Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Home Schooling: WAY smarter than the system

I ran across this article today and I just couldn't pass it up.  Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure, this article was dumped in my cyber-lap via my news feed on Facebook (yes, I'm one of those relics who still uses FB) and me being me (remember me not being able to recognize an original thought if it hit me upside the head?), I couldn't resist using for a topic for a blog post.  In my defense however, I would like to say that this is something I've wanted to talk about for quite awhile, it's just I didn't have a visual aid to go along with it.  So today's topic is:  I wish Michael Weinstein Would Have Been Home Schooled.

Here's the article:  http://www.goldenhatfoundation.org/about-us/blog/125-golden-hat-foundation-blog-70211.  Meet me back here after you've read it.

Okay, so here's my premise (which may or may not turn into premises if I decide to ramble)  1) "Just because I don't talk doesn't mean I don't have anything to say", or to embellish that, "Just because I don't talk doesn't mean there's nothing going on inside the computation center of my brain".   Of course this isn't my phrase, I heard it a long time ago and it really resonated with me.  I probably owe the person who coined it a gazillion dollars because I quote it all the time.   Side note: I heard this LONG before being able to wrap my brain around the fact that one of our kids would essentially be NON-verbal and the other child would have profound issues with how to USE language in an understandable way.  I'm a communicator by profession and I LOVE words the way my daughter loves chocolate, so how could "I" have a non verbal child??  Because God had some things for me to learn, that's how.  But I digress.  So this phrase, "Just because I don't talk doesn't mean I don't have anything to say" is what I would like to carve into the foreheads of every public school teacher and every special ed teacher in the business.

Now that we're entering our SEVENTH year of homeschooling (holy home school desks, denim jumpers, and homemade laundry soap Batman, time sure flies!), I feel I can speak to this a little, because, well like I said, I've got a couple of kids who have some "issues" with verbal language.  And ya know what, their issues with verbal language don't mean BUBKUS when it comes to their core intelligences.  And I don't care what standardized tools you use or what nationally recognized tests you throw at a student, just because he/she doesn't have the ability to speak, doesn't mean they have cognitive disabilities.....or as the medical and educational "professionals" like to say, "mental retardation".  And one of our children has mental retardation, I can also speak to that too.  Another time.

So here's this young Michael Weinstein kid growing up with hideous labels being hurled at him from ALL directions since toddler hood, all because he couldn't "prove" that he WASN'T mentally retarded.  Ah, but now we rejoice because about 15 minutes ago, Michael, for whatever DEVELOPMENTAL reason (another sorely lacking concept in the mass institutionalization that is government run education) was able to start proving his intellectual worth.  All the while Michael's been brilliant, he's been expressing his creativity and imagination in no doubt countless ways that his family and friends could see, but just not in the narrow, hyper-focused way that the "professional educators" were trained to see.  So they were functionally blind when it came to Michael's giftedness and the giftedness of thousands and thousands of others just like him (think Sharissa Joy Kochmeister and Carly Fleischmann to name but two other highly intelligent people who happen to be non verbal).  In the meantime their psyches have been battered and bruised and the stress they've been under since their toddler days would kill most modern day warriors.  They ARE warriors.  And I'm so thrilled for them that they've survived and I'm very happy for Michael that he's finally receiving some recognition for his innate uniqueness and creativity.  But I just think it could have come at a lesser cost.

Don't get me wrong here:  I am in NO WAY impugning Michael's parents for not home schooling him.  But what I am saying brings me to my second point and that is 2) The mass education model is lousy for discovering a student's strengths and talents.  I've come to appreciate that the learning at home student doesn't have anything to "prove" to the system, unlike the public/private school model.  And remember, I came into homeschooling as the biggest anti-home schooler around.  For an analogy, go read how a brilliant and highly respected Jew named Saul met his match on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts in the New Testament of the Bible.  While I was no where near as smart or highly regarded as Paul, I was every bit as passionate about NOT home schooling as Paul was about killing every Christian he could sniff out within a ten mile radius.  The point is, that while learning at home my kids don't have to "prove" anything to me.  The premise from which we work is that both kids are very intelligent in their own way and we are constantly looking for ways to give them opportunities to shine.  And no, this isn't just coming a lovey-dovey mom who thinks her kids hang the moon.  I live with them, I know the truth!  For crying out loud I've got a 12 year old daughter who just the other day (and I'm not exaggerating) used "Aristotle's 4 ways of investigating something new" (I think that was the title) to refute Darwinsim, but she can't spell the word "very".  So ya, I'm keenly aware of her strengths and weaknesses, but in the meantime I'm not going to slap a label of "Spelling Failure" on her so that weight can drag her to hell. 

Because we have a much broader definition for intelligence and are constantly providing them real life opportunities to show what they know,  our home education environment is diametrically opposed to that of the public school.  I'm sorry Michael Weinstein didn't have that opportunity and it strengthens my conviction that if you want your kids to really discover how they can rock this world and make it a better place, keep them away from public school

Faster than you can say trisomy 21, everything changes

I won't pretend to have the corner of the market on perspective.  In fact most of the time my perspective is pretty off-base, usually focused squarely on moi.  But yesterday morning I was jolted back to reality when I heard the tragic news that one of "our" kids with Down syndrome had passed away in his sleep overnight.  At the ripe old age of 12.  I felt punched in the gut as I heard the news from a friend via Facebook and I don't even know the family.  But because we shared common connections in the Los Angeles area and because the disability community truly is a pretty small world in general, I felt a tremendous loss.  I still feel it.  A hollowness inside.  Like I can't quite catch my breath. 12 years old.  A precious little guy with an infectious smile and his whole life ahead of him.  No doubt he had brought his family countless moments of joy, laughter, and deep, deep love that mere words, at least my words, fail to adequately describe.  If you're fortunate enough to either have a child with Down syndrome, or you have a sibling or a close relative with Down syndrome, you know what I'm talking about.  (At the risk of sounding elitist, our kids with Trisomy 21 are different in the most amazing and blessed ways.)  Even though I didn't have the privilege of knowing his mom and dad personally, I'm going to guess that this boy, like every other baby with Down syndrome, was single handedly responsible for rearranging their priorities in life at the cellular level from the moment he was born.  And I have no doubt that since that day their definition of love has deepened in ways they couldn't have imagined.  Now their incomprehensibly tough mission will be to carry on his legacy without him.  These people I've never met, but with whom I have shared a pretty special path in life, will now never be far from my thoughts.  My heart will probably always ache when I think of their precious gift who left them and us far too soon.  Dance with Jesus sweet Tim.  You will never be forgotten.

Fast forward 12 hours later on the same day and we were once again confronted with how life can change in an instant.  My husband and son were getting ready to run a quick errand to the grocery store so I was brushing Hayden's hair in the tv room (#445 on his list of my son's all time favorite activities) when my mother-in-law came into the rec room and said that one of the neighbors had come to the front door saying that there was a policeman out in the court with Hayden.  And we were like, "Um, not so much---he's right here watching the basketball game on tv".  So Jeff went out to check it out and at almost the same time, my gut said, "It's Max.  Go outside".  So out I went, and sure enough, it was a little boy named Max, who also happens to have Down syndrome and whom my daughter and I had met at the park around the corner about a month ago.  It turns out Max and his mom live really close to the park too and our kids are in the same Challenger baseball league.  And as God would have it, our kids played against his team the other night and his mother and I were able to kvetch and get caught up with each other after the game, so Max was fresh in my mind and I could still feel the sweet hug that he had given me. (Let's call "fate" what it is:  God given moments in time where seemingly pointless events happen that, when later considered, were really opportunities where God was trying to show us who He is:  The Creator who desires more than anything to have a relationship with us and He'll use all sorts of crazy circumstances to bring that about.)  So is it just fate that you're here wasting your precious time reading this?  Hmmmm

It turns out Max's mom had stepped out for a short while last night and left his older brother in charge.  Nothing new there, the older brother had probably watched Max a hundred times before.  Only this time Older Brother fell asleep on the couch and out the door went Max.  It just so happens the local middle school down the street was letting out from a dance and Max joined the kids who were walking home in the breezy and cool not-quite-twilight evening. Max chose his walking companion well because he followed a boy who lives in our court and who happens to be very sweet and kind.  When the neighbor boy got home he told his mom that a boy who couldn't talk had followed him home and they immediately called the police, and he had just arrived when my husband and I walked out the door.  We immediately recognized Max and Max immediately gave us both hugs and then I called Maria and left her a message.  She called back within three minutes and was out of her mind with shock and worry, but we reassured her that everything was just fine and that Max was great-he wasn't flustered or agitated at all.  With the help of the wonderful policeman, who went to Max's house and picked up his big brother and then loaded Max in the back of the police car with him and took the boys home where he waited for Max's mom to get home, the family was reunited within 30 minutes.   I think we all had enough adrenaline in our systems to light up L.A. and the Grand Valley or a week or so.

We who are fortunate enough to have kids who live outside the highly overrated bell-curve-of life share a life force that is hard to describe.  We unite in joy with each milestone met and mastered, no matter how insignificant the world sees it, and across the country every single parent who has a child on the autism spectrum holds his/her breath until a missing child with autism is found.  It doesn't matter that we've never met that child or his/her family or that they live thousands of miles away.  We KNOW what it's like to have a child who doesn't compute safety, consequences or directions, so we lie awake praying over them until they're safely back home.  Likewise, we can't control the tears when we hear of the incredible loss our friends-whom-we've- never-met are suffering when a child dies.  We instinctively internalize the devastation and weep without shame for those who will have to spend the rest of their lives without the light of their lives.  We hug our babies (who are now almost as tall as us), a little tighter, gaze into their sweet eyes and memorize each freckle, each upturn of their mouth that quickly becomes an impish grin, and we hold their hands a few seconds longer than necessary so we will never forget what it feels like to have their fingers intertwined with ours.

And every once in awhile we are blessed to be part of a miracle of helping someone find home.