So, just completed a successful family vacation. I should blog about it, because I have so much to say, but more on that later. Today’s blog is about my oldest son’s Individualized Education Program, or better known as IEP.
An IEP is basically the school’s mechanism for dealing with a child’s special needs. It is not exactly Special Education as many are aware, but more like … individualized education. In my son’s case, it involved his delay in speaking and his struggle with understanding multi-step instructions. It also involved his social awkwardness. For example, he struggles to look people in the eyes when speaking and he rarely, if ever would engage others in conversation. It is a little more complicated than that, but you get the picture.
The biggest problem for me was when he was younger. You see, everyone had an opinion to what is issues were. Some said he was autistic, others said he was just delayed, and others just thought he was dumb. For example, in first grade, he was recommended to be completely removed from the classroom to be enrolled in Special Education. Luckily, he had a very good teacher that year and could support our opposition to that plan.
I had a brief conversation with his main IEP teacher from sixth grade today. I ran into her while we were placing my son’s school supplies in his locker. I asked her if she would be in charge of my son’s IEP again this year, and she said no, but gave me the name of the person who would be in charge. She then proceeded to tell me how good it was that I forced the IEP teachers to keep the bar high for my son, as towards the end of last year he no longer needed the extra teaching support. My first reaction was to admonish her and the staff for even thinking about NOT pushing my son, but instead redirected the praise toward my son for doing such a great job last year.
Here’s the thing: I have been forcing my son’s IEP team to raise the bar from day one, every year since preschool. Actually, since before preschool.
Originally, I wanted to blame the Chicago Public Schools. When my son was three, he didn’t talk. So, I took him to a Chicago public school counselor. Her recommendation was that we give him more time and let’s see “if he will grow out of it.” Instead of waiting, I got him a speech therapist. I moved and enrolled him in preschool in Wisconsin. He was placed with kids that could not control their verbal speech, movements and needed strait jackets. No exaggeration. This is not meant as a negative on those kids, but my son could do more than they, and should have been in a class with higher functioning kids. I requested that he be moved to a more challenging class. They fought this, because they did not want to over stress and frustrate my son with the difficult challenges of the standard class. He eventually was placed in a different class, after I forced them to place him in the standard preschool class.
But, then I thought, “Maybe it isn’t the public school system.” I took him to a private therapist. No diagnosis, but it was recommended that he focus on his strengths so as not to tax his brain with things like the English language. Really???? Then how will he get better? He will get better, but let’s not frustrate him too much.
We left for another Wisconsin school district and in the first grade he took his first standardized test. According to the test it was recommended that he be removed from mainstream and placed in a special class. Basically, according to the test, my son had an IQ of 5. Once again I protested the downgrade of my son, but luckily, for the first time, a teacher was on the same page. His first grade teacher joined the fight to keep my son in a mainstream class. This was the first and last time I had an education person advocate for my son. It turned out that my son had a problem understanding complex written questions. In other words, he knew the answers, he just did not understand the questions. So, for his IEP, he was allowed extra time for tests, and someone was allowed to read him the questions to make sure he understood them. Upon retesting, he fell within normal parameters with below-average language skills (no surprise).
Believe it or not, this battle for challenging my son to rise to a higher standard continued until 6th grade. His IEP recommended that all of his language assignments be half of what other students would be required. Actually, in 5th grade, he was recommended to not be in the standard English class at all. Of course, I said no. And once again, I told his IEP, whatever the requirements placed on the other kids will also be placed on my son. Once again, I got looks as if I was the meanest father in the world. Which brings us to the present day, 7th grade, and my son has been scheduled without any help whatsoever, because of how well he did last year.
Why did I have to fight and advocate so much for my son? Is this the new American education system? We live in a world where kids are getting ribbons of participation because we don’t want them to feel bad for coming in last place. We live in a world where preschools are handing out diplomas. Kids that are behind are not being challenged in fear of frustrating them. What happened to trying harder? What happened to making it work despite the hardship? This is even true politically. If you don’t have a job, it’s the government’s fault. I see immigrants every day come to this country, barely speak the language, if at all, and work to support their families here and in the country they came from. Yet, we complain that it’s the President’s fault the unemployment rate is so high. When did this become our America?
Do some people and kids need help? Of course, but when did the system discourage hard work and raising the bar? What would have happened to my son if I had waited to see if he started to talk? What if I allowed them to take him out of the mainstream class? What if doing half the work of the other kids was acceptable? Then I think about the thousands, probably millions of kids that have learning disabilities and are encouraged to move slower so they are not frustrated. In my opinion, this is a system that takes kids that are behind and not only keeps them behind, but places them farther behind. In this country, “Tiger Mom” is a bad name, but if you go to other countries, do they have special programs to help students that are behind, or are they just forced to catch up? You might think my words are harsh or extreme, but at least in my son’s case, had it been left up to the American education system, he would be far behind his peers right now.
After talking with last year’s IEP teacher, my son asked if he would be in Special Education classes this year. I said to him, “You were never in Special Education classes, but you did need extra help in your language classes. But no buddy, you will not be in “special” classes this year.” And my son replied, “Then I will do my best.” Yeah he will, and every year, his best just keeps getting better.
While at the store, a guy asked me if I knew what kind of ring I was wearing. Dumbfounded, I said, “What?” He continued, “Your ring. Do you know that it is an Irish Marriage ring?” I informed him that it is a Claddagh ring, and explained to him that it was not necessarily for marriage and how depending on how you wear changes its meaning. As you may know, I hate strangers. I especially hate strangers talking to me. Quite frankly, no man should be asking another man about a ring. Come on man!!! You might be asking, “Why did you talk to him?” Simple, what this stranger was saying was inaccurate. And I hate stupidity more than I hate talking to strangers. I’m just sayin’ …