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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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What is going on here?

Copyright 2000 Roger N. Meyer



       [This article is edited from a response I made to a parent distraught over the homework demands for their fifth grader.]


     "We spent 2-4 hours almost every week night last quarter doing his homework!"


     For a fifth grader, this is way too much time.  I would ask for an IEP review to figure out what he is actually capable of doing and what the expectations should be.


     Actually, I'd urge something in addition to this.  I'd ask the teachers how much time they expect their homework assigned the regular curriculum kids will take in the evening, and let that be your guide in determining what your son can accomplish in the same amount of time.  This will do two things.


     First, it will relieve the parent of the overwhelming time commitment to one child among sibs, or one child vis a vis the rest of the family's life dynamic.  Also, recognizing and honoring that reasonable time limit also honors your child, helping him feel "less special" in the included environment.  If his general curriculum goals require changing, and I hope they don't, remind the school that it is its responsibility to educate your child.


     It isn't uncommon for our kids to not finish their class work in school.  No parent should be "asked" by the school to complete work at home that the school has failed to accomplish during the time the child is under its roof.  If the child is not learning at school, there needs to be an adjustment to the teaching methods, the IEP, and to the amount of homework assigned.  That amount can, in fact, be included in the IEP.


     Second, and more importantly, asking about your child's actual progress in class will bring home to everyone, family members, school, and others alike, that while teacher expectations should be high, the performance bar should not be set so unrealistically as to guarantee the child's dependence upon parent assistance at home during "family time."


     Yes, parents help their kids with homework.  Conscientious parents of disabled children, feel badly if they spend "less time" in helping their child with homework.  But there are other things going on in the home than formal education.  There are other things to any child's life outside of school, and that fact is recognized in the teachers' expectations of the time it takes non-disabled kids to perform their homework.  Somehow, with our kids, educators may forget that they, too, need their lives.


     No wonder some of our kids are school-phobic.  By "buying into" educators' incapacity to teach our children, we inadvertently enable inadequately trained educators to perpetuate bad pedagogy and thus guarantee that our children will not learn at school.  We often end up repairing a lot of damage done at school at the kitchen table.  This is an important point not only for our kids, but also for every kid.  By shouldering a responsibility properly belonging to the "experts," we beat ourselves up for "our" failures, when in fact the mental set of educators has accomplished exactly what educators often turn to:  If the child fails to learn, first blame the child, and next blame the parent.


     I've advocated directly only for a handful of parents at the table, but I've counseled countless others who all feel as though they aren't doing enough for their kids.  Just who do you suppose reinforces those feelings?  It isn't their child.  It isn't the child's brothers and sisters.  Oh, it may be an insensitive or "out of it" spouse," but that's another topic for another time.


     It's inevitably the school authorities we routinely defer to who "define" our success as parents by the yardstick and ruler, rather than with a modicum of understanding of our children's challenges.  Education is not all there is to childhood, and it may be necessary for parents to formally remind teachers that as parents we have a broader interest in easing our children along the path of public education as only one path among many in the challenge of their growing up.


     If the child doesn't experience the parent finally saying "! Basta ja!" to these official guilt trips, the child will not learn how to say, "That's enough!" on his own.  In our desire to get the most for our children in the public school, we often forget how, in deferring to inappropriate expectations, we "lose" them further at home.  By not questioning those expectations, we also fail to bolster our children's self-esteem or help them develop a sense of individual boundaries.  Educators often don't have time to train our children to be effective self-advocates.  That should be "our" homework.


     Just as we find it essential to establish boundaries and limits for our children so that they appreciate the importance of rules and where they stop and the world begins, so should be help them see that we, too, are constantly having our boundaries as parents disrespected by authority figures every bit as influential in our children's daily education as we are in our children's family upbringing.


     The inordinate demand of public educators who know only how to teach without understanding how children learn should be named for it is and does:  institutional displacement of a fundamental responsibility and a systematic disrespect of the role of parents and the family in a child's development.


     The best time to teach the teachers is not when you are red faced or upset about this matter.  Give yourself time to collect your thoughts and take the time to clearly outline your family activities in writing your parent report to the IEP Team, so that your disabled child's time with the family is put into the whole context of your family's life.  That will help flesh out the "Individual" in your child's Individualized Educational Program.



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