Autumn in New England - October 2002

Ah. Autumn in New England! While the rest of the world views Cape Cod as a summer wonderland, we "Capers" know that the peninsula's greatest beauty is evident in September and October. The cool breezes, the bright cloudless skies, the moonlit evenings and ­ of course ­ the glorious autumn outfits on our maples, oaks and birches. Love it!

Fall also brings the rituals of "back to school". As a child, I attended schools for twelve years. then four years of college then a thirty year career as a teacher and school administrator. It recently occurred to me that this is the first September since 1955 that I haven't had to go "school clothes shopping" on Labor Day weekend! Change is good.

This August and September DID find me in schools, however. I had a number of speaking engagements and consults at schools and it was fun to see the hustle and bustle of schools coming to life after their summer slumber! I met some great folks and saw some terrific programs. When I am "on the road" I find that I learn as much as I teach. Let me share some of my month with you.

In mid-August, I conducted on all-day seminar at Indianapolis's prestigious Park Tudor School. The buildings at Park Tudor are phenomenal and the grounds were extraordinary. I was soon to learn that the faculty was every bit as wonderful as the facility! Park Tudor is a K-12 program that provides a state-of-the-art academic experience for their elementary students and an outstanding college preparatory program for their high school kids. They place heavy emphasis on educational technology and each Park Tudor graduate has extraordinary computer skills. They are well prepared for the challenges that they will face in college.

But Park Tudor is also a family school and, as such, they recognize that they will occasionally enroll students who have learning problems. The staff's commitment to the kids who "learn differently" was really quite inspiring. They were a very responsive and receptive audience.

One of the great educational misconceptions of our day is often parroted by high school teachers when a student requests extra help and /or a curricula modification"I can't give you any special consideration do you think that you will get that kind of help in college?" The answer to that rhetorical question is "Yes".

Colleges now offer deep and extensive support for students with learning problems. Learning Centers and Support Programs have become an accepted and integral part of college life today. The Park Tudor Board has wisely chosen to institute their own Learning Center in order to teach high school students how to use these services appropriately. BRAVO! Not that's true "college preparation"!

August also found me at the Solomon Schechter Day School in Deerfield, Illinois. This program has a rich heritage of "dual educational" services to Jewish children. Each child is enrolled in general studies (language arts, history, science, etc.) and also spends several hours daily in the study of Jewish language, history, music, art and Torah. Of course, this demanding curriculum presents a significant challenge for kids with learning problems. The school administrators asked me to do one of my favorite workshops, "That's Africa, Baby: A Lovingly Critical Look at Daily Life in the Special Education Classroom". This session examines several aspects of special education that simply will not change. They are "givens". They "come with the territory". Among these realities are:

10% of the kids will take up 90% of your time
You won't like every person (or kid!) that you work with *
There will never be enough time, energy or resources
There will be very few big victories save the small ones

*But you can't dislike any kid when you are on company time

The special educator is well advised to accept these realities and to spend very little time worrying over them. They won't change. That's it. Case closed. Game. Set. Match.

The welcoming Schechter staff was very responsive to the message. The kids attending that school are in extraordinarily good hands.

My next journey was to the annual Opening Doors Conference in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Four hundred teachers attended this aptly named conference, designed to increase and enhance academic services for kids with learning problems. The Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario is leading an international movement to adjust and standardize the definition of Learning Disabilities. Their material and research on their mission is extraordinary! As you doubtless know, several organizations have attempted to develop a workable LD definition in the past, but LDAO's thorough and detailed approach just might succeed where others have failed. They are a professionally run organization with dynamic and effective leadership!

Many of the educators that I met in Ontario have a serious concern about an issue that I have been troubled about for years the overuse of aides, interns and volunteers in the education programs of kids with special needs. Education continues to be the only field that assigns its most serious cases to its least experienced people. So often, LD kids are turned over to "support personnel" and can spend their entire school day without interacting with a single certified, experienced teacher. The medical profession doesn't do this. Neither does the legal profession. Only in education!!!! Aides, assistants, interns and volunteers play an integral role in the educational processbut we shouldn't be giving them our toughest kids.

On a personal note, we had the opportunity to accompany our daughter, Meghan, when she returned for her sophomore year at a college in San Diego. We were staying in a San Diego hotel and, as I was crossing through the lobby, I heard a familiar voice coming from a nearby ballroom. I peaked in the door to see my friend, Jonathan Mooney, addressing several hundred enraptured parents and professionals.

Jon, author of Learning Outside the Lines, is an extraordinary young man who has struggled with learning problems all his life. Despite (or, perhaps, BECAUSE) of these struggles, he graduated from and Ivy League university is now a much sought after speaker on educational issues. If he comes to your town, catch him! He's great!

Well, that was my month. How was yours?

October finds me in Tulsa, San Francisco, Cedar Rapids, Harrisburg, Richmond, Cleveland and Austin.

I will let you know how it goes! Until then, look for me in your local airport. I'll be the one getting his shoes X-rayed!

With every good wish,