Sometime during the ‘90’s, while my son was in grade school, someone decided that he could not, and would not learn to read. No one ever said it explicitly, but with the benefit of hindsight, I know it to be true.
I came to this conclusion about a decade later while I was taking graduate level education courses. I volunteered to bring some of my son’s IEPs to class for discussion. As I combed through the huge file of papers that composed his “permanent record,” the absence of academic goals became painfully obvious. In fact, most of the twelfth-grade goals were exactly the same as the elementary school goals. Only the numbers had changed.
“Josh will follow directions with (10,15,20, etc.) percent accuracy (40,45,50, etc.) percent of the time.”
The goals were painful to read now that I could see clearly what they did and did not cover. The handwritten notes were even worse. The child they described was nothing like the child I knew.
The day I took the files to class the other students, mostly teachers, were stunned. As they read each one out loud and discussed the problems they saw I sunk further down into my chair. One young educator finally said what we were all feeling: “These are horrible. They don’t even address academics. They’re really negative.”
The wave of sadness that I had learned to expect and deal with in those yearly IEP meetings enveloped me again. It was familiar and unwanted.
The idea of access for students with physical disabilities was unanimously deemed appropriate and doable.
“What about students with intellectual disabilities?” I asked.
The room went silent. A few of my peers looked down at their desks, hoping to avoid my question. Some looked at me with obvious pity. I could hear them in my mind saying, “Poor thing, she really doesn’t get it.”
Luckily for me, my professor taught the only disability studies course in the education program and had a sympathetic ear. “That’s interesting,” she said, and then opened the floor for discussion. One of the veteran teachers in the course said, “Are you saying that EVERYONE should be able to go to University just because they want to?”
“Well, yes,” I said.
For me, that was a huge step. As a self-proclaimed “student for life,” I wanted Josh to be a part of that world if he wanted to and he had recently expressed an interest.
The discussion turned into an emancipatory research project where Josh became a student in a disability studies course the next semester. He not only got a chance to take part in an academic course with goals and assignments modified to his level, he helped shape the opinions of the pre-service teacher education students in his class.
Josh is now 31 and he’s still learning. He can read the on-line television guide and some product descriptions and street signs. He can pick out his favorite bands on a jukebox. If it’s important to him, he’ll learn it.