How’s this for compassion in the new public school accountability world?
By now most people have read about the Ethan Rediske situation in Orlando. The 11 year old, blind, with brain damage and cerebral palsy, as he lay dying in a Hospice, was required to take an alternative version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). His mom, worked from her child’s bedside, to save the child’s teacher, who would be penalized, and quite possibly lose her job, if the child didn’t come through with the test scores.
And how did a mom generate that kind of courage as her son lies dying?
Well she just happened to love the teacher for all the attention that teacher gave her child in his living moments. That’s what good special education teachers do, and that’s how wonderful parents respond. In my estimation, that’s true accountability. It’s why most teachers became teachers and what most parents yearn to find in their public schools.
My condolences to Ethan’s family who must now face the world without their child—who they loved despite any test score—good or bad.
But in this high-stakes “everybody take the test or be damned ” world, will the school district let up? No of course not. A test is a test is a test to them. Without those low test scores, they couldn’t fire teachers and move to the business of shutting down public schools. That’s why their test scores are so important.
They won’t use Ethan’s scores against the teacher, they say, now. But something tells me we will see this situation rear its ugly head again in the Sunshine state. We saw it last year with Michael, who similarly could not see or speak but was required to pass the alternative FCAT.
I’m disgusted and disappointed Florida. You’ve lost your soul when it comes to special ed. and education.
Here’s a little lesson for the Sunshine State. It is not that every child cannot learn—they can. They just don’t learn the same things in the same way. They are never cookie-cutter children no matter if they have a disability or not.
Since hearing about Ethan, I have been flooded with memories. I think back to a school I worked in during the late seventies in Tallahassee. It was one of the first public school programs for students with serious developmental disabilities housed in a Sunland facility. Sunlands were controversial institutions, but this school program brought acclaim.
Our brand new school was a real attempt to dignify and assist students—to teach children stuff that mattered. We worked on gross motor skills, fine motor skills, communication, socialization, self-help, cognitive learning, communication, speech and language, physical therapy, and we covered music and art.
We taught our students how to chew—moving them from liquid diets slowly, through practice, to solids. We taught some how to use the toilet, how to maintain eye contact, how to hold a spoon, sometimes how to walk, how to talk, how to smile, how to communicate, how to feed themselves, how to sign, how to identify words…and much more.
Most importantly, we looked past any bodily brokenness to the loveliness of those individual personalities and the courageousness of personal struggle. I never learned so much in my whole life—about the meaning of life—then I did from those children.
Since the school was in Tallahassee, often legislators and school board members would parade through our program. We tried hard to show them the importance of our school. And we easily convinced them. They always seemed to like what they saw. They had the kind of compassion that seems lost when it comes to schooling today.
Sunland public school students eventually moved out into schools in the community. The Sunland in Tallahassee was torn down years ago, remembered by most only as a scary institution and, in its rundown state, a paranormal haunt—our public school program completely forgotten.
Institutionalization? My fear is we will see the return of these housing facilities, not in any compassionate way, when students with disabilities can’t master the Common Core State Standards, when charters reject these children, and only the wealthy can find for-profit placements—where will those without support go?
I just can’t help but wonder what went wrong Florida. Aside from Orange County school board member Rick Roach and State Representative Linda Stewart, where are those leaders who care about kids now? Who steps up for what education should really be about?
We have become a soulless education system when it comes to students with disabilities, and students in general for that matter. It’s not just in Florida either. I wonder. How will a country run without compassion? I frankly don’t think it can.