This credo is a beautiful recipe for respecting autonomy in a framework of interdependence and care. I’m going to share it with the educators and caregivers that work with our family.
The late Herb Lovett used to say that there are only two problems with “special education” in America: It’s not special and it sure as hell isn’t education. The field continues to be marinated in behaviorist assumptions and practices despite the fact that numerous resources for teachers, therapists, and parents offer alternatives to behavior control. These alternatives are based on a commitment to care and to understand. By “care,” I mean that our relationship with the child is what matters most. He or she is not a passive object to be manipulated but a subject, a center of experience, a person with agency, with needs and rights. And by “understand,” I mean that we have an obligation to look beneath the behavior, in part by imaginatively trying to adopt that person’s point of view, attempting to understand the whys rather than just tabulating the frequency of the whats. As Norm Kunc and Emma Van der Klift urged us in their Credo for Support: “Be still and listen. What you define as inappropriate may be my attempt to communicate with you in the only way I can….[or] the only way I can exert some control over my life….Do not work on me. Work with me.”
We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient hood to access the right to learn differently. The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.
No child within the Albemarle County Public Schools should need a label or prescription in order to access the tools of learning or environments they need. Within the constraints of other laws (in particular, copyright) we will offer alternative representations of information, multiple tools, and a variety of instructional strategies to provide access for all learners to acquire lifelong learning competencies and the knowledge and skills specified in curricular standards. We will create classroom cultures that fully embrace differentiation of instruction, student work, and assessment based upon individual learners’ needs and capabilities. We will apply contemporary learning science to create accessible entry points for all students in our learning environments; and which support students in learning how to make technology choices to overcome disabilities and inabilities, and to leverage preferences and capabilities.
They recognize the structural, institutional, and framing problems Jonathan Mooney describes in this great talk on reframing LD and ADHD (which is the source of the title and opening quote in this blog post you’re reading).
An essential component of my journey was an identity transformation from being a patient to being an agent.
Disability industrial complex is all about what people can’t do. We spend most of our time trying to fix what they can’t do. When all we do is fix people the message we give to them is that they are broken.
We’ve built an entire edifice of intervention that’s about fixing people.
We’ve built this whole infrastructure about fixing folks, about turning people into passive recipients of treatment and service, of turning people into patients. But being a patient is the most disempowered place a human being can be.
You gotta fight against this, you gotta be an advocate, you gotta have a voice in your education.
We need to cultivate a sense of agency in people which is the opposite of patient hood.
The most meaningful interventions, the most meaningful people in my life were people who cultivated a sense of agency.
We have a medical community that’s found a sickness for every single human difference. DSM keeps growing every single year with new ways to be defective, with new ways to be lessened.
When all we do is fix people, the message we give to them is that they are broken. Nobody lives a meaningful life feeling broken.
It’s that narrow definition of intelligence, behavior, and motivation that is really my disability. Not dyslexia, not ADHD.
In many learning environments we think good kids sit still. The good kid is the compliant kid.
Young folks like me are given the identity of being bad.
“What is your problem?” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that word in my life.
I was given this identity that I was a problem because of a norm in the environment that good kids sit still.
We’ve built learning environments based on the myth that appropriate and valuable human behavior is about compliance.
I had overcome not ADHD, but I had overcome the feeling of being the defective person morally because I didn’t comply to the myth that good kids are compliant.
That’s agency. That’s somebody who refuses to negate somebody’s humanity because of a label.
A teacher’s role, then, should be to create the conditions for obsession to happen.
Gary believes that deep, meaningful learning is often accompanied by obsession, and his focus is on answering the question: How can we create experiences and context in classrooms where kids can discover things they don’t know they love? This is done by implementing good projects that spur creativity, ownership, and relevance.
Through his professional learning conference Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK), Gary has teachers put on their “learner hats” and learn how to create obsession, since, he says, very few of us have experienced what greatness looks like.
Around the time of Nation at Risk, legislatures all over the world removed the art of teaching from teacher preparation and all they left was curriculum delivery and animal control.
Knowledge is a consequence of experience.
The instruction might not be necessary at all. A good project can replace a great deal of reckless instruction.
Curriculum is so arbitrary and so arrogant.
When it comes to a skill like computer programming, the kids never develop enough fluency to be able to use it to solve real problems.
Curriculum is the most dangerous idea in education.
As we remove agency from teachers, they become less thoughtful in their practice.
The best projects are generative.
Not enough adults have experience with what greatness looks like, feels like, tastes like, sounds like.
Great artists reflect the milieu in which they live.
You can’t possibly be 21st century learners if you haven’t learned anything this century.
I never worry about classroom management because I never go into a classroom feeling like I have to manage it.
Much of the PD we see expects nothing of teachers.
Apparently, everyone needs a good seventh grade social studies teacher.
A great 80 year old pianist said: Nothing needs to be taught, only experienced.
There are folks in every walk of life who understand Piaget. You Go to Latin America or you go to Reggio Emilia and they say, “We get John Dewey better than you get John Dewey.” People who are living these ideas of learning by doing, of valuing expertise, of understanding the importance of an aesthetic…