As the mother of four dyslexic children (three officially diagnosed) I have needed to find in my children strengths and gifts not normally celebrated in a traditional school system. If one bothers to look these other intelligences are not difficult to identify. The trouble is one must be willing to look for them, to highlight them, and sometimes to advocate for them. Our educational systems, however, do not encourage us to do so. Instead of teaching to a child’s strengths, the system treats children who do not respond as well as the (diminishing) majority to the traditional methods of education as disabled. It labels them and sends them out of their regular class rooms to a resource room for “extra help”. Often times these help sessions take the place of their electives such as music, art, and computer graphics, classes in which at least some of these students are actually more likely to excel. Even more frustrating is the fact that the additional help might mean a little more time for students to complete their work but rarely means an alternative method for teaching the material. In fact the instructors in many (if not all) of these classrooms do not even need to have taken a single course that would have taught them about or exposed them to the needs inherent in Dyslexia, Autism, ADD, or ADHD. As for courses in multiple intelligence, if they are even offered they are treated like supplemental material that could help a teacher’s skills but probably take more time to implement in an already crowded day.
Once a child “qualifies” for resource help they rarely graduate from that stream of the system. In fact students who choose to suffer the consequences of lower grades in order to get away from the stigma of being a “resource student” are frowned upon and sometimes discriminated against. The considerations (such as extra time on tests) their IEPs (Individual Education Plan) guarantee them are frequently denied them unless they remain in at least one resource class. (For those of you out there who may be faced with this particular situation—the law is on your side even if enforcing it may require a fight). These denials are financially motivated since “special education” receives money based on the numbers of students in the system. If your child is not officially in a resource classroom but occasionally requires resource help the “system” does not get paid the same but must still keep an active file on your child. Money is also why fewer referrals are made (and accepted or acted on) later in the school year; the available funds dry up so adding students to the roles is no longer cost effective. While special education programs usually receive more money per student then general education programs the funding pool is limited so keeping class sizes to their minimums is desirable.
I am not a developmental disabilities expert. I am not an education expert. I am not a learning disabilities expert. I am not even a dyslexia expert. I am a mom who has watch my children struggle in a system that has often seemed stacked against them. If I had another life to live I might consider becoming a dyslexia or learning disabilities expert so that I could help other families avoid some of the heart ache my family has faced. I would fight so that every would-be-teacher was required to study the multiple intelligences. I would advocate for smaller, much smaller class rooms, especially in the lower grade levels. I would demand that students with learning disabilities be separated from students with behavioral difficulties so that the needs of each set of students could be better addressed. I would encourage the revamping of our public education system so that while all students could receive education in some basic skills like, reading, and checkbook math they are not all forced to suffer through Shakespeare, chemistry, or calculus when their natural bent is not served by such studies. (I could write an entire post on that topic alone, perhaps Part 3).
I believe public education as it currently exists does not serve any of our children well. In some cases I think it actually harms them. But until we are willing to do more than throw money around, play the political blame game, or create new names for old teaching methods public education is doomed to its mediocre state.