Monday, September 7, 2009

The World Has a Lot to Learn

So the semester is now underway, Leadership Trainee-hood and all.

My plan is to blog at least once a week on something I've encountered in my MCH-LEND studies. I figure this will be good for a couple of things -- it will help me distill my thoughts, and will (ideally) let my readers in on some of the benefits of the program.

So this week's installment has to do with a brown-bag I attended and a video that JoyDad & I watched.

The brown-bag was a report on the Natural Supports Project, an initiative aimed at finding ways for young people -- middle & high school-age -- "to participate more fully and naturally in school, work, and community activities." While they commented that people who hear "natural supports" tend to think of wooden beams or cotton underwear (!), what the project means by natural supports is people. As in, the people who are around you already, who are naturally a part of your life (i.e. not hired to be there).

The project offered mini-grants throughout the state to schools who created groups where young people, both with disabilities and without, focused on sharing activities and making space for real relationships to blossom. There are some lovely video clips on the site showing some of the results. I think for me the most powerful moment of the brownbag was when one of the presenters was describing the focus groups that the project staff held afterwards, interviewing participants about what worked and what didn't. When participants were asked about what were the barriers to making these groups work well, NOT ONE of them said, "Well, it would have worked if Sally/Sammy weren't so darn limited." Nobody blamed the disabilities, or the kids who had them! Wow.

Well, I had met both of the presenters prior to the brownbag, and so I went up to talk to them afterwards, and ended up going home with an additional resource that they had plugged during the presentation -- a one-hour documentary on DVD called Including Samuel, by photojournalist Dan Habib. Habib has two sons, a typically-developing pre-teen and a elementary-schooler with cerebral palsy. His family's journey so far, and their commitment to include their son in all aspects of life as fully as possible, twines together in the film with the stories of four other families, plus teachers and principals and disability rights activists. Not everybody in the film has had good inclusion experiences in school-based settings -- "Inclusion is an easy thing to do poorly," one school administrator points out -- but the central message is that full inclusion is something that we, as a society, need to learn to do right.

I found myself writing down quote after quote from the video. Here are a few of them:

  • "Constantly worrying about Samuel's future isn't the best way to be his parents." (Samuel's mom) -- I hadn't thought about it like that before, but she's right. So many worries, but when they get too dominant, that's no way to make a life.

  • "I can't limit him. Everybody else in life is going to limit him. I can't do that." (Mother of another featured child in the video, a young lad with autism)

  • "All kids -- with the right supports, the right teaching methods, the right technology, can learn the general education curriculum." (This one was either from a teacher or an administrator.) I'm still chewing on the implications of this. A beautiful and radical statement. I want it to be true.

  • "If we want something smooth and easy, then we're in the wrong business." (A principal)

  • "The baby boomers aging, they ain't gonna call it disability, they gonna call it 'old,' but they a$$es gonna need a ramp!" (Disability activist Keith Jones, on assistive technology)

  • "Is there any place in society where inclusion already exists, full-blown? and the answer is yes. It exists within a lot of families." (A principal)

  • "He will teach a lot of people. Which is good, because the world has a lot to learn." (Dan Habib, Samuel's father)

There's a local screening of the show coming up soon, with a chance to meet the filmmaker, but JoyDad's got a gig that night. I highly recommend it to my classmates, though! For those not around here, I bet you can get it on Netflix, or check the list of PBS broadcasts -- it might be on TV in your market this fall.

Update 9/11: So this afternoon I came home to a phone message from the school district on my answering machine -- plugging the local showing of Including Samuel & meet-the-filmmaker later this month! This was a blast phone message that went out to all the school families, something that I generally associate with very important happenings like registration in August. Wowza!

Update 9/12: From the comments: Barbara just alerted me to another post on Including Samuel. If you'd be willing to host a viewing party of the film for 10 or more attendees, bop on over by Ellen and her blog To the Max before September 20 and leave a comment about inclusion for a chance to win the DVD plus party-hosting materials! Or just go peruse the post & comments -- lots of perspectives and food for thought.


mama edge said...

The training program sounds perfect for you! And I can't wait to watch Including Samuel: that one quote about not limiting our kids because everyone else is going to do that anyway -- WOW.

And next week, when things slow down a bit chez moi, I'm hoping for a coffee visit...?

Anonymous said...

Hehe - wooden beams and cotton underwear. chkl.

Natural Supports immediately took my mind to Natural Environments - and indeed, the concepts are similar in the way you defined it - the people who are around you already.

(No runathekeyboard comment this morning.)

Excellent post, JM. LEND is teaching us all. Barbara

datri said...

I have my own concerns with full inclusion in an educational setting. It's something that can definitely be done badly, and if it's going to be badly where your particular child is, then it's not worth it. I admire parents who are willing to break down those doors, but personally, it's more important for my child to get the "appropriate" education as opposed to the "least restrictive" one.

As far as "everyone" being able to learn the general curriculum? I don't know about that. My SIL works with kids with Traumatic Brain Injury and some of them function as infants.

Still, it is an ideal to work towards. We have to start somewhere and it all starts with a dream and vision.

JoyMama said...

Datri, I was hoping you'd weigh in! I know you've thought long and hard about inclusion. And what a jewel of a comment.

Re the kiddos with TBI -- one of the children who goes through my mind when we talk about "every child can learn the curriculum" (or, no-child-left-behind) is the daughter of some friends-of-friends, who is between the ages of Joy & Rose. She too functions at the level of an infant -- minimally responsive, even -- very few people with her condition even survive infancy. This girl enriches her family in powerful ways -- she's a blessing to them -- she is a loved and valued person on this earth. But I cannot imagine that she is going to be reading The Crucible with her high-school peers, if indeed she is still with us by that time...

One thing that Including Samuel did not address thoroughly was cognitive disability.

And yet, you're so right, we do need the compelling ideals!

jess wilson said...

omg i LOVE that movie! i bought it last year after seeing the preview on line. it is INCREDIBLE.

you are fabulous to share all that you are learning from this program. i look forward to each and every tidbit! (but no pressure!)

Anonymous said...

Back for a little RatK...

Combining the words 'inclusion' and 'everyone' in the same sentence is antithetical to 'individualized' education. Inclusion as an option as well as self-contained classrooms - a continuum of placement options so that the parents and teachers (team) can decide on the best fit for that particular child.

I have worked with the full gamut of abilities/disabilities in the public schools - in 4 states, urban inner city, rural and suburban and from the beginnings of special education to just 5 years ago ('79-04).

Read: I've seen a lot.

Least restrictive is in the eyes of the beholder. In other words, subjective. I learned to use LRE in conjunction with pull-out therapy. Got me into the classrooms.

If there is a discussion on whether special schools should exist, I can't help but wonder why self-contained classrooms cannot still be within regular schools? My answer is it is a mindset issue (preferring not to use the words of activist but closer to the educational mindset of Natural Supports, a la, if they only knew.)

Regarding the Samuel documentary, I watched the trailer and have noted it will be shown in my town on Oct 24. In the trailer, an official looking woman said - EVERY child should be included.

The whole point of special education is that not just one 'ideal' is provided.

For the children who can 'function' (see my post today) the least independently - they provide a huge measure of question for FULL inclusion.

Often, very often, in my experience, most students had partial inclusion in each day, depending on their INDIVIDUAL needs and the decisions made by the team.

If a child shows themselves to be more capable than their placement in school - that is easily fixed/changed. But it is like swimming against a current to take a child from some 'ideal' to something others perceive as 'more restrictive'.

I believe the common perception is exactly opposite what I just stated.

That's probably more than enough. Thanks, JM and datri. Guess you pushed my button today. ;)

Casdok said...

Sounds really interesting and positive.

Anonymous said...

Wow, some of those quotes are powerful. The one getting to me tonight: "Constantly worrying about Samuel's future isn't the best way to be his parents."

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Ellen's top post is on inclusion and the documentary - looks like this show/topic is making the rounds. You (all) might find the comments interesting also. Barbara

Anonymous said...

Oops - forgot the url.

Anonymous said...

Hi--I'm one of the natural supports presenters referenced in this post. I also have two teenaged daughters: a 16 year old with cp/dev. dis. and an 18-year-old passionate inclusionist.

The terms "inclusion" and "full inclusion" mean different things to different people and conjure up many different images. Here is a link to an article I wrote for families and teachers to see if their experiences for students with disabilities is truly inclusiive.

Inclusion isn't a place. It's a mindset: do all students matter? Do all have opportunities to contribute and participate? Are all getting what they need in order to learn, grow, and form meaningful relationships? If not, the experience is not inclusive.

More on the quote "All children can learn the general curriculum" later.

Anonymous said...

I came back to here to share a source for some nice art work (no cost) and resources for LEND-students.