Thursday, August 18, 2005

It's okay, Katie, just let it out . . .

There, there Katie. Don't you feel better now? Katherine Kersten's column today, August 18th, is one of the few glimpses into what makes Katie tick ever so erratically. The title of the column is Defeating dyslexia at home. Makes you want to brew your own beer or give yourself a permanent, doesn't it?

Katie tell us the story of her own daughter who struggled with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a monumental problem to learning; there is not a doubt about that. But people do overcome it, some spectacularly well, as this list suggests. Katie's daughter has beaten it too, according to the column; good for her.

Let's pick up the story here:
My daughter, now 20, has a learning disability. The umbrella term is dyslexia --- unusual difficulty with reading. But she also has difficulties with math and sequential memory. We had her in four schools over five years. [Really gave the little tyke a chance to settle in!] Though we encountered several dedicated special-education teachers, we never found a school with a clear, coordinated plan for poor readers. Progress seemed to depend on the luck of the draw -- would she get an effective teacher or not? But a half-hour a week with a specialist made little difference anyway.

I used to wake up at 3:00 a.m. and gaze sadly out the window thinking, "She'll never read a novel; she'll never go to college." [She would however have been spared the turgid political polemics urged on her by her mother.]

At the end of fourth grade, I got a note from my daughter's teacher, who said she was "regressing." We were at a crossroads. With more failure, we could see an attitude of defeatism becoming a permanent mark on her character. Public and private schools seemed to offer only bits and pieces of what she needed. With time and options running out, we made the decision to teach her at home.
Spotty observes that Katie's daughter was lucky to have an educated mother who could afford to turn in some bon bon and soaps time to work intensively with her. Well sort of lucky. (Just kidding Katherine! Spotty has no doubt that you are a grizzly bear of a mother!) For a child born into a family without the resources, human and financial, like Katie's daughter's, it's public school special education or nothing.

Unintentionally, Katie also responds to one of the favorite conservative criticisms of public schools: all they do is make students feel good about themselves. With more failure, we could see an attitude of defeatism becoming a permanent mark on her character. Katie and Mr. Katie understood something: self-esteem is the sine qua non for learning.

Katie continues:
As time went on, I discovered that my initial instructional strategy -- just explaining things again in a louder voice -- didn't work. We needed to identify learning techniques that would act as keys to unlock her memory and unleash her abilities.
This is of course the conservative strategy for talking to non-conservatives and non-English speaking brown people around the world. It is equally effective in these cases.

The happy ending:
As defeatism faded, my daughter developed a new love of learning.
Yup. That's the way it works.

Do you know, gentle readers, that some special education students have a paraprofessional or aide with them throughout the school day? Many have an aide for part of the day, as well as spending time with a special education teacher in a "resource room" or other quiet environment. This is obviously expensive.

Special education students cost more to educate, and this is why the state and the feds provide special education funding in addition to the per-pupil funding formula. But they really don't provide enough money to do what the schools are ostensibly required by law to do. Special education funding can be a drain on regular education funding, and it requires school administrators to walk a thin line to keep different groups of parents satisfied.

It is inner-city schools that have the most special education students: learning disabilities, behavioral problems, ESL, etc. They get the most categorical aid, which leads conservatives to express outrage at the per-pupil costs in a district like Minneapolis.

Here's another interesting tidbit. If a Minneapolis special education student goes to school in another district under open enrollment, Minneapolis has to pick up the special education costs of that student, whether or not the categorical aid received is sufficient or not. This is among the reasons that the assault on the inner city public schools is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And of course, private schools do not have to mess around with any of this nonsense.


No comments: