We should teach lessons in reality
Warning: Reality Alert. If you are not prepared to deal with the fact that life sometimes is not fair, that we are not all dealt the same hand, that some of us are not as able as everyone else in specific areas ... please redirect your eyes to another article. Neither this columnist nor this newspaper may be held liable for any negative reaction on your part - including but not limited to feeling bad, feeling inferior or feeling oppressed - should you decide to proceed further.
An article in Sunday's The Eagle in Bryan/ College Station detailed a complaint made to the Texas Education Agency against the Bryan High School Special Education Department. Being married to a teacher, at times teaching special ed, having other teachers in the family and a lot of teacher friends, having worked some as an aide even in a special ed environment, I have an idea of how great an effort is often made to provide for kids with special needs. I'm talking about different learning environments and teaching techniques, even a lot of one-on-one work. While I cannot speak for every school district, including Bryan, I feel there is an overall effort to make education an opportunity that transcends special needs.
So, what was this complaint? That Johnny was not given an equal opportunity to learn math or reading? That classes were not available at his level?
No, Johnny's problem - actually Johnny's father's problem, it seems - had to do with the high school marching band. You see, Johnny uses a wheelchair and is not able to march in the marching band. His father apparently feels the school should have made modifications for his son.
What did they do, deny him the chance to join the band? No. Actually, Johnny was a member of the band and performed with his trumpet during football halftime shows. However, since a wheelchair cannot maneuver in the intricate fashion required for such drills, especially while its occupant is playing a trumpet, Johnny was stationed on the sideline with the percussionists who did not march because of their bulky equipment.
That seems entirely reasonable to me. He was able to do everything the other band members did but march. Why? Because he cannot march. So, what is dad's problem?
"To separate disabled students from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their disability generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in school and community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone," the father wrote in the complaint to the state agency.
No. They do not have similar qualifications. Johnny cannot march; the others can.
What if Johnny wanted to play football rather than march during halftime? Would the football team be expected to modify its playbook to accommodate Johnny?
I played football throughout high school and was, maybe, almost average. In fact, I didn't make the varsity until my senior year and that may have only been because all seniors made varsity. Did that make me feel inferior? Heck, yeah. Why? Because my football skills were inferior. I could walk, run, block and tackle, but not as well as some of my teammates. Therefore, I did not play as much.
Was it because I did not work as hard? No, I think I gave it a full effort, but I simply did not have the capabilities to perform as well. Was it because I was oppressed by my coaches? No, actually I was given key roles on specialty teams and played offense and defense when games got out of hand.
Did it ruin me for life?
Heavens, no. It taught the lesson that we do not all have the same strengths and abilities, that we must play the game of life with the hand dealt us, that we all have different roles in society.
It was about dealing with reality, life and the fact that it is not always fair. Part of the education process is learning how to handle reality. I hope Johnny's dad gets out of the way so his son can learn that lesson and apply it to a fruitful and happy life.
Steve Martaindale is a self-syndicated columnist. Write him at penmanmail-steve@yahoo. com.