Monday, January 30, 2012

"Where's the Functionality?": Last week on her blog Authentic Inclusion, Lisa Jo Rudy lamented that so many resources on "teaching" kids with autism are interested only in teaching kids with autism to look less like kids with autism, not to give them any particular academic enrichment. I've felt the same annoyance, although with my son and his friends, it's been more a matter of "life skills" than social skills. At some point, the special-education track for multiple disabilities veers off the normal academic highway and into job training, checkbook balancing, food preparation, housekeeping, and all manner of practical skills. Which aren't bad, necessarily -- arguably, typical teens could use that sort of instruction, too. But it's not why we send kids to high school.

I remember when my son got placed in a resource-room algebra class, kind of on a fluke, and his speech therapist shook her head and said, "Where's the functionality?" I was invited to agree that for a kid like my kid, something like algebra could have no possible usefulness. But, for goodness sake, where's the functionality of algebra for anybody? Unless you go on to major in math, probably you could function just fine without quadratic equations. Still, we seem agreed as a culture that things like algebra have some value for training the brain and bestowing on a student a general understanding of the world of learning, and why not open that world to everybody? It does give good practice in approaching things in a procedural way, breaking them down into steps, maintaining focus, and checking work. Those are life skills, too.

It's going to represent a sea change for special education, I think, to roll from the life-skills/social-skills approach to a more academic one. It's a change that will be forced by inclusion, as the sort of alternate universe represented by self-contained classes fades away. I know some parents will miss that, have liked the school taking responsibility for teaching the skills their kid is really going to need to survive. Personally, I'd rather my guy learn things in school I can't teach -- algebra being, oh my goodness, one of those things. I'll take care of the bed-making and the bus-riding on this end, thanks.


Lisa Jo Rudy said...

Isn't it interesting to note that the schools seem to be raising their hands to teach our kids the stuff that parents have ALWAYS taught: how to behave at a restaurant... how to take the bus... how to cook scrambled eggs.

Not sure what this says for kids or parents or expectations - but it's making me a little uncomfortable. What - you think I've never taken my kid to a restaurant? You think he needs YOU to tell him how to behave at the dinner table?

I don't think so!!

Lisa Rudy

Terri Mauro said...

Yeah, I've had that conversation with teachers. Really don't need you to pull him out of class to take him to the local dollar store to practice spending money on junk. Yet I know a lot of parents who want that, and want more of that. I can't stand this idea that for whole groups of kids, academics aren't important and you might as well focus on the practical. I won't accept that for my kid, and I'm frustrated by parents who do.