Sunday, May 20, 2007

A La Carte

I've been going to lots of meetings lately. Most recently I attended one meeting for the new LIPC (Long Island Parent Center)--a state-funded parent and child advocacy and outreach center designed to connect members of the special education community with the knowledge and services it requires, it is set up under the auspices of VESID (Vocational Education Services for Individuals with Disabilities--a New York State educational bureau). In these days of tight budgets, knowledge absolutely is power and help from the state is always appreciated...

Then, a couple of nights later, I attended an organizational meeting to start up a homeschooling Waldorf collective here on Long Island.

And I came away from both meetings a little exhausted. Everyone's got an agenda and but no one shares miiiiiiiiiiiinnnnne!

One of the most challenging aspects of raising an atypical child is all of the extra choice and decision-making involved. If there was just A RIGHT ANSWER, you could do whatever that was and go to sleep at night thinking, "well, we've done it." We are on THE RIGHT TRACK. We are doing THE RIGHT THING.

Instead? There are choices. This is tough. Particularly for someone with perhaps the extra unresolved control issue or two. When I was pregnant with Ben I remember spending a couple of hours choosing just the right DIAPER BAG for him, for pete's sake. Changing pad: removable or attached? Insulated bottle holder: necessary? Backpack or over-the-shoulder styling? I like to research. Like to know all of my options. I can be PAINFUL to go out to dinner with. Big menus: how do you choose? How do you have time to read over and imagine all of those options before the waiter comes back with your drinks and asks for your order? BUT IS THE BRUSCHETTA MADE IN-HOUSE?????? Okay...well WHAT ABOUT THE VINAIGRETTE???

And that's just one meal. When it comes to my kids??? I want to, need to do what is best for my guys. Mistakes cost time. Affect development, self-esteem, opportunities for relationships and personal growth. Each choice echoes with that ticking clock that closed segments on 60 Minutes all those years ago. So I research. I go to meetings. I mingle. I listen. And then I sift through all of the options and perspectives. That's where I am now...sifting--with the clock ticking behind us.

Waldorf has some great ideas and methodologies. I like that in the schools teachers and students and parents come together as a family. Religions of the world are all introduced from a cultural literacy perspective so that students can ultimately be citizens of the world with tolerance for and understanding of others who are different from themselves. Teachers in Waldorf schools try to stay with their students for seven years, through an entire course of one of Rudolf Steiner's developmental phases. Students work in six-week modules where they are provided with the opportunity to do a deep-dive into the material they are learning. No textbooks or dittos--this is meaningful work because the assignments and textbooks are created by the students under the gentle direction of the teacher. Waldorf classwork is, by definition, multi-modal: there is drawing, dancing, music, movement, sculpture incorporated into all lessons...

However, Waldorf schools are also notoriously anti-technology. Children should not watch television AT ALL. There is no difference at all between the Planet Earth series currently on Discovery Channel and the latest installment of Ed, Edd and Eddie on Cartoon Network in these peoples' eyes. Computer use is severely frowned-upon before high school. And even then, it is considered antithetical to a student's development and whole-heartedly de-emphasized.

I've got a HUGE problem with that. I look at technology as the saving grace of education, the tool through which all students can be reached and taught to problem-solve.

Whenever you leave the purview of public education and delve into one of these alternative educational philosophies, there is another factor that comes into play--however subtly: If you don't like our philosophy, you can leave.


We're not here to educate everyone. We're here to educate people like us.

It is inspiring to observe a dedicated Waldorf adherent until you start to disagree or question their thought processes or philosophy. Then you become a full-fledged member of the 'losing battle' club. There is no reason for adherents to change what works. FOR THEM. And if something isn't working, it is the fault of the pupil, not the philosophy.

I've got a problem with THAT, too. Education is for the benefit of the child. If education is not working for the child then it is incumbent upon THE EDUCATOR to change the methodology to meet the needs of the child.

I can't help but think that the best methodology will take bits and pieces from a variety of philosophies and shape them so that they are deliverable to typical learners and special education students in a public education venue. And that this methodology will be a malleable, evolving school of thought open to evaluation, analysis and criticism.