in a city in Michigan
They come up to me, afterwards, and begin to ask all the questions they will not ask in front of others - not in front of their friends, surely not in front of their teachers. "I want to be..." they begin, or, "I want to go..." or, "I want to do..." and then, "How can I?" or, "Is there a way?" or, "Is there anything that can help me?"
These children have been in school in America - that most powerful nation on earth - that wealthiest of societies - that preacher of equality of opportunity - they have been in school in America for over ten or eleven or even twelve years, and they have received nothing but a list of their limitations. Every day they are measured by the ways that they cannot be exactly like their teachers or those who rule the nation. They cannot hear the same way. they cannot see the same way. They cannot walk the same way, or read the same way, or understand the same way. They might simply not be able to sit still the same way, or they may have been born into a culture that does not see the universe exactly in the same terms that Protestant White people do. And so, in ten, or eleven, or even twelve years they have received nothing but a list of their limitations.
"I want to be a pilot," a boy named Saddam says. "I have been getting flight time with the father of a friend, I am getting very good, I have landed the plane myself already, but I cannot read the Ground School books." I tell him we can get him software that can read these technical books to him. I give him the name of the software. I give him copies of my card and tell him to have both his school teacher and the Ground School to get in touch with me. And I work hard not to say the other things - that this software has been easily available for a dozen years, longer than he has been in school, but those in charge of his education have been too lazy and careless to get it for him. And I do not say that sadly, this third generation American from the heartland of American industrial democracy will have a hard time getting a pilot's job no matter what because probably half of Americans are too stupid to separate this boy's name and religion from their prejudices.
"I have this phone," another boys asks, through a Sign Language interpretor. He holds up a smartphone, the basic lifetool for the deaf in the 21st Century. "Can I get the school to let me use it in school and to unblock their computers so teachers can text message stuff to me?" And I suggest how he and his parents might argue for this. I send him links to the law, my computer to his phone. We talk by text for twenty minutes. I do not say that American institutions of secondary education - like the prisons they most closely resemble - are far more concerned with control and security than anyone's learning - especially his.
"The electric door on the cafeteria broke last year and they say they're still trying to fix it, and I can't get to the bathroom without announcing it and asking friends for help." Again, I bring up the law, and I quickly look up a local advocacy group and recommend it. But I don't say that I am quite sure that if the football stadium's scoreboard broke, it would be fixed immediately, and so would the superintendent of school's laptop, and it is simply that this young women counts for less than others in her community.
"They told me that I couldn't become a paramedic because they wouldn't let me have a reader on the certification test." And all I can say is that, unless things change where he lives, that he may have to cross state lines to a "higher rights" state, or cross the border, which really is not far, and go to a more progressive nation. "Don't let being born here," I tell him, "stop you."
But I know that being born here can stop kids. It can stop them cold. It can stop them dead. America since the election of Ronald Reagan has fallen completely out of the top twenty major nations in social mobility. If you are born poor you will be poor. If you are born with a disability you will be uneducated and you will be poor. If your parents have not been to college you will not finish college. If you are born to the wrong zip code there is a 95% chance that you will never succeed, if you even manage to live to age eighteen.
And while the United States has become a place of inherited wealth and privilege it has ratcheted up the myths of opportunity, thus blaming the poor, the disabled, and those whom prejudice traps for the results of cruel government policy that robs from the poor to enrich those who already have so much.
But I cannot say any of that right here. The people who have invited me are lovely. They are all on the right side. This is not the place to begin a revolution. Those who make the rules that have crushed these children - they are not here. They are not listening. They are too busy handing their money to politicians who will guarantee the future of their tax breaks, too busy buying huge televisions and expensive cars, too busy making sure that neither their kitchen nor their bathrooms look anything but up-to-date. With all that to take care of, they have nothing to share with kids in need.
story copyright 2007-2008 by Ira Socol
Seven Simple Solutions (we have to start somewhere)
Not to make the whole day depressing. Let me repeat a few simple solutions to the most common struggles I see among all kids in schools. Free solutions, and - yes, just so you can start a fight at your local school by quoting me - if your school does not have all these installed and/or linked on every computer - they are guilty of educational malpractice. They are guilty of deciding that access is not important. They are guilty of intentionally leaving children behind.
No school official should ever be allowed to complain about the cost of accommodations until all the free stuff is installed everywhere in the school. If they start to complain, just tell them to shut up and start downloading.
The Firefox Add-On from Charles L. Chen that makes text on-line accessible to almost every LD student and supports sight-word development. The brilliant simplicity of the three button toolbar, which can fit write into the Firefox bookmark bar or be presented larger separately, allows it to work for students with a very wide range of skills. When combined with Google Docs this system can even allow students to hear their own writing read back to them.
A wonderful new tool offering free text-to-speech within Microsoft Word. Stunningly simple to use. Again, not just a reading support, but a writing support as well. (Thanks to the CALL Centre)
The spellcheck system that most of us need, ghotit.com actually helps to fix the types of spelling and word errors most students - especially dyslexics and English Language Learners - make. It indicates misspelled words and misused words and links corrections to definitions. All you need is a link in your bookmark bar to give your students a real chance at spelling and correct word use.
Full Measure's PowerTalk is a brilliant solution for the visually impaired and the dyslexic. It reads the PowerPoint slides to you.
AutoCorrect in Microsoft Word
Someone at the Szentannai Samuel Mezogazdasagi Szakkozepiskola Gimnazium Es Kollegium in Hungary was reading my post about mobiles in classrooms the other day. I thought, "I wouldn't want to write or type that every day." Nor, of course, do I want to type the name of my university every time. So I use what's built into Microsoft Word - the AutoCorrect feature. I've created four to six letter "quick key" combos which result in commonly used names and phrases appearing in my Word docs. It is as easy as going into the "Tools" Menu, going to "AutoCorrect Options," putting your quick key combination in the left box and the result you want in the right box. Instructions are here and here. And instructions for duplicating, transferring, or copying those lists are here.
Right click translations for anything highlighted in Firefox. Hard to beat for Language Learners or anyone trying to globalize a curriculum.
A complete graphing calculator for free, but that isn't what's great. What's great is that students who struggle to get maths written properly can simply grab the screen from Graph-Calc and paste it - calculations and/or graphs - right into a word processing document for homework, classwork, or tests.
- Ira Socol
a post worth reading from Unlocking The Classroom - The Surge Against First Graders - this goes well with the debate at Ms. Mercer's Blog on colonialism, and the link between how neo-conservatives treat the world, and treat children other than their own.
(original Huffington Post article)