Arne Duncan and Fred Rogers. Which One Would You Describe as a Hero?
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The Secretary of Education has irritated and alarmed parents of public education students. He calls parents names who don’t agree with Common Core State Standards and dismisses their concerns. He has recently infuriated parents of special needs students by insisting they will perform better with more robust curriculum and standardized testing aligned to grade level expectations vs individualized education plans. Students are not seen as human beings with differing needs requiring individualized teaching methods. Students are now seen as data generators for federal policies.
Anne did a great job in her article about Duncan’s absolutely Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad idea on standardized testing for special needs students. She wrote in Is Arne Duncan incredibly stupid, or just really confused about special needs students?:
“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said in a recent NPR interview.
He is speaking about a new focus for the US Department of education who has set their laser-like vision on special education. In their infinite wisdom they have decided that the federal government has mistakenly only focused on state compliance with the policies set forth in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) rather than focusing on, oh let’s call it the outcomes of special education. “It’s not enough for a state to be compliant if students can’t read or do math,” Duncan said. “We must have a system that will do more than just measure compliance.”
See in a system that is focused on equity and uniformity you must not only educate in the same way but, you must also expect the same uniform performance. So what is one of the most glaring problems with Common Core, or the latest version of outcome based education, the one size fits all-edness of it, will now be foisted upon our neediest students, in the spirit of equity.
As a parent of a special needs student and after talking with other parents of special needs students, we ask a simple question: would you expect a student in a wheelchair to run in the 100 yard dash and have his/her results tabulated with the able bodied students? Of course not. Why not? Because running a 100 yard dash while confined to a wheelchair is impossible. The student does not have that capability. That’s simple to understand.
Now let’s think about educating a deaf student. Do we expect deaf students to have the same language abilities as their hearing peers when they don’t have the same access to language as do hearing students? How can we make deaf students equitable with hearing students? Do we just give them more tests to enable them to hear? How about autistic students? Do we expect those students to have the same abilities as a non-autistic student? How about dyslexic students? Should we force them to take more tests so they can can learn how not to be dyslexic? What kind of educational nonsense is this?
There’s a reason Individualized Education Plans were called “individualized”. They were to be tailored to those particular children and their strengths and weaknesses per IDEA. They were to be predicated on where the child was at that time in his/her development and they were to be written for realistic goals for the child to achieve for that academic year. Parents relied on IEP teams for their knowledge and their experience to work with their child for a realistic achievement goal. In the early years when my hearing impaired son was learning language, having him take a regular first grade standardized test would have been ludicrous and self-defeating. You can’t expect children to perform on a level for which they incapable of performing. It’s like running the 100 yard dash when you are confined to a wheelchair.
Just where are we as a society when we demand results from children they are not able to provide? Let’s revisit our previous post The Only Important Common Core Accountability Measurement: “Watoto Wazima?” (How Are the Children Doing?):
One night I found myself cooking dinner with a soon to retire headmaster from South Africa. He had been a head for 37 years. The part that I remember most — the part that’s just so crystal clear in my mind is — before we even exchanged names — Val introduced me to him, and he looked at me — he just looked at me — and turned his head at an angle and said – “how are the children?”. And before we even exchanged pleasantries, we just talked about the kids in our school.
I’ll never forget that because it reminded me of the fact that I often times forget, that the only reason why the schools exist — the only reason why we had to have jobs is that there are kids who need careful and attentive care.
And it led to me to make a little poster and put it above my door. And every time I left my office to either do the kind of management by walking around or go find a teacher to tell them what a great job they’re doing or what a poor job they’re doing — and to look at that sign and be reminded of what I’m about ready to do — what I’m going to do. Or sometimes I’m not embarrassed to say, that sometimes reading that sign made me stop what I was about ready to do.
I always go back to that story — the first thing he said to me before anything else is – “how are the children doing?”.
It’s not that I didn’t do that before — but what I’ve done since then — it’s been kind of a central guidepost for making decisions — making little tiny decisions and very, very, very big and expensive decisions.
Ask the education reformers on the local, state and national levels when you talk or contact them: Watato Wazima: How are the Children Doing? See how they answer that question. They’ll probably look at you like you are speaking another language. And you know, we really are.
How do you think Mr. Rogers would answer that question: Watato Wazima? What do you think he would say about special needs children are to be tested in Arne Ducan’s bureaucratic, data driven human capital world? I believe he would be aghast that education has evolved into cradle to career tracking for workforce development and if parents ask questions for the plans for their children, they are called names by government bureaucrats and in some instances, even arrested. I believe he would suggest Duncan move his guideposts for making educational decisions for students.
Below are a few excerpts from interviews with Mr. Rogers. As you read them, think about the difference in how children are treated in the world of Arne Duncan vs the world of Mr. Rogers:
The next excerpt from Esquire, Can You Say…Hero?, is from a long article but should be required reading for every parent of every student (special needs or not), teachers, politicians, administrators and education reformers:
At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room and talk to him. Mister Rogers didn’t leave, though. He wanted something from the boy, and Mister Rogers never leaves when he wants something from somebody. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, “I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?” On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said, “I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?” And now the boy didn’t know how to respond. He was thunderstruck. Thunderstruck means that you can’t talk, because something has happened that’s as sudden and as miraculous and maybe as scary as a bolt of lightning, and all you can do is listen to the rumble. The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn’t know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he’d try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.
As for Mister Rogers himself…well, he doesn’t look at the story in the same way that the boy did or that I did. In fact, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being so smart—for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself—and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me at first with puzzlement and then with surprise. “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”
You see, the African headmaster and Mr. Rogers understand education isn’t about them or the workforce or data or funds that will be withheld if some arbitrary goal is set by a bureaucrat in Washington. It’s looking at each child as an individual and treating the child as an individual instead of a data set. It’s treating children as people and rejecting viewing people as capital to be used by The Chambers of Commerce or Arne Duncan for data mining. Are our children workers for a global workforce or our blessings? Does Arne Duncan even care or acknowledge the human soul in children?