To the students in Dr. Bailey’s class. Give your kids the whipped cream!
It’s case conference time – oh no. A necessary evil to ensure legally that my disabled child receives the services she needs in the public school system. But wait! Stop! I want you to think differently this year. I want you to take control of your child’s education, but in a way you may have never considered. How did I rid my fear of case conferences and my child’s academic future?…..You may be surprised when I tell you…. but I want to share with you the freedom to let go and set your teachers free.
My purpose for starting this blog was based on a discomfort brewing in me regarding the role the government plays in the lives of families and their loved ones with disabilities. The disability community, in my opinion, has been taken over by the government. Having served for the last three governors in the state of Indiana, and representing tens of thousands of families with loved ones with disabilities, I fully understand the importance of good public policy and the necessity of granting rights to people who often cannot speak up for themselves.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was necessary to allow young children to go to public school who had disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was necessary in order to make public entities accessible to people with physical and mental limitations. Both were necessary – but where do we go from there? Because, we seem to be stuck in a pattern.
What I walked away with from my tenure with the state, is that public policy only ensures us the minimum, and unfortunately, that’s all we often receive (think public housing, food stamps, etc.). We get the bare minimum of what some good intentioned advocate can muster to pass through legislation. And that good intentioned advocate used to be me, so I know what I am talking about.
Remember, if the service is actually good, our legislators will undoubtedly cut back funds in order to spread the money among an unending list of new requests. The government “unfunds” the good, and tolerates the intolerable. So I ask you… how much more would you get if we didn’t have policies, that due to the nature of the system, limit a lot of the good things your child could receive?
Sure, I will SETTLE for a plain chocolate sundae if that’s all you tell me I can have, but wouldn’t it be all the better with whipped cream? I mean…. where’s the whipped cream, where’s the nuts, the HOT FUDGE? Somehow, we have diminished our kids’ educations down to IEP’s, case conferences, and battle lines drawn in the sand. We may think we are winning, because at least we have a plain old sundae that we have been getting year after year and its… well ….ok. Unfortunately, under the current system, we never think of ever expecting something better. We are too afraid that we might lose what little we have that we forgo a much better opportunity or some much desired whipped cream on our HOT FUDGE sundae.
Honestly, I have had far greater success with my daughter’s teachers when I take all emphasis off the IEP, and give them the ability to be creative. Now you may be yelling…”But you have got a better school system than I do.” Not true. Yes, I do have a good school system, but they get better and better every year my daughter is there, because I give them freedom – which completely contradicts the purpose of an IEP. I also believe there are good teachers everywhere, and from my experience tutoring in an inner city school, they are there too. Unfortunately, they are just bogged down by even more rules than we find in the suburbs, courtesy of some well meaning bureaucrat.
Your experience is what you decide to make of it. You can choose to argue over every little issue that comes up, or you can try a different approach where you give up all the “faux” control you think you have. What makes my experience so different than many of the families I talk to, is that I took the government and the legalities (i.e. red tape) out of my daughter’s education and set her teachers free to flourish in an environment where they don’t feel they need to have a lawyer in the other room. I let them practice their art.
You may think that you will be taken advantage of, but if we ever hope to change the status quo, and the indoctrination we have received to “scream til we get what we want”, things will never change. We are decades out from IDEA, and our schools are now trained in defense, so we have to take the first step and trust that the schools will answer our call to think differently about the education of children with disabilities. The government will never be able to MAKE this happen.