Monday, October 25, 2010

Let It Slide Right Under The Bar

I really enjoy reading Eh? What? Huh? . Her perspective is very honest and insightful. Her recent blog about about a student who was allowed to retake tests even though he didn't study brought up some issues I have with mainstream education. To often I feel we lower the bar for our deaf kids.

Last year when we had my son's IEP meeting it was brought up to his teachers they would need to accommodate him. It was his first year full time mainstreamed and we were all learning together. To me accommodation was things like captioned films and team interpreters for long lectures. I was thinking of things that would allow equal access to the class.

It was brought up that my son might need five extra days to turn in homework. This concept makes no sense to me. If he is at grade level and has access to the content of the class why would he need more time? What if he procrastinated on every assignment for five days after the due date? The idea of homework is to practice the skills learned in class. If the class has moved on and my son still hasn't done the homework from the last week doesn't it make sense he would fall behind?

If a child needs that sort of accommodation wouldn't it be great if they had a more appropriate environment better suited to their learning style so they wouldn't always be five days behind? At a well equipped state school that is possible.

Another situation came up in math. He would sit through class then come home and just stare at his homework. I was getting frustrated because I thought he was being lazy. His grades started to drop. The teacher suggested we erase his grades from the first half of the year and start fresh. This made no sense to me since he still needed to learn the core concepts.

Then one day he was looking at the paper due the next day and asked, "what does that mean?" it was a term that was fingerspelled and given a sign. He wasn't connecting the English to ASL. The school had offered note-takers. That doesn't work because the notes are in English and he could just use the text to get the same information. So I did some research and realized he just needed a few minutes before class to learn the signs for the concepts. This year is is doing fine in math.

At the state school all instruction is direct in ASL so this was a new issue for us. It was easy for him to master core curriculum concepts. He had one teacher, Alfred, who not only taught the subject but was able to do it with a sense of humor. He is deaf so the humor was relevant to all of the students.

When he was in elementary we mainstreamed him for a half day for a little over a year. The teachers had different standards for his behavior. He was a bit of a clown and would do things like put a fake snake in the teachers shoe. He would blurt out funny comments and goof off in class. He never got in trouble! If all the kids did that the teacher would be facing chaos but for some reason the cute deaf kid gets away with it. We ended up pulling him from mainstream until he was mature enough to navigate it.

My sister is a college professor . She told me one story of a kid who sat in the back of the class and turned in awful papers. Papers that she couldn't even read. She found out he was deaf. I asked what his services were. None. He hadn't requested any so she couldn't invade his privacy and bring it up. Turns out the kid was passed through for so many years he thought all he had to do was show up.

I also have a friend who was frustrated because her administrator at her high school told her they were passing her up because she was deaf.

I guess my point is it is really important to provide truly adequate accommodation for our kids and always hold them to the same standards as the other kids. We are not the benevolent keepers of these kids. The grow up and need to learn the tools they will use to work on a even playing field. I may be wrong but I wouldn't hire the kid from my sisters class just because he was deaf.


  1. My mom made sure that the hearing schools didn't treat us differently. If we earn an A, fine, but don't make a big deal. If we deserve a F, so be it. Treat us like the other kids. Don't do thing out of pity or misguided compassion. So I grew up expecting the same as my hearing peers.

    Later on in a hearing university, few professors even tried offering me special opportunities, but I rebuffed their offers, feeling insulted. I didn't need special favors and they soon found out I was doing fine. Lowering the bar is a very serious problem, even at deaf programs. Raise the bar and the majority will do fine. Life doesn't come in as a bowl of cherries. Students need to learn that early in life.

    Thank you for doing this. Your son will appreciate it very much when he grows up, just like I did with my mom :)


  2. Some people who work in the special education field are complete idiots... One superintendant suggested that I use a tape recorder to tape my teacher's lectures. Yeah, because I can't hear them in the classroom, I'll be able to hear them on a tape!?

  3. Lowering the bar is a problem for hearing kids, too...when my son attended community college with hearing students, he would tell me of ignorant questions they asked in class and that his professor would complain about badly written papers.

    My concern with deaf kids in hearing programs is this: lack of people who can diagnose where the problem is, like you did in picking up the vocabulary problem with your son. Once that was attended to, he was fine. It turned out that it wasn't a matter of deafness being the barrier, just the terminology.

    Often the case is not whether the kid can understand the concept in science and mathematics, it's the language or the vocabulary. In social sciences it's environmental exposure to the concepts that hasn't come through during previous schooling.

  4. Did I tell you what an awesome mom you are?


  5. You're right. It is SO important to have high expectations for students and constantly re-evaluate what may be causing issues in the classroom and address them rather then excusing them.

    Unfortunately, not every teacher or parent recognizes or realizes this and they often don't advocate or set those high expectations, which can really hurt the kids in the long run.

    As Dianrez mentioned some hearing schools and even some deaf schools don't realize it either. Chaining, sandwiching, chunking, etc are all proven bilingual strategies that are meant to create a bridge between two languages and make sure that deaf students are developing English literacy skills. I'm sure there's research and information out there that can be handed out to school professionals who are insistent that they need to lower standards and expectations. Fortunately, your son's school listened to and accepted your explanation.

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Tape the lectures? That is crazy. To quote my son, " Still deaf"

    Thanks (e that is so sweet! *slips her twenty dollars*

  7. I mentioned this post as being one of my favorites on my blog.

    Keep up your interesting and informative writing.