The Dragonfly Forest

They have been given names such as devil’s darning needle, ear sewer, horse stinger, skeeter hawk, and the snake’s servant. Actually, Dragonflies are beneficial, peaceful, and stunning. You are a Dragonfly if you are: ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic, Asperger’s, NLVD, autistic…

Sunday, August 6, 2017

How students with disabilities are discriminated against in schools - the problem: Ableism

This article is to help you understand that people with disabilities (visible & invisible) are discriminated against and it needs to STOP. 

The REAL problem with our education system isn’t the common core curriculum but ableism.  Ableism like any other “ism” is the belief that abled people are superior to disabled people and the only way to do things (learn, read, walk, see, hear…) is the non-disabled way.  Ableism is a form of prejudice that is not only overlooked but tolerated, condoned, and defended.  

Think about it - how often do schools teach and celebrate people with disabilities?  When schools address diversity they avoid or disregard the diversity of disabilities (actually a form of ableism). 

School districts proudly state they have a culture and climate that supports inclusion but this is not reality until we openly embrace people of all kinds of disabilities.  

I wrote this article to help you understand ableism in our schools.  Here is a great litmus test – if you replace a person’s color, religion, or gender with a disability in a situation you will come to realize that schools are discriminating against students with disabilities.

·        In order for a student with a disability to receive an appropriate education there must be proof he has a disability.  Race and gender are no longer allowed to be used to deny a student an education but if a student with a disability does not meet the school’s eligibility requirements then he is denied an education.
For example, Jane has dyslexia which makes it hard for her to decode and keep up with her peers in reading.  Jane did not qualify for special education services because she is passing her subjects and her standardized tests scores are “average.”  The school denies her an evidence based reading program (explicit, systematic, phonics based approach) and requires her to learn to read via programs conducive to only non-dyslexic peers.  Umm Ableism!

·        School systems and even some parents tend to focus on “fixing” the student with a disability instead of creating educational environments conducive for all students with disabilities.  The problem lies in the belief that something is wrong with the student with a disability because they do not fit into the ‘abled’ school or society setting. 
For example, Jack not only has learning disabilities but he also experiences anxiety (often this is a result of years of discrimination, being made to feel something is wrong with them, and not being educated appropriately).  Teachers (and other adults) believe that Jack should learn information in the way they are teaching and function like his non-disabled peers.  These assumptions cause teachers to focus on “fixing” Jack by forcing him to do things their way – be it eye-reading, handwriting assignments/test, speaking in front of others…  The goal is to create an all new Jack, one that looks, acts, and learns like his non-disabled peers.  Is this okay?  How would you feel if white teachers focused on teaching African American students how to look, act, and behave white so they would “fit in?” 

·        Referring to a person having a disability as just having a ‘difference’ is abilism.  Using the label of ‘difference’ does NOT take away the disability.  Instead of empowering a person by using the word ‘difference’ the person is actually being marginalized.  When students are told about their disability and it is acknowledged, they experience less shame.  Students with disabilities are well aware of how different they are from their non-disabled peers.  Minimizing their disabilities as just a ‘difference’ causes students with disabilities more difficulties.  Often it is a parent pushing for the label of ‘difference’ because the parent is struggling to come to terms with their child not being ‘normal.’  “See my child isn’t abnormal she is just different.”  The same can be said for the person who refers to themselves as not having a disability but only having a ‘difference.’  Denying the disability is the same as denying one’s gender or race – we are what we are! - Learn why the word disability is better!

·        School counselors and teachers tend to believe that a good way to include students with disabilities is to have a “Buddy” program where non-disabled students are paired up with students with disabilities.  Hmm, let’s put this program to the test- would it be appropriate to assign non-white students a white “buddy” so they can be included in the majority white mainstream culture?  NO, this would be racist! 

·        Anti-bullying programs are everywhere (which are actually counterproductive by the way – here’s what works better).  Sadly, students with disabilities are often the target in bullying situations and school staff members condone the behaviors of the bullies.  If the student being bullied does not fit in as ‘normal’ than these students are blamed for causing the problem.  Parents of students with Asperger’s or on the Autism Spectrum are often told by school counselors and teachers that the student would benefit from social skills counseling.  The goal here is to get the student with a disability to fit in so THEY no longer are the target to the bullying behaviors.  What if a student was being bullied because of his religion?  Would it be appropriate to tell the parents of a Jewish student they need to take their child to counseling so the child can learn ways to fit in with his Christian peers?  

·        School districts require students to learn a foreign language but most refuse to offer American Sign Language as an option.  Students with learning disabilities especially language processing disabilities and dyslexia struggle with learning the English language but are forced to participate in classes were they will not be successful and are informed that no accommodations or modifications can be provided (I’ve been told this one personally).  This is actually discrimination.  When parents request their child be provided a more appropriate course, parents are told they must find and pay for the course themselves.  What happened to free and appropriate education here?  Furthermore, isn’t the school supposed to be a safe environment for students?  By forcing students with disabilities that impede their ability to learn a foreign language to meet foreign language requirements the school district is causing unnecessary emotional distress. (Universities like Yale even exempt students with dyslexia from the foreign language requirement - taking foreign culture instead so why can't high schools?)

·        When teachers tell parents that Little Johnny would be doing much better in class if he could just stay focused is ablism.  Little Johnny has ADHD and he does not need cured with medication or more discipline.  What Little Johnny needs is understanding and accommodations.  Telling him to “just try harder” is discrimination.  Assuming he is lazy is abilism – he has a disability and yet he is expected to behave as if he is ‘normal.’   Negative comments like these are actually attacking Little Johnny’s self-esteem and in turn makes the ADHD worse.  Students with anxiety, depression, and other disabilities experience more negative judgments than their non-disabled peers.  Instead of embracing and understand the individual students, school staff members are discriminating against the students who don’t fit in or are more difficult to teach.  Hmm what if school staff members said these judgmental comments to students based on their race, gender, or religion?

Are you aware that inclusion is NOT really inclusion and here are some examples of students with disabilities being excluded:

Did you know that students with disabilities that require them to receive more individualized support for their disability are excluded from extracurricular classes such as art, gym, music, or even recess.  These classes and activities are a great way for students to interact with each other, build social skills, self-esteem, and feel included.  Research has shown that the social and emotional health of students with and without disabilities has a direct impact on their academic success. A school would never be allowed to use race, gender, or religion to exclude a student from classes and activities but do it daily to students with disabilities.

Furthermore, schools have a minimum GPA requirement for a student to participate in sports with no accommodation for students with disabilities. This is often a state rule but schools do have the power to make some adjustments based on the individual student.  Sometimes a student is trying exceptionally hard academically and they just can't meet the grade expectations so they are punished by not being allowed to participate in sports. Denying these students the opportunity to participate in sports because they are not successful academically is discrimination and ableism! The Department of Education agrees that students with disabilities should NOT be discriminated against and allowed to participate in sport. Furthermore even the NCAA understands that not all athletics will meet academic eligibility, here's an excerpt & link: "For academic eligibility purposes, the NCAA defines an education-impacting disability (EID) as a current impairment that has a substantial educational impact on a student's academic performance and requires accommodations." I have written frequently on how it is NOT okay for teachers and school districts to allow students to fail: Why are students failing if schools are required to provide a free and appropriate education? and Students don't fail, the education system is failing our students!

What you should be able to notice in this article is how able-entitlement is one of the problems.  When you are able – able to walk, read, talk, see… you assume that everyone else can do what you do and if they do things differently than they are doing them wrong.  You believe that your way is the best way despite research providing evidence to the contrary. 

School staff members must realize that ableism is a form of discrimination or prejudice against students with physical, mental, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.  Ableism is characterized by the belief that these students can be fixed, are not as capable as their non-disabled peers, and would be successful if they would only try harder, focus more, or learn in the way their peers are learning.

School districts boast that they are opening and accepting of all students, celebrate diversity, recognize multicultural concerns, and have a mission to facilitate maximum learning for every student.  Sadly students with disabilities are excluded in all ways.   

Finally, as a person who focuses on the positive and strength of the student I have no problem with the term disability but I prefer to use appropriate labels – Autism, Asperger’s, Anxiety, ADHD, Depression, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia….   Teach students to work to their strength and stop trying to make them all fit into a mold of ‘normal.’   When teaching about diversity include people with disabilities.  Remember excluding or ignoring students with disabilities IS ableism.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dr. King & Lessons from A Class Divided

People really need to understand discrimination. RE-sharing this from past posts for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  

To start watch "A Class Divided" 

Yes, Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes is a powerful video on racism.  It gives insights in to the personal experiences of how we discriminate based on the attribute of the color of eyes or the color of one’s skin.  Let’s think outside of the box on this one and see how this is also a great lesson on how we treat people with learning disabilities (Dyslexia, ADHD, Dysgraphia, Asperger’s….) and other types of disabilities (physical, deaf, blind…) in school settings. 

To help you understand this I’m going to explain it as “Butterflies” vs. “Dragonflies.”  Butterflies are “typical” students who learn easily; have athletic and/or academic talents; and viewed by others as beautiful.  Dragonflies on the other hand are students with disabilities and challenges (with or without IEP/504’s); they struggle academically, athletically, socially, and/or emotionally; and are viewed by others as scary, not fitting in, and different.   In school environments it is often assumed that “Butterflies are better than Dragonflies.” 

The Butterflies are more likely to be given extra opportunities in school such as crossing guard or member of student council.  Teachers are concerned if they give Dragonflies positions of responsibilities they will not be able to handle the job so they can only be given to Butterflies.   

Butterflies are picked more often for awards and accolades because they are “easy to teach” and “well-liked by their teachers and peers.”   For more details on this check out my post on Stop the Shaming: why ceremonies and graduations need to change.  The Dragonflies are not often not given these awards and accolades because: they are so challenging to teach; they may be experiencing Learned Helplessness (explained in the linked post) from the years of discrimination, shame, and pain that they have just given up trying; they just don’t fit in socially.

Butterflies are given positive reinforcements in the classroom while the Dragonflies often receive negative reinforcements.  When you observe an elementary classroom room where a teacher has a Colored behavior chart more Dragonflies are on Yellow and Red than Butterflies.    The Butterflies are most likely on Green and get to run special errands for teachers or get to sit in special places in the room. 

As you can see the list of the differences can go on and on but the key point here is how Dragonflies are not just discriminated against by their teachers but this treatment is seen as acceptable to their peers as well since the students will model the behaviors of the teachers. 

So when thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. today think about how we still treat students who learn differently (academically or socially) as less than the students who are “Mainstream” learners.  Dragonflies are often excluded from classes that Butterflies receive automatically such as gym, art, and other electives because the Dragonflies need extra teacher support to learn. Schools require students to take these foreign language classes and although students with learning disabilities would benefit from Sign Language it is too much trouble to make this happen so they just have to struggle (causing emotional pain) or not participate (excluded from a class open to non-disabled peers).  For some reason it seems acceptable to the adults to take away opportunities from Dragonfly students using the reasoning that teachers can’t work beyond school hours, it would cost too much to provide the services, or they don't want to make a specific accommodation.  For more details on this visit the following post: Dr. King’s Legacy Regarding Discrimination in Education.

So here is my question to you: What are we really teaching our children in schools?  Are we teaching them empathy or are we teaching them discrimination?  By excluding the Dragonfly students from the events and opportunities that are freely given to Butterflies we are condoning discrimination.  I am often told that the Butterflies have “earned” these privileges but the Dragonflies have not so they do not deserve them.  So you really think that because Little Johnny can’t read that he should have to be pulled from gym, art, or recess so he can be taught to read?   By the way, maybe we should go back to teaching student using the Orton-Gillingham reading program- look for this scene in the movie!

Maybe you think it is safer to not have Little Sarah as the library helper because she has impulsive ADHD and may get lost in the hallway or forget what she was doing (or is it really because it would just be easier for you to not have to supervisor her so you will send the “responsible” student).   Then there’s the student who is socially awkward and wanted to be a “student leader” but you think that a different student would be a better role model (the 'popular' student).  By denying students these opportunities you are discrimination against them and perpetuating the belief that there really is something wrong with Dragonflies.  

We need to practice lessons we have learned from Dr. King:

Friday, July 28, 2017

What the 5 Monkey story can teach you about INSIGHT!

What is Insight?  Insight is "the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or a thing."   This can mean having Insight into yourself or others.  

Today as the first day, I want you to gain insight into thinking about behaviors. 

Here's a psychology experiment that you must know about: 

The 5 Monkeys ~~

What this story teaches us is how we are sometimes a product of our environment and have no idea why we do what we do.  With insight we can make conscious changes not only in ourselves but also in the world.

Some of you may question if this was a true experiment and it wasn't but it is based on a true experiment (see below).  If we have insight we can see this happening in our daily lives.  I often hear in school meetings that something was done or going to be done because "it has always been done this way."  Geez that's really scary now if you think about it, right?  

"Stephenson (1967) trained adult male and female rhesus monkeys to avoid manipulating an object and then placed individual naïve animals in a cage with a trained individual of the same age and sex and the object in question. In one case, a trained male actually pulled his naïve partner away from the previously punished manipulandum during their period of interaction, whereas the other two trained males exhibited what were described as "threat facial expressions while in a fear posture" when a naïve animal approached the manipulandum. When placed alone in the cage with the novel object, naïve males that had been paired with trained males showed greatly reduced manipulation of the training object in comparison with controls. Unfortunately, training and testing were not carried out using a discrimination procedure so the nature of the transmitted information cannot be determined, but the data are of considerable interest."

Sources: Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.
Mentioned in: Galef, B. G., Jr. (1976). Social Transmission of Acquired Behavior: A Discussion of Tradition and Social Learning in Vertebrates. In: Rosenblatt, J.S., Hinde, R.A., Shaw, E. and Beer, C. (eds.), Advances in the study of behavior, Vol. 6, New York: Academic Press, pp. 87-88.

Friday, July 21, 2017

What you need to know about depression and suicide!

RIP Chester Bennington!  So sad to have lost you!

Everyone had difficulties and challenges that need to be faced.  People should not have to face these alone but often some have no choice.  Yes, people will say "talk to me," "what's wrong," or "I'm here for you, all you have to do is ask."  Well, some of us can't ask.  Some of us know that others do not want to really hear how bad things are because there is nothing that can be done.   We have to put on a smile and make the world a better place for others and we can't share the cold hard reality of what is happening.

Sometimes we do ask and no one takes the time to listen.  We can even cry and share our pain only to have the other person minimize what we are feeling or try to sugar coat things.  Well this only makes the person feel worse, not better.

So how do you convince someone that life is worth living?  You can't!  You can tell someone that you care and show them by listening to them unconditionally but that is only if they are willing to talk and chances are, the person may not be willing to share what exactly is going on.  Chances are no one can make things better.  Only the person who is dealing with the difficulties and challenges can actually make changes and make things better.  Often they just want to have someone listen to them, really listen with no judgment.  This is not an easy task for people to do- listen without judgment.

When a person commits suicide you often hear how shocked everyone was because the person who ended their life was always so happy and had everything going for them.  Why does this happen? This happens because no one really wants to face the reality that a person can be depressed, so depressed that they feel that life is no longer worth living.

Yes, the person thinking of suicide takes the feelings of others into consideration but what they know is that the relationship will still be there.  There will still be some good memories and the person contemplating suicide believes that they are saving their loved ones from more pain if they end their life because obviously they are such a burden to begin with or the loved ones would listen with empathy.  People often see the "signs" of depression and suicidal ideations after the fact but these signs were there long before they just didn't care enough to notice.  Maybe that sounds cruel, to blame the ones left behind but I believe that it is the society we live in that needs to carry the blame. We live in a society where it is not okay to talk about depression and suicide.  We live in a society that shames people for being different.

If you have a friend who is depressed and shared some dark thoughts then be there for them, push them to open up and discuss their feelings and thoughts without judgment.  Help them!  Stop ignoring them and pretending that everything is okay.  If you suspect that something is wrong and ask the person how they are and they say "fine" with a smile on their face-- push harder because chances are your instincts are correct.  If you think that a person would not commit suicide because they have everything going for them, then think again, many people put on a mask everyday and hide their pain. Don't accept an "I'm fine" from someone you suspect is NOT fine.  Seek them out and be there for them.  I promise you it will make a difference.  Sometime all a person needs is to know that their life does matter.

So, here's my final word on this - there will be some people that no matter what you say or do will make the choice to no longer live in pain.  You must forgive yourself if you know that you did all you could to make a difference in their life and prevent them from ending their own life - you did all you could do.  If you did not do all you could do.  If you were distant or avoided their dark side- all I can say is this is guilt you have to live with because people who are that depressed need support and you made the choice to not provide that support.

Take 11 minutes to listen to Kevin Breel talk about what it is like to be a person with depression and suicidal.  He could be someone you know!!!


Here's a song I sing often - from one of my favorite movies & TV shows - MASH:


I have written a few other articles about suicide and depression - check them out: My story is not over!Henry Rollins gives-adviceDepression in school-aged children; and many others.

(Image: photo of a brown and tan dragonfly and quote from Chester Bennington (frontman for the rock band Linkin Park)- "You're constantly trying to prove yourself, even after you've made it.")

(Image: blue and black dragonfly surrounded by blades of grass that are tinted grey and a quote from Orson Scott Card's book 'Ender's Shadow'- "In my view, suicide is not really a wish for life to end.' 'What is it then?' 'It is the only way a powerless person can find to make everybody else look away from his shame. The wish is not to die, but to hide.")

Friday, July 14, 2017

Freaky Friday Fun

Have a wild and naked Friday!

(Image: cartoon of a group of cavemen the one wearing a 'loin cloth' is saying to the two who are naked - "Dang! I always forget about casual Friday.")

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Elie Wiesel - lessons learned and how to have a better world!

Spiritual Sunday~~ I continue to be heartbroken at the loss of Elie Wiesel!  In the 1980's I was in high school and learned about Mr. Wiesel and read his book "Night."  Reading his book was not an easy task because I'm dyslexic. I struggle at pronouncing unknown words and I'm an exceptionally slow reader but Mr. Wiesel's book kept me inspired to keep reading and motivated me to do a lot of self-reflection. How can I live in a world that allows such injustice?  How can I just stand by and let bad thing happen to others?  I knew I couldn't! I knew that I had to help others!  Although I was just a teenager I knew my purpose in life was to work on making the world a better place. 

Elie Wiesel's life lessons became a part of the fabric of my soul and I re-read his work often, especially on audio.  There is so much to learn about ourselves and the world around us.  I guess this is why I struggle to understand why people have hate and negativity?  I just don't get it!  How can someone intentionally harm someone else - physically, mentally, socially, emotionally...? It makes me sick to my stomach when I hear someone justify their actions - tell me that the other person had it coming, that they had to right to defend themselves, that it's the person's own fault for being poor....  How can you not see from another person's perspective?  

I work daily to live with integrity and yet see and experience so much hate and indifference.  I don't understand how some people don't comprehend that what we focus on we expand.  When we attempt to make the world a better place by fighting the "War on drugs" or the "War on guns" or "Anti-bullying" all we are doing is magnifying drugs, guns, bullying... We need to teach empathy, compassion, and HELP those addicted.  War begets war and eventually there is so much war, hatred, violence that people become immune and indifferent.  I learned from "Elie Wiesel "Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil."  

People are so self-absorbed with material items, money, status, and number of "likes" and followers on social media that they have lost most of their humanity.  I have sat in school meetings where the staff fights hard against providing an education to a child. Often they blame the child or parents for the fact that the child is not learning instead of taking responsibility and teaching the child appropriately.  I could tell you some horrific stories about how those who are paid to educate our children attack them by blaming and shaming them.  Educators are not paid to crush the self-esteem of children yet is accepted and condoned all the time. Sports coaches often do the same things. But why is all this allowed - why do people in power think they have the right to break the spirit of another person.  

As a counselor I am helping many people overcome the traumas from their childhood.  It is heartbreaking to hear the stories about teachers, coaches, and even parents causing such damage to another human-being.    "Every single human-being is a unique human-being and therefore it is so criminal to do something to that human-being- he or she represents humanity."  



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Is Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes ADHD?

Today, July 5, is the birthday of William “Bill” Boyd Watterson II, American Artist and author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.  Mr. Watterson will be 59 years old today.   The comic strip Calvin and Hobbes ran from 1985 to 1995 and was in more than 2,400 newspapers worldwide. 

Calvin, the 6 year old main focus of his comic strip was and is loved my many.  There has also been intense discussions in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder community as to whether or not Calvin has ADHD.  Mr. Watterson never came right out and reported that Calvin was ADHD but I guess Mr. Watterson didn’t go into creating the comic strip with the intention on having Calvin ADHD.  

No parent plans or wants their child to have ADHD.  Parents discover their child has ADHD as the child grows and develops.  I think there is agreement in this ADHD community that Calvin fits the criteria for ADHD: he has a difficult time staying focused, hyperactive, impulsive, creative, and enthusiastic!  The thing is--- it doesn’t matter if Mr. Watterson intended this to be ADHD or not.  Just because a diagnosis can be made does not take away from the great traits we love about Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend, Hobbes.  In fact, we actually love Calvin BECAUSE of his ADHD traits.  Calvin’s imagination, creativity, energy, lack of attention, and view of the world are the gifts that Mr. Watterson gave to this character.  Our kids with ADHD don't need to be shamed for their ADHD traits - adults need to appreciate these ADHD traits just like we appreciate and enjoy Calvin. 

So Happy Birthday, Mr. Watterson, thank you for giving us the gift of Calvin and Hobbes (as well as your other wonderful cartoons).  

Mr. Watterson is on my list of people I’d love to have lunch with.  Since he lives a couple hours north of me I could venture to hunt him down but I will refrain out of respect.  After Mr. Watterson ended his Calvin and Hobbes comic strip he became a “recluse.”  He has worked hard to stay out of the public eye, he declines interviews, appearances, and refuses to license his characters.  There is speculation that he has anxiety and social phobia.  It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not I believe he is a true Dragonfly and just like all Dragonflies they are best when viewed in their natural state instead of held captive.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

You ARE under the control of others- Don't think so? Then check this out!

I was recently thinking about the Stanley Milgram experiment and realized this is a good topic for people to understand.  This is an experiment done in 1961 and provided us evidence that people will follow the directions of an authority figure even if they feel they should not be doing what they are asked to do- in Milgram’s experiment 65% of participants continued to shock another person because a person in authority told them to even though the participant could hear the other person is in pain and asking to stop.  Here’s a quick clip of that:
People often say that in current times with all the sensitivity training, people will stand up to authority figures more and not do something just because a person an authority tells them to do it; but that is not the case.  Here are a couple more recent clips of this experiment:

Now watch this guy-   
When I teach about this in college psychology classes I always have students tell me that they would NOT follow a person in authority.   So I put them to the test.  I don’t have the Milgram machine but I would do something else.  Here’s what I did. 

About a week after the discussion of the Milgram experiment (and Stanford Prison experiment) I told the class I want them to know what it is like to be the teacher and each gets a turn up front of the classroom. I asked for volunteers for the teacher role and had this person step outside the room and wait on me to come out and tell him/her what he/she will talk about.  I told the rest of the class their job was to ignore the “student-teacher,” I told them to make the “student-teacher” annoyed and flustered.  If the “student-teacher” asked them a question they were to refuse to answer or give an inappropriate answer.  I then went out to the “student-teacher” and told him/her to engage the students – ask questions, make eye-contact, motive them, and get them interacting. 

What happened was exactly as expected.  The more the students treated the “student-teacher” poorly the more distraught the “student-teacher” became.  Some students were uncomfortable but continued anyway looking over at me to stop the exercise.  Every student participated.  I did not have one student not do what I asked them to do.  When I did stop the exercise I asked the students what they learned from the lesson and was told – “it’s hard being a teacher.”  When I pointed out that they just validated Milgram’s experiment – that people are obedient to an authority figure even if they do not agree with the activity or request.  Students were shocked and disappointed in themselves.  I did point out that each student may not have done what was told to them if they were alone because another thing we learn in Social Psychology is people will more easily engage in inappropriate behaviors if in a group. 

People comply with authority much more than you think – YOU do it almost daily, especially if you work.  When you are in a work environment you are told what to do and how to do it.  You are given assignments and comply.  Sometimes you are told to do something that may be wrong or unethical.  You may not even know it is wrong or unethical because you trust the person/people in authority.  What if you know or suspect it is wrong?  Do you say something or refuse to do it?  What if you did say something or choose not to do the requested activity, would you fear the loss of your job or retaliation?  These are some tough decisions and obviously must be weighed against what the person/people in authority is/are asking you to do. 

Now think about this, why do you think students who have learning disabilities do not receive an appropriate education, denied services, or denied an IEP/504?  Do you think it is one individual (teacher, administrator, school psychologist…) who wants to deny this child an opportunity to learn?  Most likely it is not a person but a school district itself.  Someone in authority has told staff that there can only be a limited number of students in special education, on IEP’s/504, and what services can and cannot be provided.  When it comes down to it, schools are businesses and sometimes people who are not on the front lines make decisions that are not conducive to the education of students with learning disabilities.  These people make policies and procedures and teachers and administrators follow these even if they are actually violating a student’s rights.  Many times teachers and administrators are just doing what they are told to do from the people in the central office.  When we really look at it we can see that the ones who are really running the schools are the people in the highest authority. As a parent of a child with a learning disability how many times have you been told by a teacher that know your child is struggling but they can’t say/do anything about it because of the people above them.  Many teachers have told parents things only to deny saying these things in meetings because they don’t want to get into trouble with their bosses.   

Stanley Milgram said it best with this quote: “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”

We need to teach our children that they are to be HEROES!   As a society we need to support people who are “whistleblowers” instead of condoning companies and even school districts to lead with a culture of “don’t question, just do – because those that question will lose their jobs.”  People should not be punished or condemned because they followed the directions of an authority figure especially if they have power and control of their paycheck until we live in a society that values independence and respects people who question the actions of authority figures. 

We must also teach our children know they have a voice and to ask those in authority “why” they are being asked to do something.  We need to help empower children say “no” if they do not feel something is right.  We need to make these changes so our world can be better! Watch the next video and see what it would be like if people felt empowered to stand up to authority! 

Finally, here’s one of my heroes, Phil Zimbardo discussing The Psychology of Evil in a 20 minute TED talk.  Watch this, learn from it, and put into practice the suggestions he has near the end of his talk. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Stop the shaming: why ceremonies and graduations need to change

It is that time of year again & I am sharing this post because it is vital for these ceremonies to change!  I know some are worse than others.  It was originally written & published years ago after sitting for over 3 hours at my son's 8th grade graduation where only a very select group of students were praised. Sadly, it still holds true today.  Thanks so much for taking time to read this - if there are any grammar errors please forgive them (editing is not my strength).
The end of the school year brings with it many award ceremonies and graduations.  As an inclusionist, I am not fond of these event!!  Many (although not all) of these events are designed to exclude and shame students into what our society considers acceptable behaviors and standards of success.  True, students who achieve should be rewarded and acknowledged; heck, almost all students want to be acknowledged.  I think all students who attend the ceremony should receive an award.  This does NOT mean I believe we should give all students an award, what it means is that only those students who are receiving awards should be required to attend the ceremony.    Students who are subjected to sit through a 1-3 hour long awards ceremony or graduation and not receive one accolade are not being motivated to become a better student or athlete. 

Often a reason given as to why students should be acknowledged for their hard work and effort in front of their nonperforming peers is because this motivates students to work harder.   Really?  Students getting good grades, high test scores, or achieving athletic success are not necessarily the ones putting forth the most effort.   We are doing our students a disservice by only shining a light on achievements and failing to embrace diversity. 

Schools often report they are sensitive to diversity yet they only mean race, gender, and ethnicity.  What about the diversity of learning?   Some students will work exceptionally hard and only earn C’s while for other students learning is easy, therefore they earn A’s.  Yes, the “C” student could have all A’s too but it is up to the teachers to educate this student appropriately (this is their educational right – to receive a free and appropriate education).  I heard a teacher recently state in her speech about the academic award recipient; “she is so easy to teach... students like her are the reason why people get into teaching.”   My heart sank, of course, this student is easy to teach. This student doesn’t have a learning disability causing struggles with reading, math, or writing.   The message was loud and clear, teachers don’t get into teaching to have challenging students they get into it so they can reap the rewards of a student who excels easily.  Okay, to be fair, that may not have been the speakers intended message but it sure could be interpreted that way.

Sports are another example of how school exclude and shame students.  A few weeks ago I wrote details about this topic in my "Lessons from The Breakfast Club"  post.  Not all students have the ability or talent to play sports although some may have the desire.  When schools put talented athletes on a pedestal and worship these students they are sending a message to other students that in order to be successful you must be athletically talented.  If you don’t believe this then look at our society as a whole; how much does a professional athlete get paid compared to a teacher. 

Sometimes schools try to pretend that they are including all students by having “student of the year” or “star student” awards.  This is not true inclusion.  You are kidding yourself if you think that each and every student had an equal chance to earn one of these awards.  Did the staff really consider the student with severe ADHD who has difficulty with impulse control?  How about the student who has Asperger’s and is struggling with learning social skills or is awkward?  I bet the student who was bullied so severely he became depressed and withdrawn wasn’t given a second thought.  Students who are challenging or have challenges are not often picked for these awards.   So, face it, this is not true inclusion; it is a facade.  Also, be careful of another facade - when the obviously disabled student gets an award just so the school can say ...  "look at us, aren't we amazing, we just honored a student who has a major disability..."  Umm this isn't genuine & only done for the thrill of inspiration porn.  This is NOT okay either. 

So, here is my proposal to all school districts across the country.  Over the summer decide what you consider the values we should be instilling in our children.   Take a good hard look at the way you are rewarding students.  Do you make the students with good grades stand-up in front of their non-achieving peers and tell these peers that they too can have these honors and rewards if they only tried hard enough?  Do you have ceremonies where everyone is invited but only a few get rewarded?  Do you give out student of the year awards, if so - really look to see if all students have equal opportunity for these awards?  Learn about confirmation bias (you like someone so you see most things they do in a positive light – you dislike someone so you see most things they do in a negative light).  Once you fully understand confirmation bias go back over and answer the last question: Do all students have an equal chance of winning “student of the year” or “star student?”  Now, relearn confirmation bias again and repeat the last question one final time.  If you still believe that all students have an equal chance than you don’t understand confirmation bias.    

Am I saying that there should be no more award ceremonies and graduations?  No, I am not saying this at all.  Go ahead and have these events but only require the students receiving awards to attend and if anyone else wants to attend they can make that choice but do not force students to attend hour long ceremonies/graduations where EVERYONE ELSE gets rewarded and praised.  Graduation ceremonies can be wonderful celebrations when focused on all students.  Call each student up and reward them with their certificate (don't just call their name as they walk in & go to a seat with their "graduation award" is sitting on the chair), if they received other awards announce them at that time – this way each and every student gets the opportunity to walk across the stage (front of a room) and be recognized.  Remember that almost everyone wants to be acknowledged and accepted.  Schools should focus on inclusion and quit reinforcing a “haves versus have-nots” climate.  Now is the time for change and acceptance.  Just because the ceremonies and graduations have always been done a specific way does NOT mean they must continue that way.  Remember we were once a nation where: slavery existed, women were not allowed to vote, and racial segregation was acceptable.  We now know better so we should do better.   We need to embrace the diversity that each and every student has and acknowledge their strengths instead of measuring them as successful under one specific set of standards.      
(Here's another post about shaming- Stop the Shaming Pt. 2)