of keeping some one alive and we rob them of their dignity while providing them with something we call being alive. I also say this about cancer patients as many people seem to think being alive is the same as living a life.
In the case of children with special needs, they have a purpose beyond the medical establishment and studies surrounding what and how something happened. These children can often learn productive skills and have a life beyond a vegetative state. Many of these children would pass for Children of a Regular God if we understood what we, as a society, needed to do.
Unfortunately, even teachers in Grade K-12 have limited exposure to students with differentiated needs. There is generally a requirement of one or two courses to obtain your credential and the rest of your ‘learning’ is on the fly, in the classroom. Since my background is speech pathology, I took years of classes in development both pre and post-partum. My learning continued on the fly, in the classroom – it was a different experience. I also had years of Yvonne ‘experience’ and wisdom under my belt.
I now work as a tutor and my students span K-12 and college. Until last year, I only had collegiate students which were ‘normal’ and needed to learn how to study. Supposedly they had the ‘capacity’.
Over the course of Fall of 2013 and Spring 2014, I was contacted by a family to tutor a student at a local private college. The conversation went in fits and bursts. A parent letting me know what the student’s needs were and being frustrated and angry, a phone call regarding navigating the behemoth of the registration department at the private college, etc. and so forth. In the Spring of 2014, I was asked to tutor the student as things had headed south and the family was hoping there was some way to turn things around. This was a turning point for me. I so wish Yvonne had been alive to give me guidance for what I faced and ways to think about navigating the ‘system’.
All the rules and ways in which ADA works are upended on college campuses. Colleges and universities have limits on the amount of support/assistance/help they can provide to students who are not ‘normal’. Since college professors outside the education department are not required to know about how students learn and differentiated instruction, I was left trying to explain to various PhD professors what should be done differently for this particular student so they could succeed. None of what I suggested was challenging or difficult and all of it would benefit any other student. It was definitely not ‘routine’ lecturing and assigning essays. Furthermore, who the hell was I (I do not have a PhD) to tell a professor how to do their job. In the process of advocating for a student, I saw the unabashed ugliness of professors and heads of departments who may be top in their field yet lacking in expertise of sharing the power of their knowledge. It was horrifying to be condescended to by professors as a tutor when both of us should have the goal of helping students learn. The hands of the director in student services (students with special needs) were also tied and the registrars office made things much more complicated and less streamlined than necessary. By time all was said and done, the student was severely penalized on a number of fronts. I was penalized by not being able to help the student. I was brought on to late to unravel a mess even the best knitter would call something worse than frogging.
Whether the student did or did not succeed, whether the student could have succeeded without a tutor and support is a discussion for a different day. What is at hand is the very elemental idea of providing a student with the pieces in place to succeed. A college education at a private university should not be cobbled together from duct tape and baling wire not even provided by the registrar or dean of the school.
When a college or university looks to accept a student, one of the elements under consideration is whether this student has the capacity to persist and finish their studies so they may obtain a degree. At this particular university, the student was not allowed to enroll in the fall as they had to prove they could handle 3 + classes at a time (full-time status) instead of the one or two the student had been taking at community college previously to meet undergraduate requirements. Since this had not been explained until ‘after the fact’ to the student or parents or me, it was an unfortunate delay. The student was then ‘registered’ into classes by the registrar and put in classes with professors least likely to be willing to work with the student to help them succeed. In point of fact, some of the professors pointed out the student ‘seemed’ normal and did not understand why they might need an extension on a due date or why sentences may not be perfectly written but actually made sense or why doing oral/aural Socratic method would have told the professor everything they needed to know as the student had a challenge writing. I do not actually think there were more things this university could have done to make the student uncomfortable and to feel hopeless.
Instead of doing the task at hand of educating a student, this university did everything as obstructive and not conducive to learning as was possible. This was not the end.
I was subsequently referred to another parent and student new at the university for Fall 2014. The student was not given the help and support on day one to meet their needs. They actually changed classes the second week of school which created a large obstacle which has not been entirely overcome at this time. The professor(s) from the same department as last year’s grief, did not learn a thing so they have made things entirely difficult. One of the issues is the professors need to go off on tangents during lecture which is incredibly challenging for this student who has processing issues. I have seen the notes from the note taker SELECTED by the professor……they are an outline. This particular student needs more than an outline.
It is unclear what the professor (HOD) is trying to prove – they can make a student so miserable they will leave the campus, they will make the student rue the day they ever thought this subject was important (it is, trust me), they can prove they have a PhD yet lack the substance of actually being an educator……I could go on and on. I have no clue what motivates this person to think they way they do about education.
What I do know and what I think is important would be classes on college campuses for students who need more TIME.
Some students would actually benefit from one class stretching two terms. It may be a student who is a parent, going back to college and they work full-time. They can not commit 20 hours a week and do well and have the information matter in their education. If they had two terms, they could succeed, do well and actually learn something. It might be a student with needs for differentiated instruction. We have different high schools around the country which have block scheduling and students can have two hours a day of Algebra for one term or they can have one hour a day for two terms. Both situations fit different students. Selecting one over the other is a fancy way of selecting which students succeed…..I don’t think I need to elaborate.
No, college is not high school. Yes, we should figure out how to educate more students. What is wrong with helping students succeed if they need more time, better notes, oral/aural discourse instead of writing a paper, books on tape, etc.? What is it I am missing which makes educating the ‘not normal’ students so wrong? Would we deny a returning service member the assistance to succeed? Yes – we do that all around the country. College campuses should be beyond needing to ‘see the disability’ to serve it and yet we do it to those who would benefit so much from an education and in turn benefit our community and country. What is it we fear so much we can not actually do what is right/correct?
Somehow something seems fishy if students are accepted to a private university and actually set up to fail. It reeks of…….making money. Children of a lesser God seems to be the way I would describe people who see money as more important than education.