Why do we go to school?

Is it to go to magical places?

Is it to make friends?

Is it to keep kids off the streets?

Is it to give Mom and Dad a rest? Or someplace for the kids to go while she/he works?

Is it only to learn to read and write?

When our country was founded, education was generally for the male children of rich property owners. They were to prepare to become businessmen and the governors of the lower classes.

Jeffersonian Philosophy of Education

Is the reason we go to school the Jeffersonian concept that a democracy depends upon an educated population?

This philosophy teaches we need to learn so we can become knowledgeable voters, dedicated citizens and choose wise leaders who govern for the common good.

This makes sense to me, but if you listen to many of the current politicians and public media personalities they seem to suggest the purpose of the school is to teach everyone to think the same way?

Their way.

And if you don’t, they will pull their children out of public school and either home school or put them in private schools where they can control the curriculum and the way people think.

They seem to think this is protecting their children from harm—these strange people and ideas would hurt their children.

But what about people who are different, including people with disabilities?

Measure of a Society

“The true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.”

So, is part of the reason we go to school to learn how to live with society’s “most vulnerable citizens”? To learn about how we can all share the resources and problems of our common society?

To learn to care about others?

To learn to see strength in diversity?

To prepare ourselves and others to become one of those “most vulnerable citizens”?

Is the American school still the great melting pot that gives us all a common experience? and sees value in our diversity?

This is certainly the goal of inclusion. See related post, What is Inclusion?

If everyday ALL children go to the same schools, get to know each other on a personal level, share time on the playground and lunchroom and bus and in the classrooms–there are valuable lessons in just being together with people who are different than we are.

And maybe one of the lessons is–we are not so different–inside we are the same.

What do the history books say?

In the late 90s, I was teaching education majors who wanted to be teachers.

I took my Introduction to Exceptionalities classes to our university library which had a collection of textbooks being used in classrooms all over the country.

Their assignment was to examine one of the high school textbooks in American History, Problems in Democracy or World Histories and look for pictures or references to people with disabilities. Many of these college sophomores were able to find the same textbooks they used when they were in high school.

Out of the 20 different textbooks they evaluated, no textbook had more than four references to anything about disabilities.

The references, in a sentence or two, referred to:

Helen Keller was deaf and blind and traveled in the Wild West Show, President Roosevelt used a wheelchair, and the American with Disabilities Act passed in 1990. In several of the textbooks, an additional reference said, “deinstitutionalization caused many people who were mentally ill to become homeless” with a picture showing a man sleeping on a park bench. That was it! And the last message was not positive.

People with Disabilities are often Invisible People

People with disabilities have been basically excluded and invisible in the traditional curriculum.

In a culture that asks its children to “not stare,” and “beware of strangers” we have taught our children to ignore and avoid people with disabilities. Many churches only teach about praying for miracle cures and giving charity and alms to the “handicapped” (word from “cap in hand”). So, though there has been some progresss, it is not surprising our textbooks still avoid the whole conversation of disabilities and differences.

The increase in college “Disabilities Studies” majors and minors across the country is a strong beginning and step in the right direction. Kudos to those who are pioneers in this new movement. The recent Tribute to Ed Roberts is an example of people who care recognizing the contributions of great Americans to the freedom and inclusion of all.

Yet, I would bet if we repeated this textbook assignment today in 2013, there would still be a scarcity to references about people with disabilities and of all minorities; though I think the textbook companies are responding to some of the criticism.

What is the purpose of education?

So besides becoming informed citizens, what is the purpose of education, except to prepare each of us in the attitudes, vocational, domestic, community, and leisure skills we need to function successfully the 50-60-70 years of the rest of our lives?

How can we learn to make choices? To learn to ask questions? To learn to solve problems? To learn to work and live together? To learn about ourselves, our ways of making sense of the world? To learn about diversity?

Would our government officials act differently if they followed Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on education? If they went to school with people who had disabilities or had differences?

Schools and Parents

One teacher, one therapist may be great for a year or two but professionals come and go. The parent is the constant in a child’s life. We know our children the best and are the experts on our child’s likes and dislikes, their learning styles and behavior in the home and community. We know our child’s history better than any psychological profile that sits in the school office. We know our child is more than the words on their Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Our role as parent is a difficult one because we represent the continuity of our child’s life. We know their past, we are part of their journey. But are we willing to risk our children learning about diversity and differences?

There are many parents of children with disabilities who are afraid, it is understandable, but will that fear hurt our children and the next generation of citizens.

We know our neighbors, our community, the life our child has outside of school. Check out related story: A new year of learning. We can share our child’s dreams for the future and help them to come true.

Each day parents are challenged as “care managers” to insure cooperation and creativity among those who provide service to our children.

Each day, as our children climb on the school bus, they are a step closer to being adults. They step on the magical bus into their future and the future of our country.

Each day, we must ask ourselves: “Are the skills they are learning going to prepare them to become productive adults, caring and responsible citizens?”

Magic Bus Ride?

The school year is a precious opportunity for new growth. An opportunity to forget the hurts of the past, no matter how difficult. A new school year is a fresh start.

Build that future dream with much hope and picture the magic bus that can take you and your child into a year of wonder, new adventures and new learning in a land of diversity. We learn from our children and they learn from us, and that is also magic.

Wishing you a great year full of magic.

Comments:

When you were in school, how did you learn about people with disabilities, differences? Do you think there are things to be learned by sharing your lunch with someone who doesn’t talk with words? With someone who uses a communication board to talk? With a classmate who learns differently? With a friend who just happens to have a label of disability?

Keep Climbing–onward and upward.

All the best,

Mary

Related Posts

Happy Feet,” “Retarded Teeth” and “Carnival Goldfish”

Test Questions: Segregation or Inclusion?

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