Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Problem With the Concept of Special Education

About ten years ago, something called mainstreaming became popular in the schools in my area. Mainstreaming is educating children with learning differences such as dyslexia in the regular education classroom. They would have a special education teacher in the classroom who would adapt the material for them. Before mainstreaming, children with learning differences were often sent to a special education classroom (also called resource, or a myriad of other different names).

The intentions behind mainstreaming were good. Most school districts in the US require that students learn in their least restrictive environment, and by sending children with learning differences to a different classroom you are by definition putting them into a different and less challenging environment. It was expected to boost student’s self esteem by having them stay in the general education classroom. And it was expected to increase tolerance among students in the general education population for their peers with learning differences.

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Growing Up as an Atheist: A Fun Family

Since I’m a counselor, I’ve heard a lot of life stories. And people tend to fall into two several camps. Some people had wonderful families but where treated horribly from society. Others had horrible families but were treated well by society. Some had horrible families and were badly treated by society. And some lucky ones had wonderful families and were treated well by society.

As for me, I fall into the wonderful family camp treated horribly by society. People often find this surprising. My parents are atheists, and they were loving, caring, and I couldn’t have asked for a better family. And unlike some parents who were atheists, they didn’t attempt to raise my sister and I with religion. They figured that Secular Humanism offered a good moral system, and the thing is, studies have born out that raising kids without religion may be better. Pretty much, the findings echo what I’ve found with my family.

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America’s Prison Problem

This article about a reporter who worked as a guard at a private prison in Louisiana is long, but it is a must read. Reading it so soon after that last season of Orange is the New Black, it was really grueling (there’s nothing about the show in the article). If you were wondering if for profit prisons are as bad as they are depicted in the show, the answer unfortunately is, they are worse. And the most enraging thing? For profit prisons are designed to keep people in the criminal justice system so they can continue to get paid for warehousing people.

We as a country need to ask if we want to continue spending millions to imprison people in depraved circumstances indefinitely, or if we want to set up a society that focuses on prevention and rehabilitation. There are many ways to do this. Improve our schools. Decriminalize drugs. Make sure every woman who wants birth control has affordable access to it. Increase funding for mental health services and respite care for people caring for family members with mental illness. Raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation.

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Why I Want to Improve Schools

I just saw this article on NPR on how pre-school teachers are often poorly trained to teach pre-school, and it goes a long way to explaining what went wrong when we sent Buddy to pre-k. His teacher had no idea what was appropriate behavior for pre-schoolers, seemed to have a poor grasp of child development, and was expecting him to have skills above his grade level. Even ignoring the fact that he has autism, his pre-school was not a good environment for him.

I have pulled Buddy out of school and we will likely homeschool him for a few years. It may work so well I may decide to homeschool him the entirety of his school career. Or he may get to a point where he and I feel comfortable sending him to public school. I also had developmental delays that I outgrew when I was 13, and I thrived in junior high. Buddy may be the same way. And right now I’m undecided if I’m going to send Sissy to school or not.

I know some people love homeschooling and are huge enthusiasts. I may grow to love it. As it is, things are too new now and we’re still building our team and finding our momentum. Even if I do fully embrace homeschooling, though, I want to improve public schools.

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Dear Christians, This is Why I Write About Being Harmed By You

Until recently, I believed I could quietly live my life as an example of what a Secular Humanist is and have that combat negative stereotypes people have about atheists, and that eventually it would lead to tolerance and acceptance. Because in a lot of ways, I am not so different from a lot of people. I take care of my family, I work, I enjoy my hobbies. My life is meaningful. I have a drive to improve the world, so I went into counseling and worked for several years with people who are impoverished. Now my focus is shifting to reforming schools so they will be friendlier to children who have disabilities.

Two things changed recently that led me to conclude I can no longer be a silent example. One being the realization that just by being a moral atheist, I am a threat to Christians. I know one Christian attempted to dismiss the harassment I experienced by Christians in a previous post by saying they would have harassed me regardless of their religious beliefs. The thing is, Christianity teaches that only Christians are saved and people who don’t believe are condemned to hell.

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The Power of Systems and Giving In

!!!!!SPOILERS FOR THE FOURTH SEASON OF ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK!!!!!

Like a lot of people, I devoured “Orange is the New Black” when the fourth season came out over the weekend. As a counselor and psychologist, I am fascinated by the studies that Zimbardo has done on prison environments, and it is very apparent to me that the creators of the show are fans as well. One of the scary things about Zimbardo’s findings is that you can put good people in a situation that is dysfunctional and where they have power over others, and they can do horrible things. OITNB offers case study after case study in this phenomena, and this season ended with a punch to the gut that left me crying for thirty minutes and in a deeply contemplative mood.

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Homeschooling Update: Finding What Works

Well, the first week was rough. First, Buddy was not happy about the changes to his schedule, especially in the morning. And in the afternoon, the vibe I got from him was, “I’ve just done five hours of therapy and now you want me to do more directed activities? I’ve had enough!” I was hoping on Friday, when he does not go to therapy, it would be a bit better, but it wasn’t. I could get perhaps 5 minutes of engagement, and that was it.

It was a bit discouraging, especially since I used to do this stuff with him, but I also became concerned that, after 20 hours of therapy a week, asking him to do directed activities at home was asking too much.

I met with the director of his therapy program and discussed my concerns about duplicating what they were doing there while homeschooling. It’s a bit of an awkward time because they are between case managers for him, but the new one coming in used to teach kinder, and the director agreed that we need to work together to make sure I’m not duplicating what they’re doing and burning him out. So for now I’m mostly suspending the homeschooling until I work out some goals with the new case manager with the exception of reading. I should have done this before I launched the homeschooling, but I didn’t anticipate how unenthusiastic he would be.

I had planned to go the Montessori route with teaching writing skills before reading. I’d made some textured letters and prepared a lot of different mediums for him to practice writing, such as salt trays, playdough, white boards, regular paper. While he loves playing with salt trays and playdough and with white boards, though, I had a very difficult time getting him to draw shapes and practice his letters. I used to be able to do it before he was in therapy, but now that he is, he wasn’t interested. Though he would tell me which shape/number/letter he wanted and have me do it.

The other part of this is that his fine motor skills are very poor, and I think for now he just needs to do activities that build them up but aren’t directed.

At the same time, he recognizes his letters and when he sees letters he lists them. He doesn’t know all of them, but it is something he seems interested in doing. And the best learning I get with him is when I read to him at night. Through books I’ve taught him his colors, numbers, and how to count. So I got out some alphabet books and went through it with him, and he enjoyed it. We even have stuffed alphabet letters that he keeps in his bed, and we made a game of finding the stuffed letter that matched the one in the book.

And the nice thing about homeschooling is learning time can be at 8PM and in his bed.

So for now I’m just going to focus on building fine motor skills and working on the alphabet at night. And in the meantime, I observed him at therapy for the first time today, and it was wonderful to watch. For one it helped calm my worries that if I didn’t dive in and do as much homeschooling as possible he wouldn’t be learning anything. He was doing matching games for instance. But overall he was happy, engaged, and practicing his communication skills. He is in a good place!