Friday, April 25, 2008

With All Due Respect to Rudolf Steiner

There are many, many things that I find compelling about Rudolf Steiner's ideas on development and pedagogy--mostly because Steiner believed in allowing children to fully inhabit their childhoods. Ideally, Waldorf-educated children are allowed to unfold, not forced to leap from phase to phase of development as though they were being chased by wolves...

But where Steiner and I have always parted over the use of technology in youth. Although, since Steiner was born in 1861--well before Gates or Jobs or Case--I guess I mean "those who interpret Steiner today." The views of his apostles, as it were. These followers of Steiner's pedagogical philosophy, anthroposophy, emphasize personal experience over technology:
A central aim of Waldorf Education is to stimulate the healthy development of the child's own imagination. Waldorf teachers are concerned that electronic media hampers the development of the child's imagination. They are concerned about the physical effects of the medium on the developing child as well as the content of much of the programming.
And, while I absolutely get this idea--I regularly limit my children's use of screens-- anthroposophy as it is currently interpreted still flies in the face of an idea I strongly support: the concept of Universal Design for Learning, or UDL. UDL is a theory of learning that says that the teacher can foster necessary analytical skills in students with learning differences, when necessary, by circumnavigating the disability through the use of appropriate assistive technology:
  • The dyslexic child can use technology to circumnavigate literacy issues;
  • The fine-motor-impaired child can use technology to assist with, for instance, writing;
  • The visually-impaired child uses technology to assist with visual issues...
Etc., etc.

Because: there is a point where the learning style and differences of the atypical child must be acknowledged: political correctness (the "handicapable" mind-set) and dogma (adherence to a philosophy at the expense of an individual's development) can both become a barrier to learning instead of a support. A teacher's responsibility under these circumstances is to provide a developing mind with the tools it requires to fully that may even require electricity...LED screens...

Too: sometimes technology can just be fun--in the best, most child-like sense--like these Pivot animations the boys have created and that Ben has uploaded to his Flickr page...

(Note to self: show the first-born the sound-editing software that comes with his laptop.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Call to the Community

Read through to the bottom to find out how you can help!


In January of 2008, as a result of a new, narrow interpretation of IDEA (federal special education law), the New York State Education Department sent a memo to all state school districts informing them that special education services to homeschooled special education students would have to be terminated no later than mid-March, 2008. Essentially: because IDEA 2004 does not specifically identify homeschooled students as possible recipients of IDEA funds and only identifies "public" and "private" students as eligible for these federal funds, transmission of services to homeschooled students (who are considered "other schooled" in the state of New York) could possibly put New York "out of compliance" with IDEA and could possibly jeopardize New York's continued ability to receive federal monies under IDEA.

This act was done despite:
  1. The fact that these services had previously been budgeted for the year and had already been guaranteed to these students.
  2. The fact that the families involved were provided with little notice or recourse to due process.

In response, a group of parents from around the state who were affected by this decision joined together to create a task force to reinstate services. They were joined in this effort by, among others, John Munson of NYHEN, Attorney Bridgit Burke from Albany Law School and Attorney TJ Schmidt from the Home School Legal Defense Association. The task force has convened weekly via conference call these past two months to strategize.

The task force was set up with two aims:
  1. To re-instate transmission of services to homeschooled special education children.
  2. To achieve goal number one in such a way that the homeschooling community at-large is impacted as little as possible.

Big News:

The Task Force to Re-Instate Services to Special Ed. Homeschooled Students has obtained a meeting with Dr. Rebecca Cort, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID), scheduled for this Friday. Dr. Cort is a high-ranking member of the State Education Department (SED) and it is the hope of the task force that this meeting will result in a "meeting of the minds" regarding the language to be used in an upcoming "program" bill. The task force has been advised that a "program bill" (a bill that is generated from within the state government infrastructure) would be our best hope for a successful outcome, as these bills are nearly automatic in their passage.

  1. If this meeting goes successfully, we could be well on the road to reinstating services.
  2. Dr. Cort has already made it clear to the task force that she is unwilling to accept either of the two bill-proposals previously generated by the task force. This means that the task force's best hope for success lies in respectfully tweaking the SED-generated proposal.

This is a point the task force feels the homeschooling community should be fully cognizant of: based on the realities of this situation, of the personally-held philosophies on homeschooling held by Dr. Cort and other members of the State Education Department, if we do not hew as closely as possible to the language previously proposed by the State Education Department, the task force has very little chance of achieving its primary mission. We have been invited as guests to the decision-making table. We are not, as it were, the hosts throwing the party.

The task force has three objections to the language of the SED bill to reinstate services to homeschooled special education students. They are:

1. Location of Services
  • Dr. Cort's office wants to make sure that the language of the bill does not guarantee that services for homeschooled students take place in the home, but only that they may take place in the home, at the discretion of the district.
  • The task force believes that the language in this part of the bill should be made more explicit. Additionally, the task force would prefer that the decision for location of services take place at the "Committee for Special Education" level and not at the district level, as the CSE would have specific knowledge regarding the needs and situation of the individual child. This issue is particularly worrisome for parents of medically fragile children and parents within the New York City school system (who often must receive services at home because the city schools do not have the space or time to accommodate homeschooled students).

2. The IHIP
  • Dr. Cort's office wants to make sure that homeschooled students do not receive special education services unless they are in compliance with state law, so no child can receive services until an IHIP has been filed with the district.
  • The task force is concerned that the language of this section of the bill will lead districts to believe that they have a "perceived duty" to more-closely scrutinize the IHIPs of special education students, and would like to add clarifying language to the bill to avoid that possible interpretation. Additionally, the task force is concerned that provision of services will be delayed until an IHIP is approved, as many districts do not review IHIPs over the summer when the majority of the staff may be on vacation.

3. Use of the term 'Homeschooled'
  • Since the term 'homeschooled' is not defined elsewhere in the legislation, the task force is concerned that confusion might ensue between students that are homeschooled (most often by their families) and students that are home-educated (due to health issues, rule infractions, etc. and who are educated by the district). The task force would like to explore the use of other terms already established within the legislation.

What You Can Do:

Members of the task force have also been in touch with the media on this subject. For instance, a piece recently aired on ABC News (or copy and paste this hard link: By April 20, we should have posted a link on NY-Alert to a story in the New York Times on this issue as well. We encourage members of the homeschool community to visit these links and offer commentary in the discussion section of the story and also then ask that they encourage their friends and family to do the same. This will be one way that the State Education Department will see that ours is a relevant cause that is being followed by the public and that special education homeschooled students are not a vulnerable subset standing alone within the homeschooling community.

So, please, visit the ABC link and make a comment. Additionally, check NY-Alert next week for the Times link, as well!

On behalf of the the task force: Thank you!
Andrea Stolz