17 April 2006

CSUN 2006/People to Watch

The disability rights movement often says - "Nothing about us, without us." That's a powerful thought. So often Special Education/SEN departments, in primary, secondary, university levels, and surely in teacher-training and educational research institutions, are the exclusive province of people who have never struggled themselves with these issues. I'd never suggest that "you must be dyslexic to work with dyslexics" (or anything like that), but imagine - if you will- a U.S. university with an all-white faculty for its African-American Studies department, teaching all-white classes. Surely a critical perspective would be missing. Those of us who see the issues first hand do have some essential things to say, and perhaps we can also improve the conduit for two-way communication that - for the first time - starts to get the voices of the "different" students up into the realm of educational decision-making.

For my last "CSUN 2006" post (the blog will continue, of course) I just wanted you to meet two brilliant people I met in Los Angeles. The world would describe both as "disabled" - but the world really needs to listen to both these gentlemen...

When I first began listening to Izac Milstein Ross in his presentation on Universal Design at the CSUN Conference I let myself hear him the way, I think, others often hear me - that is, as angry and excited and passionate but perhaps too far from the "real world" that teachers and schools are forced to occupy. But, then I realized, Izac and I aren't wrong, Izac and I are impatient and angry, and that is the way we should be.

Izac is a teenager growing up in a dyslexic and attention-challenged buzz who is smart enough to know exactly what he and others like him need. More than that, he knows what needs to be done to get schools to work for both kids like him and kids in general, and he has done the hard work of developing a framework that would make education fully accessible. That's beyond impressive for a man still in high school (a life-point at which I was just frustrated and angry).

Izac's framework - The E.D.U.C.A.T.E. Model: Effective Delivery of Universal Curricula via A.T. for k-12 Education - is a powerful work that could move us forward in very important ways. And he is a powerful speaker, who can really communicate both the needs and the potential.

He's headed to university next year. Don't lose track of him.

Ben Foss is one of those superstars of life (lawyer, MBA, Stanford grad, highly successful) who hasn't forgotten just how hard it was and hasn't left others behind. Ben has created the Initiative for Learning Identities a not-really-text-based advocacy and support organization for those with learning differences. This group creates videos and other multi-media approaches to describing the issues and defining solutions. Ben himself is one of those people whose passions flow when the conversation starts - he's a gigantic voice for the future of education of all of us who "don't quite fit" the mold schools want to pour us into.

- Ira Socol

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