Curious Social Development

My daughter is the “Mothering Type”. You know the kind. She still loves dolls beyond her friends, and loves pets, and she took the babysitting class as soon as possible so she could be around small children. She is always the person in the class the helps and socializes with the high needs kids in her classroom too. One day while I was volunteering at her school, a very nice mom of a high need autistic child was in her class, to discuss what she needed the students in this class to know. She discussed her child’s sensitivity to sound, high stimulation, and the need for calmness. During this discussion the students in the class discovered that this student had a sibling. A student inquired about this sibling and who’s class (teacher) he/she was in….

The mother responded that her other child went to a private school in town because she wanted that child to have the best education possible. I sat there stunned for a moment. This mother has the right to send her child wherever she believes they fit best. She has the right and the honor to elect where to send her child for an education but I was stunned. There sat my daughter rubbing this child’s back to calm them down from the stress of the conversation, and I am thinking “Is my child a part of a social experiment? Did I send her to this public school to socialize poor behaving children and high needs children and see what happens?” Remember when parents of high need students fought hard to intergrate their children into normal classrooms? Remember when parents were mad they had to pay to send their special need students to private schools? Are we reversing this trend in the opposite direction?
I know several parents with dual children in the district. One functioning at a high level and one with special needs. This was my first thought of the public school being a place to put your special needs child and not your high functioning child. What an interesting development. Obviously this Mom loves her children and wants the best for both of them, but I somehow came away from that interaction with a new outlook. Public education is now the place to put your special education child and then you pay to put you high functioning child somewhere else. Didn’t we just reverse this trend in the 80’s so that special needs would be intergrated? If all parents felt this way we would have a real problem. One day the public school may be nothing but high need students. I find this a curious development.
My husband is a psychiatrist, with two very psychotic sisters. We are very knowledgeable in the world of mental health. The mental health institutes were abolished and legislation passed to develop local mental health clinics to care for these patients so they would no longer live in those unhealthy mental health institutes. The problem is no federal funds followed and the local mental health clinics were never developed. Now you can find homeless and imprisoned mentally ill across the nation. I find a similar situation with the high need students. A federal mandate to intergrate high need students followed by a substandard of funding. It is as though we are repeating ourselves with societies highest need citizens. I suppose I felt a sense of “well it is O. K. to send my high needs child to public schools but if I want my high functioning child to make it in the world I need to send them to a private school”. Or maybe I felt a twing of “yuck, public school is for the needy but not for the smart.” I don’t know and I know I am being unfair to this mom but it made be think about how I sometimes think my children are a part of a social experiment…..and I am unsure if the experiment is for the better or worse for my children. Either way it is an unusual and noteworthy development.

27 thoughts on “Curious Social Development”

  1. There are no local private schools that would accept a “high need autistic” child. So this woman has no alternative but to send her child to public school.

  2. Walbridge Academy right here in Madison specializes with children with special needs, and depending on what needs a child has, there are private schools who except special needs children.
    Special Education, specially for autism, has had a great reputation of mainstreaming youngsters in Madison and Waisman Center has an excellent program also. Families move to Madison because of these reputations.
    I have known a few families who have done this same thing. But there are a number of reasons that I can think of. The first is that they want each child to have their own identity. In our situation, we live near a large elementary school, but the non special ed needs child may work better in a small school. This child may be extremely gifted, and the family doesn’t feel that MMSD does a good job meeting their individual gifted child’s needs. They may be going to a religious school – to support the families religious values.
    On the other hand, I have seen kids with the “mothering instincts” placed with high needs children on a regular basis to help a high needed child or even children. I would recommend listening to your child. If her academics/self esteem doesn’t seem to be bothered, than I would leave her be. She will be a much more accepting person for it.
    There are families who do tell their children that they can not play with Johnny because of his special needs sister, or that they are afraid that Sally is going to “catch” Adam’s autism.
    Every family needs to make decisions on what schools there family attends based on what the families needs are. There are a number of families with non-special needs children, where one child goes to private school and the other goes to public. I don’t think that you can read into this. For some families, it is important that all children attend the same school, for others, they will base the school for each child based on what each child’s needs are.

  3. I have lots to say about this post, but will only make one point now. Education4U says to Mary that if her child’s academics and self-esteem don’t seem to be affected by her peer caretaking behavior, not to worry. I do not think it’s so simple as that because there may well be delayed and longterm effects for this (female) child who may be learning oh-so-well to put another person’s needs ahead of her own and how much positive reinforcement she will get from the world (especially the adults around her who — let’s be honest here — benefit enormously from having a helper child around) for being so compassionate and self-sacrificing.
    To paraphrase and adapt an old saying, if I had a quarter for every person I have known — either professionally (I am a psychotherapist in private practice) or personally — who spent their childhood as a “good helper,” a “parentified child,” I’d be a wealthy woman by now. Children who are too good at responding to the world’s requests to take care of others often wind up very confused and damaged (and angry!!!) as adults. The core problem is, typically, that they don’t feel they have a right to have needs of their own.
    Let me be clear, I am not advocating heartlessness. I absolutely believe it is our responsibility as parents to raise our children to be kind and compassionate citizens of the earth. I am simply making the point that it can be carried too far and that people — children (perhaps especially girl children) — can get hurt along the way. I have seen it happen far too often.
    It is a very good feeling to be able to help others. Deeply so. And there is nothing wrong with having that be a core piece of one’s identity and sense of self. (On the contrary, the world would probably be a much better place if more of us developed our capacity for giving of ourselves.) As with most things in life, however, I think there is a balance to be achieved if one’s overall health and well-being are to be preserved.

  4. There are a lot of sides to this story. I’m not sure it’s anyone’s business, but the mother and her family, as to why they made a public/private school choice. With that in mind, Mary, I wouldn’t be too quick to pass judgement on whether or not your child is part of a social experiment. I have a LOT of personal experience in this regard, but, frankly, this is not a forum to share the details.

  5. Here’s the NEA’s statement of what it expects for education:
    * Prepare all students for the future with 21st century skills;
    * Create enthusiasm for learning and engage all students in the classroom;
    * Close achievement gaps and raise achievement for all students;
    * Ensure that all educators have the resources and tools they need to get the job done.
    Read the full text at

  6. Walbridge Academy is for kids with learning disabilities not development disabilities. They would not accept a “high need autistic” child. Their web site specifically says so (or at least it did last time I checked). It’s possible that some local private schools would accept mildly autistic students (i.e., closer to the Asperger’s end of the spectrum) but based on Mary’s description, that does not seem to be the case here.

  7. I too think that parents have a lot of reasons for choosing different schools for their children, and I have frequently seen families choose different schools for their children in families with and without children with disabilities.
    Personally, I think it was obnoxious of the parent talked about in the article to have made the comment they made. My jaw would have dropped too, but it wouldn’t have been the first time 🙂
    I wanted to speak to the discussion of peer helpers. Good teachers work on community throughout their classrooms, and do not rely on one or two students. That said, interpersonal intelligence varies within a classroom just like verbal intelligence, mathematical intelligence and kinesthetic intelligence. Some students gravitate towards helping roles. I don’t believe that they should be prevented from doing so, anymore than children who gravitate to writing should be prevented from moving ahead in that skill area. By the same token, those who struggle with interpersonal skills should not be “excused” from practicing them anymore than a struggling math student would be “excused” from working on math. In all cases, it is the responsibility of the teacher to help guide students. If a student is consistently putting the needs of someone else ahead of their own needs, they are not being well taught in that area. Supporting a peer with a special need should require give and take, not sacrifice. Just allowing a student to function as a helper, without ongoing guidance and instruction, would be like assuming that the strongest reader in the class doesn’t need reading instruction.
    Finally, I would add that it is not always the child you would think it would be who plays the supportive role. Every year we have had at least one or two students who struggle academically and/or socially/behaviorally and who prove to be extremely adept with students who have very visible disabilities. Their abilities should be encouraged and guided as well.

  8. Laurie, I understand your concerns about my statement about not to worry if a child is happy and learning, but I feel you are generalizing too much. Some children do end up being a mini teacher because an adult (aide or teacher) sees a child who can deal with a specific child’s needs, or ends up tutoring all the time a group of children. Yes, I do feel this is a situation where a child is not in a healthy situation.
    Having seen it first hand, I feel that it is important that people learn as children that just because another child has a disability, they can be productive citizens of our community. Maybe this experience will interest a child into teaching, social worker, case manager, or just be a more understanding parent/family member/friend when they have a family member or friend who is disabled at birth or becomes one through an accident or sickness.
    Yes, someone who doesn’t have a strong self esteem, can feel that they constantly needing to put others’ needs first and then end up becoming a “confused or damaged adult” as you say. But, it can also be very invigorating. As a child, I spent many hours working with disabled children and tutoring others who were struggling and did this also in college. My experiences from a young age have helped me with life as an adult including situations that I hadn’t expected being in. I am still very active for causes that I feel are beneficial for humankind, even if they don’t affect my family personally and feel very humbled for the work that I did during my K-12 life.
    As TeacherL stated, I would be concerned if Mary’s child was always putting another’s child’s needs infront of their own. But this can happen with two non-disabled children as easy. Over the years, I have seen some very, very, needy capable children pull others who don’t have good interpersonal skills down. This is where parents and teachers need to work together to help a child become well rounded.
    As an adult, I have seen too often other adults “afraid” of someone who is different. Just because a person has a disability (has ticks, down’s syndrome, autism, in a wheelchair, missing limbs, hearing impaired, blind, etc.) doesn’t mean that that person isn’t going to be a great friend, productive person in our society, and so on. If we don’t allow children to learn and accept others for who they are, how are we going to expect them to be accepting of others when they are adults.
    I only say this because I have seen families who have a child with disabilities who are not accepting of their own child. They hire people to take care of the child from the time the child gets up to he/she are put to bed – because the parents are not accepting of this child. I have also seen people divorce because one spouse becomes very ill or has an accident and the other spouse can not deal with the changed individual. I have seen people assuming adults with cerebral palsy are not intelligent and talk to them as if they need to be talked to very slowly and/or loudly.
    Mary, you also mentioned what is going to happen to the high needs children when they do finish high school. I do believe that our society does have a much better preparation for high needs people. There has been group homes in our society, even before special ed was mainstreamed. Society works with individuals when they are little to make them more productive individuals. Mentally ill people often don’t become “mentally ill” until they are teenagers or even adults. There is no step by step plan as with those who have been disabled since a child. I think you are comparing apples with oranges. Yes, they are both classified under the same umbrella, but still very different. I do feel that our society does need to work on finding effective ways to place mentally ill people into our society. We have a long way to go on this one.

  9. This is an interesting discussion on many levels. These are off the cuff thoughts so please forgive any faux pas.
    My first objection is to the expectation that students are there to serve other students, which begs the question of who serves the students who are serving other students – surely they are there to have there needs met too?
    Beyond that, I think that the scenario that was posted describes the incredibly difficult balance of rights between students in schools. In this case, the challenges of accommodating a child’s need for calm and quiet and the natural tendency of school age kids to be enthusiastic, boisterous, and at times loud. The challenges of the importance of creating an inclusive environment without meeting the needs of one group of students at the expense of another. And then there is the recurring theme of whether our curriculum aims at bringing the bottom up, meeting the needs of the very top, or tries to hit a hypothetical middle.
    I’m not saying that we can’t have models that reach all children; I’m saying that we haven’t reached a point where it is done in every class at every level in every school. And in the meantime, parents ask – and rightly so – exactly what education their child is receiving. Some, as David often points out, are pleased as punch with their children’s schools. Others are worried, distressed, and weighing the virtues of public school vs. home schooling or private schools.
    Although there are people who would like us to believe that the challenges are overstated, I would submit that it isn’t as simple as singing kumbyah and then having a group hug. It is a complex demand of educators who need more in-class support to do all of the things that would need to happen to really meet the needs of ALL students. We aren’t there yet, and we won’t get there until we acknowledge the gaps between rhetoric and practice.

  10. I think you are spot on in your summary of this Lucy. I’d also note that the MMSD is an adaptive organism in many ways, and as funding cuts have wreaked their toll in the past decade, we’ve seen the situation you’ve summarized get more pronounced. TAG funds have dried up, forcing classroom teachers to differentiate to a wider spectrum of kids. Special Ed dollars have fallen off, forcing reorganization of delivery methods where the specialists are covering groups of schools and the cross categorical is trying to reach more students more efficiently. All of this has certainly impacted the other students, the classroom teachers, and the various support personnel within each building. Libraries throughout the MMSD are drying up as well 🙁
    As you note, I am pretty happy at my own childrens’ experiences in MMSD. There have been some big road bumps, and I’ve personally put a lot of hard work into their experiences being positive. The one thing I’ve found, time and time again, is that the teachers and staff and principals TRULY CARE about their profession in Madison. They’re proud, they work hard, they’re bright, and very few see teaching as just a way to pay their bills (a few of them do exist!).
    MMSD is at a crossroads, and I think that the sooner the Board and the administration and the community engage in these conversations, the better off we’ll be. Many of the issues that are woven into discussions here and throughout the community are being addressed in the Equity Policy Task Force. They are NOT easy issues to discuss, but that’s where their value lies. Things like inclusion with proper funding for differentiation at the TAG level are tough issues. Ditto with needs-based resource allocation (not supplementary allocation, but base allocation). I’d encourage folks to look at the Equity Task Force work products at to get an idea of the width of our discussions. The current plan is to present the Board with an update in September, at a regularly televised meeting, with task force members present to clarify our deliberations and future direction.

  11. I am struck by how quickly people have rushed in to offer alternative explanations here. The effect is one of avoidance, of distancing ourselves from Mary’s basic concerns and questions. We say, “Mary, it’s not the way it looked to you. It’s not that way at all.” We say “Mary, it’s this” or “Mary, it’s that” or “Mary, it’s some other thing. … But Mary, it’s not what you think it is.”
    But what if it IS exactly what it looked like to Mary?
    What if it is exactly this: the woman in question is using public education to get her special needs child’s needs met, but paying for her other child to go to private school because she has determined that her other child’s needs cannot be met in the public system. What if it’s exactly as the woman herself put it: she is sending her other child to private school in order for her “to have the best education possible,” something she deemed not possible in the public setting.
    The critical question is WHY her other child cannot get “the best education possible” FOR HER in public school? And if that is an acceptable state of affairs.
    Which brings me to Ed B’s recent post on “who should public schools serve” and what should public schools’ priorities be? I, too, would welcome an honest and thoroughgoing conversation about this issue (keeping the dimensions of family SES and level of student academic performance separate from one another — I think Ed may have inadvertently combined them). I believe that a truly courageous conversation — one devoid of “happy talk” — would do us a world of good. In fact, I can’t help but wonder: if we could only be honest — with ourselves, with each other, as a district — about our answers to these important questions, might we enable ourselves to do a better job by our children?
    So here are a few questions for people to chew on. (Please do not assume you know my answers to them, in your replies.)
    — Do public schools have the same responsibility — legal, moral, ethical — to meet the educational/academic needs of each of this woman’s children? Yes or no? Put another way, does each of her children have the right to expect from the public system the best education FOR THEM?
    — Put more broadly, do public schools have the same responsibility to meet the educational needs of all kinds of children (for example, children with special education needs, other struggling students, average students, academically gifted students, poor students, middle class students, wealthy students, black students, white students, ELL students, and so forth)? Or do public schools have a greater responsibility to serve and meet the needs of one or more of those groups of children, over and above their responsibility to meet the needs of the other groups of children?
    — Very pointedly, do public schools have a greater responsibility to serve our neediest children (whether defined as the poorest, the poorest performing, or the most at-risk)? Yes or no?
    — Do children from advantaged backgrounds have a right to expect from the public schools anything of TRUE educational/academic value for them? Or not?
    — Do public schools have the same or different levels of responsibility to meet the intellectual/academic versus social versus artistic versus athletic versus other needs of our children?
    — Are there limits on what the public schools should be expected to provide by way repairing the damage done to innocent victims (i.e., children) by other destructive societal forces? Yes or no?
    — If there are limits, what might they be?
    — If there are limits, can we attach dollar amounts (as in percentage of total expenditures) to them?
    — What about meeting the needs of middle and upper middle class children with special education needs? Morally and ethically speaking, should the families of those children be expected to assume more responsibility for meeting their children’s special needs — because they can afford to — than would be expected of poor families with children with special education needs? What if their doing so meant, for example, that the intellectual needs of poor gifted children could be met?
    Clearly these are tough questions, made that much more so by current tough financial times. But they are also important questions. I believe they deserve our respect and our deep, thorough thought. Not superficial platitudes and “feel good” rhetoric; but genuine, down-and-dirty moral struggle.
    I look forward to people’s responses.

  12. This blog is never lost for thoughts! Great discussion…thanks. I want to clarify a few things if you will allow.
    1. I would never suggest this high needs child should have to go to a private school. That was not my point.
    2. My daughter, while the mothering type, is an “Italian” mother and clearly has a mind of her own that I admire and will admire more when she is no longer under my roof! She is in no way suffering academically or socially and I find her talent of giving and helping a gift that will help her become a great vet, or teacher, or nurse or who knows. I do know a few parents of dual children (one high need and one not) and unfortunately the teachers will select the high functioning sibling as the helper for a student in his or her class. I guess the teacher assumes they will know how to help the high needs child but I can tell you the parents find this distressing as this child already gets enough helper time at home.
    3. The comparison of the mentally ill and high need students was specifically about the federal mandates and how the following action of the federal government failed with funds. I realize there is a significant difference between the two populations.
    4. My insight was more about the evolution of our schools. While public education is required to provide so much (language, S.E., TAG, althetics, music, art, socialization……)to so many I muse at the impossible task set forth by the government, state, district, and parents. Should all parents have this ability to discuss with all the students what their child needs to make his or her education better? I know I’m being ridiculous but this Mom’s assumption is all the students will help her child, and provide a atmosphere that will improve his/her learning enviroment. This I’m sure is why the equity task force must be a very difficult discussion for all involved. On a personal note I think this situation hit a sensitive cord….Whatever the reason to place another child in a private school it takes away the voice, input, and balance, to the public school and shrinks the core population of students that can make a district survive. I fear we will lose this battle of balance and will be left with a public system that is not reflective of the general population……
    5. Which lead me to the similarities of the schools and the cities. The flight from Milwaukee, Chicago and almost all large metro cities created a new and more challenging downtown and school system for all these areas. I am suggesting or just thinking out loud there may be a flight of parents who no longer want their children to be in a school that tries to serve so many groups.
    6. I do agree with Lucy. This is a very hard thing to do. Serve everyone at the same level although their abilities range from a very autistic child that does not speak to a child reading at a 10th grade level in 3rd grade. This is a multi-culture, multi-level, diverse district. Will we lose even more high functioning students in this district to private schools (the burbs) and be left with a different and struggling district? Is this a social development or just a few families making choices that fits their needs best?

  13. Laurie,
    You write:
    “I believe that a truly courageous conversation — one devoid of “happy talk” — would do us a world of good.”
    I would suggest to you that a conversation that cannot include the positives we see in our schools is pretty one sided. I don’t consider my personal experiences to be “rhetoric”. I have had a lot of experience in the last few years teaching students with wide ranging abilities. I am very pleased with the successes at both ends of the spectrum. Very powerful things can happen in classrooms with very different students, as long the teacher is committed to good differentiation and progress for every student. That said, I would like to put in my two cents regarding a few of your questions:
    Do public schools have the same responsibility — legal, moral, ethical — to meet the educational/academic needs of each of this woman’s children? Yes or no? Put another way, does each of her children have the right to expect from the public system the best education FOR THEM?
    **Legally, no child is entitled to the “best education”. Every child is simply entitled to a “free and appropriate public education”. What that means is of course open to interpretation, but having a disability does not mean the student gets the “best” education. In fact, contrary to the ideas that swirl around special education, my experience has been that we are scrambling to provide appropriate, never mind “best”. Ethically? All children are, in my opinion, equally entitled to get their needs met. That does not mean that all students need the same resources. It means that all students need the same thoughtful attention, planning and delivery of instruction suited to their needs. I would also suggest (unpopular though I am sure this idea will be), that having individual needs take precedence over group needs can create a sense of entitlement that does not serve children well as they reach adulthood. I know few adults who receive what they, individually, would most benefit from on any sort of a regular basis. As adults we function in workplaces and communities. Expectations that everything should be tailored to our personal wants and needs are not serving our communities or workplaces very well. To paraphrase and borrow from someone I heard on the radio a while back, we have become a nation of consumers rather than a nation of citizens. Consumers expect to be personally satisfied with their purchases. Citizens are willing to make some sacrifices and compromises out of respect for the needs of the community as a whole.
    — Do public schools have the same or different levels of responsibility to meet the intellectual/academic versus social versus artistic versus athletic versus other needs of our children?
    **In a resource rich school funding system, all of those needs get met. When choices have to be made due to lack of resources, I personally prioritize intellectual/academic and social over artistic/athletic. However, I go back again to the idea of good teaching and suggest that these areas can be integrated to some extent into the academic curriculum. This is not as strong an education as providing for those areas separately, but since people seem to want to buy homes of certain sizes without considering property taxes, I’m going to guess that our resources will continue to shrink.
    — Are there limits on what the public schools should be expected to provide by way repairing the damage done to innocent victims (i.e., children) by other destructive societal forces? Yes or no?
    **Whether there should be or not, the limits are there. The things outside of the school’s control send me home with my stomach in knots on a fairly regular basis. I believe the schools have a responsibility to do their level best to educate students in spite of the damage done to them. I would find it hard to be optimistic about the quality of life for my own children in a society that fails to take this responsibility seriously. When we fail a child, we fail a future adult and possibly a future parent. The growing number of children living in poverty will continue to explode if we cannot provide people with the skills to live their lives differently. That not only hurts children coming from poverty, it hurts children coming from privilege too.
    What about meeting the needs of middle and upper middle class children with special education needs? Morally and ethically speaking, should the families of those children be expected to assume more responsibility for meeting their children’s special needs — because they can afford to — than would be expected of poor families with children with special education needs? What if their doing so meant, for example, that the intellectual needs of poor gifted children could be met?
    **The reality I see is that this is already happening. Having a child with an emotional or cognitive disability is enormously expensive (childcare, for instance, is rarely the teen babysitter down the street and is required for many, many more years). Asking those parents to somehow contribute more in the context of the school? I don’t see that as being reasonable. And again, I think it already happens in many ways. Let’s not forget that those parents pay taxes just like other parents; participate in fundraisers just like other parents; volunteer their time just like other parents. The level of contributions that families make in any of those areas is very often a direct reflection of their income. Advantaged families with and without children with disabilities also purchase services and experiences for them outside of school: swimming lessons; music lessons; art classes; summer enrichment courses that aren’t part of full day day-care and require mid-day transportation; travel experiences; tutoring; higher quality day care….the list goes on and on. As the parent of an “advantaged” student and a teacher of many “disadvantaged” students, I am often struck by the number of experiences that are taken completely for granted by advantaged students and families. This is, I think, separate from the question of appropriate academic challenge.
    Hmmm….there are other questions I would love to address, but as this post is already ridiculously long, I guess I’ve probably spouted off enough 🙂

  14. I have a plea, and thought that someone reading here might be able to help.
    A dear friend of mine has a child with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Their daughter has just turned 18 and now is out of school – but she cannot live on her own. She is incapable of making rational choices for herself with basic living decisions.
    My friends are not wealthy and cannot afford full time care for her – and they are exhausted to the bone. Years of special schooling, doctors, hospitalization, etc. has left their savings bare, not to mention their emotional resources.
    Is anyone aware of any funding or help for adults with disabilities like this? My friend fears that their daughter will end up in jail – or worse – as she continues to run away from home.
    Thank you so much!

  15. Mary,
    I get what you are talking about now. You were amazed that this other parent was very self centered, and not taking into account that she was talking to her child’s peers.
    I was assuming that the parent was “helping” students to understand her child which would allow them to overcome the differences, and see what they have in common – This is usually the reason for adults to come in and explain a disability, death of a family member, illness, etc.
    I don’t believe administration really cares that someone is going to private school or moving to attend another school. When I went to school the East side and West side had approximately the same number of students in high school, now the West side of town has approximately 800 more. When someone moves out, someone else will move in has been the feeling. Because administration looks at numbers and not the faces, they don’t see this as a problem. It is the parents and teachers who see the change of behavior over the years, or the academic readiness is who is concerned by this situation.
    I know of many families who have been strong advocates for all children. Some of these families had to take a hard look at what was happening under their roof, and where tired of advocating for all children because no one else seemed to be advocating for them.This is a very tiring situation because others where not carrying their weight. Therefore, these families had to take their children’s needs in their own hands. So they moved, went to private school, or go in and advocate for their own child.
    It would be great if the chain “it takes a village to raise a child” really worked, but realistically, too many people in our society are thinking only about themselves which causes the chain to break and everyone then is on their own.
    Sorry for being so bleak, but I have seen this happen so much. When struggles hit home, you have to do what is best for your own because if you don’t advocate, no one will.

  16. I think part of the question is, what IS best for “our own”? What does that mean exactly? It appears to me that parents micromanage their children’s lives to much greater extent than they did when my generation was growing up. I can think of only 2 times that my parents attempted to “intervene” in our education, and it is not because I had uniformly excellent teachers or stress free experiences. Learning to cope with difficulties on my own; to “survive” the teachers and/or classmates I didn’t like…those things have made me a strong adult with good judgement and an ability to understand that everything won’t always go my way. It has also made me a strong advocate for the things I believe in, because I learned to speak for myself. My parents gave me the gift of encouragement, safety and love, and they allowed me to rise and fall based on my own efforts. Only now, as a parent of two young children myself, do I realize how incredibly difficult that must have been for them.
    When I look at what is best for my own children I am aware of several truths. My children are already better off than a lot of children. They live without fear of their neighbors; with consistent rules and boundaries that they can trust; with a secure roof over their heads and countless experiences that we have the time, money and education to provide. I don’t believe that they need to be given the best of everything, I think they need to learn how to MAKE the best of everything. And I want them to be ready for adulthood in an increasingly more diverse and potentially financially less secure world. I want them to know that people come from different backgrounds and experiences, and have different ways of interacting with the world, not because I “told” them that or read them a book about that, but because that has been their life experience. I would never deliberately put them in danger and I choose to control the media that they are exposed to, but I will allow them the opportunity to struggle and I will teach them how go forward, rather than fall apart, when they are faced with things that make them uncomfortable. I will do that now while they are young and still think I have all the answers, rather than waiting util they are older and think I have no answers.
    When I think about what is best for my own children I worry about the fact that some parents don’t have the time, skill or (sometimes) the inclination to give their children what they need. I know that those children will grow up to be adults in my childrens’ adult world, and that it is therefore very much in my childrens’ interests to invest in those futures. I go back to a comment I made in an earlier post. We can choose to be consumers or we can choose to be citizens. I know which one I think will provide the stronger future for our country.

  17. “Your own” can mean your community, your school, your class, your child. What it means is not advocating “for all” because it doesn’t work for every single individual. Years ago, Leopold wasn’t even on the radar screen on becoming over populated until Leopold parents started advocating, because as the board will admit, their incoming numbers where wrong. If parents didn’t advocate, more children could be under emotional distress because of a teachers actions. If a parent doesn’t advocate for their own child, they may be reading Harry Potter at home, while learning the sounds of letters in class. If a parent doesn’t advocate for their own child, a teacher may not realize that a child is spending 2 hours a night working on their penmanship for months, even though it looks like they haven’t done any.
    Our society makes blanket statements that do fit the majority of people, but it doesn’t mean for all. To often, we ignore that there will be always exceptions. For example, Madison is a great community (for most yes, what about the parent who has been looking for a job for 2 years or the parent who is sitting in the hospital with a child who was a victim a shooting); “Great Schools, Great Teachers (would the parents at Jefferson say this about a teacher who was in the news this past year); MMSD reaches the needs of all students (what about the quiet child who is reading Harry Potter to himself at home while at school he is sitting quietly learning the sounds of the letters with the class); we have our children go to public school so they can learn diversity (maybe the private or homeschooled child volunteers at a food pantry or at a battered woman’s shelter once a week). Homeschooling doesn’t allow students to be social (maybe the child is involved with the church youth group, neighborhood sports teams, and local music group like Madison Boys’ Choir or WYSO) Leopold needs an addition to meet the needs of all (but for that introverted child, larger means less likely to make a friend because they will be 15 classes of a grade instead of the 2 or 3 at some of the smaller schools around town). Hetrogeneous classrooms work for all. Do they, are are their exceptions here also?

  18. I’m acutely aware of the financial pressures and challenges confronting school districts in Madison, in Wisconsin, and across the nation. Of course, I privately would prefer this woman had her other child attend our district schools, thereby presumably improving and offsetting their net impact on the district’s revenues and bottom line. But I have no idea of her particular circumstances (nor do I care to know), and those circumstances doubtless were weighed when she made that decision. I believe I’m likely consistent with a large majority who would always counsel any parent to do what they think best for their child(ren).
    I think other schoolchildren gain from helping her autistic child. It may bring out and highlight an instinct they later draw upon when deciding on an appropriate and desirable career. The teacher’s responsibility is to ensure other kids do not assist to a degree that it impairs their own learning.
    Mary, I think your story unwittingly and superbly illuminates one of the great features of our community and our society. No formal request, yet alone requirement, is made of this mother to have her other child attend our schools – the intrusive question remains unasked, the societal pressure remains unimposed.

  19. Peg,
    I don’t know if it will be what you are looking for or not, look on the main page of SIS, click on directory. Jim has info under different groups and check the special education listings that Barb Katz put together. Maybe one of those will be what you and your friend are looking for – unfortunately, I am not knowledgeable at all about this area.

  20. Certainly advocating for one’s child is appropriate when the child is not recieving an appropriate education. A child who is reading Harry Potter at home, and working on letter sounds at school, is not recieving an appropriate education.
    This is a different circumstance than is advocating for the “best” education possible. I think one distinction I would make is that advocating for an appropriate education does not end up being code for sacrificing the needs of other students nearly as often as advocating for the “best”. This is a generalization, of course, and I’m sure there are examples when it is not the case.
    My hope, however, would be that as we advocate for “appropriate”, we are cognizant of the whole picture and committed to the idea of all students getting what they need, not just some. I would also hope that we are cognizant of the fact that not all members of school community (parent community, staff community, student community….) share the same beliefs about what that means, even when they have students who are members of the same “subgroup”. Ongoning, respectful conversation between people with different perspectives can help. Sometimes though, I think that people (myself included) become so invested in a belief, that they reject anything that might challenge it. This seems to be part of our political culture these days as well, and does not seem to be serving anyone very well.
    I would add that just as appropriate is not synonymous with “best”, neither is it synonymous with “minimum”.
    Finally, I would like to comment that we should be careful equating volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter with the experience of diversity in a school setting. Intermittant contact with people of other backgrounds is quite different than daily classroom interaction; and by its nature, volunteer work puts us in contact with people in need–often during the most difficult times of their lives. If this is the picture that we give children, they will have some very skewed understandings of what it means to belong to a particular racial/cultural/socio-economic group, and an equally skewed picture of their own relationship to that group.
    I am NOT suggesting that children shouldn’t participate in volunteerism, and I am NOT taking a position on home schooling. I am simply responding to a single statement from a different perspective.

  21. Actually my line was “you have to do what is best for your own because if you don’t advocate, no one will”, not “best education”. The word advocate means support.
    Your right that volunteering isn’t the same as experiencing diversity in a school setting. A 3rd grader doesn’t need to sit in a classroom where his desk is always turned over to understand diversity. A 4th grader doesn’t need have her books constantly knocked out of her hands and kicked to understand diversity. Kids doesn’t need to sit in class get bitten, choked or spit at to understand diversity. I could go on with the experiences I have heard and witnessed myself. These parents advocated for the emotional well being of their children. Most of these children left the district due to the abuse.
    Being afraid to walk to your locker because of a gang, getting raped in the school stairwell, being in a knife fight after school, being pressured to join a gang, harassed for doing well on a test or in a class, are all different then volunteering.
    A child doesn’t need to spend 13 years in a school setting to understand diversity. To me, you are saying the children are slow to catch on. Would you going to tell someone who went to war, that they don’t understand what is is like because they were not there from the time it started to the war ended? For some, a very short time is all they need to understand – for others it takes more time to get the whole picture. I don’t think you can say volunteering may not give kids an understanding of diversity and a positive experience.
    You also mentioned advocating for “appropriate” education. To be honest, a teacher will need to constantly “pretest” every unit (and if the student past one level, a second level would need to be pretested in also) in every subject if a child was to get totally the “appropriate” education. How many different lesson plans would a teacher need to develop with a hetrogeneous classroom. I don’t know if students and teachers want to spend so much time “testing” in order to figure out where they are in each subject.
    Also, I have also learned that “appropriate” education can be very objective also based on each teacher even if they are teaching the same grade, subject, etc.

  22. Edukation4u,
    The only examples you give of diversity are negative? I am guessing than that we will rarely see eye to eye, because our perspectives on life appear to be pretty different. I could list ten times as many positive examples, both from the school in which I teach, and from the experiences of my own children. Are there negative ones as well? Sure. I handle them the same way I handle the negative experiences they have with children who spout bigotry, or children who tease others for not having the “right” this, or the “right” that. You provided a lot of examples related to safety. I am not suggesting that parents should not be advocates for their children’s safety, so please don’t suggest that I don’t care about children’s safety. The examples you raise are societal problems, not just school problems. They will be solved only when, as a society, we are actually committed to solving them and not just trying to sequester them. The types of examples you gave happen outside of schools far more often than they occur within them. In no setting are actions that truly injure someone acceptable, but I always find it interesting to note the difference in parental responses depending on who the players are. A playground fight between two boys of the same race, for instance, is often blown off as “boys will be boys” in a way that a playground fight between of boys of different races is often not. Children at the elementary age tend to sensationalize everything that occurs. Sometimes adults inadvertantly contribute to this by bringing their own preconceptions into the debriefing, rather than helping them put it in perspective or address their own role in the occurance.
    As far as appropriate education being based on pre-testing…. Absolutely. I don’t find that nearly as difficult as you suggest that it is. Nor do I find it difficult to design instruction to cover a large range of learners. Did I have to learn to do it? Yes, I did. Did it require me to change some of my practices? Yes it did. Did it change my idea about heterogeneous education? No.
    I don’t believe that heterogeneous education means that everyone does the same thing all the time. That is as true in “homogenous” environments as it is in any other. Sometimes, unfortunately, it becomes a convenient excuse for a teacher not to adjust to a changing population.

  23. And, of course, we have to fund the differentiation strategies necessary to teach to a heterogeneous classroom. There will always be, at the upper levels of high school, a need for a homogenous classroom (calculus, aerospace engineering, etc.). So, while this might belong in another thread, I’d agree with Jeff Henriques on the point that athletics can be scrapped in favor of funding classroom education more fully!

  24. I agree that these are negative situations, but these are situations that have been “stuck” into the minds of the families. I also know of many more families that are happy with MMSD. I am just stating that blanket statements don’t work for every student.
    On the other hand, I am very impressed that you not only pretest students for every unit you cover, if a child is successful you then give them a 2nd, 3rd, maybe even a 4th pretest to find out what level they are at. At the elementary level that would be in science, math, english (reading and writing) and social studies. Your students are lucky to have you. Now I will admit, most of the time you don’t have kids grades and grades apart academically from each other. My kids would have loved to had a teacher during there elementary level who was willing to teach math 2 grades ahead and also reading 5-8 grades ahead. From what I have heard from my friends, the teachers that they have experienced very few are really good enough to reach the needs of kids too far out of sink.
    P.S. I know I sound negative, but too often people will assume that everything is wonderful and then make blanket statments. There are always situations I feel that don’t work within the paramenters. As a society, we have to be willing to accept this and realize there are always some odd ball situation when something doesn’t work.

  25. Peg,
    I was a social worker for adults with developmental disabilies before I was a teacher. I may be able to point you in the right direction. Please feel free to e-mail me and I can get you some phone numbers and names.

  26. Pre-testing is actually simpler than it sounds. Reading/writing is assessed through work samples at the start of the year and at quarters. It isn’t generally taught in units, so to speak, so most of the follow up assessment comes through work product. The difficulty with reading, I think, is that there can be a tendency to only look at “harder” books rather than to look at some of the higher comprehension standards. As the parent of a primary level student who is reading several grade levels above, there are a lot of books “at her reading level” that I don’t want her to read until she is older. I think a lot can be done by using materials typical of her grade level in a more advanced way (some students may be working on decoding a book that she and some other students might be comparing and contrasting to another book).
    Math is also easy to pre-test for. The district math people did a nice job writing up the standards and included a “summary” page of each strand that tracks the progression of core skills from K-5. I find that if I put together a pre-test that includes problems across those levels, it is not too difficult to design appropriate instruction. This is much easier than giving a pre-test for one level, than another if they pass that, than another….I don’t know any students who want to take multiple pre-tests for the same units 🙂
    Probably the most difficult area is science and social studies. On my teaching team we are still playing with how to best assess understanding prior to beginning an area of study. It’s easy when you are looking at memorization of content (e.g. being able to identify all the states), not as easy to get at the larger concepts. However, we build tiered instruction into pretty much everything we do.

Comments are closed.