Anarchy Rules

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grammar-nazi-metaThe worshippers bow their heads for a moment of quiet prayer. Suddenly the doors at the back of the sanctuary are flung wide and two young children go sprinting down the aisle, their voices loud enough to raise the dead. An embarrassed mom rushes in behind her offspring trying to corral them before they climb onto the stage. Finally seated on the front row, the children continue to squirm, throw books and insist on going to the bathroom. Several bathroom trips later, the service is finally over, and the mom and her brood make their way out, only to return next week and repeat the scene again.

Across town in the local department store, an angry child screams at his mother, demanding that she buy him a toy. The mother tries to gently console her son and explain why he doesn’t need it. In response the young boy swings his tiny fists at his mom and screams even louder. Finally the mother gives in if only to save face in such a public arena. Instantly the boy calms down. He has been pacified.

Youth who have no boundaries grow into adults without boundaries. Children are reared by “friends, electronic devices, televisions, movies, and peers” (Baer 8). As a result, children are becoming more disrespectful, self-centered and difficult to manage. As they enter adulthood, these same children find that they are ill-equipped for employment. They expect instant promotions and raises no matter what their performance might be, and they desire to be praised at every turn (Baer 9).

Many parents have tossed aside traditional child rearing in order to be a “friend” to their child rather than a guide. This ideology is terribly flawed. Children need boundaries in order to thrive. While they may be intellectually advanced for their age, emotionally they are not ready to tackle the hard problems of life. Boundaries should be non-threatening and help “build discipline, a sense of responsibility and self control” (“Set boundaries for your kids” 16). Ganderson writes about “the look” in his article. Most adults understand what this is. It is a nonverbal cue to a child that a boundary has been crossed. Consistent teaching at home is what allows this cue to be so effective. Parents who use it do not have to repeatedly ask a child to calm down or behave. The child knows!

In like fashion, students who grow up without grammar rules find themselves without self-control or the ability to adequately relate to the world around them: grammatical anarchy. Lack of grammatical instruction often “produces images of low education, sloppiness, uncaring for the audience, and/or unawareness of better language usage” (Petress 109). The solution to the current grammar debate is neither to capitulate to the latest fad nor to forego the teaching of grammar altogether, but it is to teach with sensitivity and precision. “Precision is defined as possessing exactitude; the opposite of precise is that which is vague, ‘close enough,’ somewhat ‘fuzzy,’ and perhaps ambiguous” (Petress 109). Just as discipline and boundaries are necessary for the healthy development of children, so is the study of grammar needed in order to create mature thinkers and writers who can effectually maneuver in a growing global economy.

Grammar has become both a bane and a banner to be waved. The atmosphere surrounding grammar today is clearly divided into two camps. There are those who shout that its downfall is imminent and others who fight vehemently to enforce every jot and tittle. There are the “linguistic freethinkers, who take an ‘anything goes’ approach” (“Farewell to Linguistics), and there are those like Mary Newton Bruder, The Grammar Lady, who spearhead campaigns to stop personal pronoun abuse. Bruder writes on her website, “If we don’t stop it [bad grammar] now, this travesty will become part of the standard language” (Hamilton 15).

The situation has grown worse with the age of technology. Thanks to the many influences from movies, radio, cell phones and the Internet, grammar has taken a beating. Teachers now question how to teach grammar and/or if it should be taught at all. In one issue of Time magazine, a satirical poem was published to illustrate the current mood towards English.

Better middle-class English we’ll teach in our schools,

And correct composition we’ll leave to the fools

Who are picayune, narrow. and nasty enough

To insist that their pupils must master such stuff. (Pooley)

With this attitude, it is no wonder that English teachers are raising their hands in frustration.

The English language is alive. It is evolving. New words are invented frequently. Jargon is defined as “a use of specific phrases and words by writers in a particular situation, profession or trade” (“Jargon”). In the field of law there are words like tenure, battery and statutes (“Jargon”). The medical field uses terms such as antihistamines and electroencephalographs. Rods and pistons can be found on cars, and cooks use a tagine, whisk and tureen.

Two major contributors in the grammar debate are globalization and technology. According to John Algeo, University of Georgia professor emeritus, “90 percent of the words in an unabridged dictionary are ‘loans’ from other tongues” (Pooley). One does not have to look very far to see that this is true. Words like ‘tomahawk’, ‘moccasin’ and ‘teepee’ were adopted into the English language from the Native Americans. The French influenced the language with ‘million’, ‘chauffeur’, ‘mirage’ and ‘pot-pourri.’ From Germany came ‘wieners’, ‘pretzels’ and ‘delicatessen.’ There are words from Italy, Spain, Greece, India, Japan and China as well as many other countries. As English becomes more commonplace around the world, language will continue to change.

Technology has not only created its own jargon, but it has also given us texting and instant messaging. Within this construct, grammar has possibly taken its most severe blow with the younger generations. John McWhorter suggests, “Texting is developing its own kind of grammar and conventions” (McWhorter). Some argue that texting isn’t writing at all. In fact, it is more akin to talking. Writing is slower and more deliberate, whereas texting is fast, short and hyphenated (McWhorter). In this new “language,” punctuation has taken on a different meaning. In many instances, punctuation is either completely deleted or overstated. When it is added, it has a very specific intonation. For example, “yeah” is positive with no attitude attached while “yeah.” has a certain finality to it. “Yeah!!!” is obviously a very exuberant interjection. Using abbreviations is another aspect of texting or textspeaking. Some of the most common abbreviations include “b/c” for because, “ttyl” (talk to you later) and “rofl” (rolling on the floor laughing). Complete books have even been written using nothing but textspeak. Just check out the young adult section at the nearest Barnes and Noble Bookstore!

Analyzing how these changes have come about and noting their impact on education is one of the first steps in discovering a possible solution to the quandary grammarians find themselves in. As previously mentioned, language is ever evolving. The difference today, and specifically in the last 20 years, is that the internet has sped up this process and made it much more noticeable (Kleinman). Not only are people connected around the world almost instantly, but they are also connected constantly. Even children in their early grade school years have access to technology. Parents buy cell phones for their children in order to keep in touch throughout the day. Schools use computers for lessons. And through it all, people are communicating more than ever before through the use of textspeak and leetspeak “in which some letters are replaced by numbers which stem from programming code” (Kleinman).

Students aren’t the only ones guilty of taking the easy way out where spelling and grammar are concerned. Adults have adopted some of these tendencies as well. In addition, “magazines, newspapers, greeting cards and advertisements all do it…” (Harshman).

Experience also plays a role in how people respond to a language. Betty Birner notes, “We all know a slightly different set of words and constructions, depending on our age, job, education level, region of the country, and so on.” While the language of America is English, there are many dialects and each one has its own set of rules. Robert Delaney, a reference associate at Long Island University, mapped out 24 distinct dialects in America. They range from the Pacific Northwest to New England Eastern and down to the Gullah and Gulf Southern. In the Louisiana dialect alone there are subcategories which incorporate Cajun French, Cajun English and a little Spanish (Wilson). With all of this diversity and influence, it is not surprising that the issue of how and when to teach grammar is under assault.

John McWhorter believes “there is no evidence that texting is ruining composition skills” (McWhorter). Some educators believe that students know the difference between textspeak and proper grammar. Students just need to be reminded of their context, and they will easily transition between the two styles. Others feel that grammar rules memorized at an early age were nothing more than “bits of folklore” handed down over centuries (Larson 130). Joseph Williams, University of Chicago professor of English and linguistics, asserts that most grammar rules are already dead or dying (Hamilton 15). The period or full stop is already on the wane (Bilefsky), and future projections predict that certain punctuation like the apostrophe will even be extinct in the next fifty years (Hamilton 15).

The effects of texting, however, are cropping up repeatedly in composition and English classes. “40% of teachers say that students use the unstructured form of English in their academic writing” (Awal 136). Not only are students omitting punctuation and abbreviating words, some even go to the extent of adding emoticons (representations of facial expression using characters from a keyboard) to their papers in order to convey certain meanings. While students can be reminded of the purpose of their writing and attempt to correct their grammar, the effects of texting are, non-the-less, wreaking havoc on overall performance. In the article “Effects of Internet Lingo on Student’s Academic Writing,” Awal says that students are not able to distinguish between formal and informal writing, and “there is a strong relationship between widespread mistakes in students’ academic writing and the over use of internet lingo.” She goes on to say that teachers have noticed not only a decline in literacy rates among youth, but that writing multi-page papers has become an arduous task (Awal, 130).

The solutions to the current situation might seem obvious: throw out traditional grammar instruction or enforce it more religiously than ever. These are two extremes that, if applied to parenting, could be interpreted as either neglect or abuse. Following this logic, a parent can either acquiesce to every whim a child has and potentially ruin him for life or instill rigid boundaries that breed resentment and/or fear. The answer lies somewhere between these two extremes. Educators can no more abandon grammar than they can force it upon their students. The reality is that students are now being compared and made to compete with contemporaries on a global scale (Levine 21). In this evolving market, it is imperative that they be prepared to meet all challenges thrown their way. This alone is reason enough to insist that the approach taken in education needs to change.

Grammar retention is a major concern among teachers. In a survey conducted by Ann Warner, Warner found that “by a margin of two to one, …students do not retain knowledge of grammar and much grammar teaching is a reteaching of concepts previously studied” (75). Analyzing the problem, or passing the buck, as far as retention is concerned, is a common practice among schools. If a student is performing poorly in High School, it is blamed on the Middle School. The Middle School in turn blames the Elementary school, and it claims the student was excelling when in attendance there. Perhaps the problem is not in the school, but in the learning ability of the student. Some studies show that high levels of formal operational thinking are needed in order to grasp the concepts of grammar, and few adolescents and adults reach this level. Because of this, it is suggested that grammar not be taught in the lower grades but instead be taught at the end of a student’s linguistic development (Warner 77).

The instruction of grammar in the educational setting is not to be “all ‘er nothin’.” Knowing that English is alive and evolving necessitates that the instructor be flexible, adjusting to the constant changes that technology and globalization bring. To deny the use of new words and phrases is to restrict creativity and individuality, and students need and deserve opportunities to express themselves within the classroom and elsewhere. Conversely, educators need not abandon grammatical boundaries. Without these guidelines students would live in linguistic anarchy.   There is a balance to be sought in the classroom. Learning activities should be purposeful and secure the learner’s attention (Ediger 74). The developmental ability of the child should also be taken into consideration. Too many times tradition dictates when and how a subject should be taught. If a child is not developmentally prepared to comprehend the intricacies of linguistics at an early age, it is best to teach it later in the educational process when those concepts can be more readily grasped.

Just as children thrive in a loving environment that provides them with safe boundaries, so do students who are in an atmosphere that guides them linguistically. The more adept children become at expressing themselves at a young age, the more able they will be to navigate the many complexities of an ever changing world. Technology need not be a bane. It too can be a tool to reach the masses.

The scene is the same. The reaction is different. The child knows what his limits are and is comfortable with them. The student knows that texting is a legitimate way to converse with friends, but he also knows that he has a foundation to build new concepts on, and he can relate them in a clear and concise manner which garners the attention of his peers.

 

Works Cited

Awal, Eshita. “Effects of Internet Lingo on Students’ Academic Writing.” ASA University Review, vol. 10, no. 1, January-June 2016, pp. 129-137.

Baer, Mike. “Parenting and Children: An Essay.” Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, vol. 11, no. 1, 2008, pp. 8-9.

Bilefsky, Dan. “Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style.” The New York Times, 9 June 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/06/10/world/europe/period-full-stop-point-whatever-its-called-millennials-arent-using-it.html?_r=0. Accessed 31 January 2017.

Birner, Betty. “Is English Changing?” Linguistic Society of America, 2012, www.linguisticsociety.org/content/english-changing. Accessed 7 April 2017.

Ediger, Marlow. “Studying Grammar in the Technological Age.” Reading Improvement, vol. 53, no. 2, 2016, pp. 72-74.

“Farewell to Linguistics?” Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2001, vol. 25, no. 3, p. 96. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=a9h&AN=4879093&site=ehost-live.

Granderson, LZ. “Permissive parents: Curb your brats.” CNN, 5 July 2011, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/07/05/granderson.bratty.kids/index.html. Accessed 11 April 2016.

Hamilton, Kendall. “So I’m like, ‘who needs this grammar stuff?’” Newsweek, vol. 130, 16, 20 October 1997, p. 15.

Harshman, Marissa. “OMG! Textspeak in schoolwork ;-).” The Columbian, 6 March 2011, http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/mar/06/omg-textspeak-in-schoolwork/. Accessed 7 April 2017.
“Jargon.” Literary Devices, 2017, https://literarydevices.net/jargon/. Accessed 10 April 2017.

Kleinman, Zoe. “How the internet is changing language.” BBC News, 16 August 2010, http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-10971949. Accessed 30 March 2017.

Larson, Mark. “Watch your language: Teaching standard usage to resistant and reluctant learners.” English Journal, November 1996, pp. 129-135.

Levine, Arthur. “Teacher Education Must Respond to Changes in America.” Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 92, no. 2, 2010, pp. 19-24.

McWhorter, John. “Is Texting Killing the English Language?” TIME.com, 25 April 2013, http://ideas.time.com/2013/04/25/is-texting-killing-the-english-language/. Accessed 7 April 2017.

Petress, Ken. “The Value of Precise Language Usage.” Reading Improvement, vol. 43, 3, Fall 2006, pp. 109-110.

Pooley, Robert C. “Correct English for Modern Needs.” Clearing House, vol. 69, no. 2, Nov/Dec 1995, p. 83. EBSCOhost,search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9602262841&site=ehost-live.

“Set boundaries for you kids.” Prevention India, January 2014, p. 16. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=93874050&site=ehost-live.

Warner, Ann L. “The Great Grammar Debate Once Again – with a Twist: If the Shoe No Longer Fits, Wear It Anyway?” English Journal, September 1993, pp. 75-80.

Wilson, Reid. “What dialect do you speak? A map of American English.” The Washington Post, 2 December 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/12/02/what-dialect-to-do-you-speak-a-map-of-american-english/?utm_

Compare or Contrast

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question

Tea or coffee? Paper or plastic?  Regular or Super size?   We are inundated with choices every day whether we realize it or not.  Some require little to no thought, while others cause us great consternation. When faced with making a decision of importance, we often will weigh one side against another.  Viewing the pros and cons is one way to label this process, and another is to compare and contrast ideas or choices.  I asked my students to write a compare/contrast essay last week and decided that perhaps I, too, should write one.

The first dimension of this process is the comparison.  Comparisons are a part of everyday life.  Our children compare their clothing with that of their friends.  Athletes compare stats and abilities.  Businessmen compare bank accounts.  We are all searching for people “like us.”  There is an inherent need to be a part of a larger whole.  Even those who would consider themselves to be on the fringes of society have a relationship, a connection, with others who are breaking the status quo.

The idea of comparison can be both negative and positive.  In the negative sense, people compare in order to disassociate with certain groups.  They may even compare simply to boost their own self esteem.  However, comparing can also be a positive trait.  By comparing, people can be challenged to succeed.  A difficult situation may pose a stumbling block to one, but when that same situation is viewed through the lens of another, a new solution presents itself.

In contrast, pun intended, the second dimension of this analysis is contrasting one idea with another.  What makes one choice different from another?  Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.  There was a difference between them and a choice to make.  Sometimes those differences can lead to further learning.  At other times it may cause us to turn back.  It all depends on the individual.

Again, there are both negative and positive traits to consider.  Many times people fear differences.  Racism stems from this fear.  If someone looks or sounds differently, then walls are thrown up.  “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” is a song from South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein.  The lyrics are powerfully written and show just how negative contrasting people can be.

Cable:
You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Songwriters
Rogers and Hammerstein

The positive side of contrasting ideas, thoughts and decisions is that there is room for growth.  Friedrich Nietzsche said it best with, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Now I’m probably taking a bit of license with this quote, but if we allow ourselves to explore ideas that are different, if we contemplate choices that are unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable, we will no doubt find that we have evolved in some way.  And that is far better than to have suffered from intellectual and emotional atrophy.

While it is easy to sit and contemplate the comings and goings of human beings, it is far more difficult to live this life.  Much more time needs to be spent on comparing and contrasting the decisions that bombard us on a daily basis.  We have choices to make that will either lead us to a higher plane or leave us to fester where we are most comfortable.  The choice is entirely up to us.  Or as Hamlet said, “To be or not to be:  that is the question.”

First Flight

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riding-bikeI have to confess that it really isn’t MY first flight, nor the first I have witnessed for my children. But it was a first for my youngest.  Some time ago he coerced me into letting him ride his bike to the market with friends.  They promised to go straight there and return.  Yes, I stood on the side of the street and watched until they were out of sight.  I know, it was pathetic.

This afternoon, he decided that he was hungry and wanted a candy bar.  He boldly came up to me and asked for an extra dollar (he was unsure of the cost), then asked if he could ride his bike up to the market and fetch it…all by himself.  I said, “Go ask your dad.”  Hey, it gets me out of a lot of decision making!  Inside I was grinning and wondering what dad would say.

When I approached my husband, I asked if he understood what junior was up to.  He grinned and said he did.  Then he asked what I thought.  I thought I had gotten out of it, that’s what I thought!  I agreed, and junior snatched up his extra dollar and dashed out the door.

I waited until he got a block down the road before I jumped in the truck.  It wasn’t that I didn’t think he could do it.  I just wanted to make sure that no one ran over him or stole his bike while he was in the store.  BTW, I drove down a parallel street so he wouldn’t see me, and then I parked far from the door of the market.  He never knew he was being followed.

To cover my tracks, I went to a different store and grabbed some cookies before I went home.  I wanted it to look like I had gotten hungry too!  He never suspected a thing.

As a result of his excursion, my little man now walks about 6″ taller and thinks he is invincible.  I have no doubt that tomorrow will hold some other adventure.  Hopefully it won’t be somewhere I can’t go!

Beware the Birds!

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image     Starlings are quite lovely to look at and talented as well. They have an uncanny ability to mimic sounds around them. Even non bird sounds. However, even with all of their beauty and talent, they do present a problem.

This bird has the tendency to oust other birds from their homes. They are even known to kill the original occupants and destroy their eggs.  They also exhaust food supplies quickly and are aggressive toward others who are trying to eat.

When I was a child, my grandmother’s neighbor had bird houses. This man fought to keep the starlings out of his bird houses and protect the species of bird that he wanted to attract. Part of the solution was to make the entries small enough in the bird houses that a starling couldn’t fit in. This deterred them, and they went elsewhere to nest.
     As we think about rebuilding our bird house, we need to make sure that the entry is narrow enough to keep unwanted birds out, yet wide enough to allow others in. If starlings are allowed in to roost, they quickly multiply and are almost impossible to get rid of. Just like the saying, “birds of a feather flock together.”

3 Film Reviews

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Dead Poets Society

The setting is a prestigious boy’s school whose mottos are tradition, honor, discipline and excellence.  The philosophy underlying the school appears to be neo-scholastic.  Knight says that “subject matter concerns, rather than student desires, are central to the educational endeavor” p. 56.   Both parents and teachers in this movie show this philosophy.  Parents choose the future careers for their sons and release them to the school believing that they will be trained and educated in formal learning.  Teachers respond to this by being “mental disciplinarians”.  Math is the center of the curriculum followed by languages (Latin and Greek).  In the movie, boys are drilled on Latin verb conjugation and conformity.

Into this setting comes John Keating, an English professor, whose ideas are just a bit different than his predecessors.  His first challenge is to seize the day, “carpe diem”.   Beyond this charge, his lessons are filled with passion and self realization.  “Existentialism is largely a revolt against a society that robbed humanity of its individuality” p. 73.  Keating strives to reunite the student with his own individuality by asking him to think and feel (and walk) in his own unique manner.  Knight also says that “philosophy must be ‘informed by passion’”.  This, too, is one of John Keating’s trademarks.  He teaches with passion and encourages the students to live with passion; seizing each moment.

One student that is seen in a state of flux is Steven Meeks.  This young man is very much the idealist in the beginning of the movie.  Slowly he is swayed and follows his classmates in their search for life and passion, but in the end, his ideas are turned back to the traditional stance of the school.  He believes that the traditional modes of teaching are correct and no deviation is acceptable.

Neil Perry, on the other hand, is under the close scrutiny of his traditional father and expected to adhere to the age old philosophies of the school and become a doctor.  Keating’s words become the avenue to freedom for this young man.  He discovers who he is and what he desires to do with his life.  Unfortunately his choices lead to death, but show that existentialism was indeed his philosophy.

 

Dangerous Minds

Louann Johnson is a former Marine seeking to do her student teaching.  To her surprise, she ends up with a full time job and a “special” class.  After the first day, Ms. Johnson learns that the textbook model of teaching will not work with this class, and she must conjure up a new way to get the student’s attention.  While still desiring to teach the classics through a lecture form, she searches for ways to connect the material to real life situations.  When asking for verb conjugation, she writes a sentence stating “We ate the green beans.”  The class ignores this and her recourse is to write a sentence that has meaning for them.  “We choose to die.”  The existential strain of educational humanism “has led to an emphasis on a search for personal meaning in human existence” p. 103.  This personal meaning is the key to gaining the student’s attention.  Poems are used that they can relate to, such as the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s songs.  In addition to this, they are told that they are active, not passive students.  They are not victims, but they have a choice.

 

Finding Forrester

The school that Jamal Wallace attends is very much like the one in Dead Poets Society.  Keeping the status quo is of utmost importance, as is following tradition.  Robert Crawford, the featured instructor of the school, shows his views of idealism through his method of teaching.  As Knight explains on p. 46, “the real purpose of schools and universities is to provide a place where the mind can ‘think’ and ‘know’ without being bothered by the transitory experiences of everyday life.”  He also writes that “the social function of the school…is to preserve the heritage and to pass on the knowledge of the past.” p. 46  Crawford is very adamant about preserving the integrity of the school and of writing.  His challenges to the class are in the form of recitations.  Students are expected to know the writings and writers of the past and hold them up as heroes or models.  Claire adds to this by stating in the movie that the teachers are not interested in student interaction because they are too busy listening to themselves talk.

 

William Forrester, the estranged writer, has remained in his own world over the years.  His remark to Jamal is that the neighborhood has changed, not him.  In this statement we see him keeping the status quo also.  Yet he challenges his protégé to make his own decisions.  One of his main arguments is that questions are to obtain information that matters to the individual and no one else.  This statement falls more under the existential realm where the only one who matters is the individual.  I believe that throughout the movie, Forrester’s character slowly changes.  He shows indications of an idealist, but does not believe in a higher being.  To him, good luck was the same as praying.  There was no risk in believing in either.  There is also an aspect of realism shown.  One clue is that his writing Avalon Landing was possibly about his adventurous life.  Another indication is his fascination and documentation of the natural world around him, birds.  He concludes the movie by supposing that Jamal will make his own decisions from there on and proceeds to broaden his own sphere in an existential manner.

Children with Special Needs in the Classroom

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Children with special needs are very special indeed.  They are young men and women that are caught between their disability and being accepted as normal by their peers.  Some agencies argue that they should be kept secluded and educated with their disabled peers.  Others contend that they must be integrated into the main school system and taught the necessary skills to survive in the post school community.  While this debate continues, lives are at stake.  The question should not be, where do we place these individuals, but whose interest are we truly concerned about?  If it is the children’s, then we must do all that we can to prepare them for their futures.

In an article by Brown, et. al., we see a clearer picture of why children should be integrated into the classroom.  Children with disabilities live with non-handicapped parents, play with non-handicapped siblings and friends, wait in waiting rooms with non-handicapped citizens, worship with non-handicapped parishioners, and lie in the sand next to non-handicapped sun bathers.  “These same handicapped individuals are segregated from non-handicapped citizens in what is presumably the major educational force in the life of any child – the school” (2004).

Before 1975, most students with disabilities were educated primarily in separate schools and/or facilities.  “Now, fully inclusive schools are structured under guidelines that provide the least restrictive environment for all students” (Adamek, 2001).  Partial participation is an important principle to consider when planning for an integrated curriculum.  “Partial participation means that the student can benefit from participating in some aspects of an activity, even if the student’s disability prevents him or her from full participation” (Adamek, 2001).  An easy way to classify accommodations that may be needed for partial participation is to think of minimalism.  Tiered instruction is a way to set-up an altered curriculum to allow for multiple levels of learning in a classroom.  All students can work on the same general concept, but different goals and objectives are defined for the differing levels of ability present (Lapka, 2005).  Examples may include allowing ample time and giving specific instructions to help students reach their goals.  Altering the test is another solution.  While some students work from a detailed list of 20 questions, students with disabilities may only be required to focus on five questions.  In multiple choice tests, four choices may be reduced to two.  “The task is to change the attitude, it is not how well you perform, but are you improving” (Lapka, 2005).

There is a danger when modifications are used.  These adjustments have the potential of becoming a crutch.  Barnes states that it should be the goal of the instructor to gradually wean the students from their modifications as their abilities increase.  He goes on to explain that special education students need to fit in.  Modified assignments are passed out along with regular assignments so that attention is not drawn to the differences, the special education teacher helps all students when in the room to obscure the fact that she is there for certain students and major classroom decisions are made when the entire class is present (2006).

Student empowerment is key when incorporating special needs children into the classroom.  A group of teachers decided to begin to help students become self-advocates and leaders in their life decisions.  “These teachers agreed to work with their students to explore the steps it takes to guide students toward their own empowerment” (Jones, 2006).  What they discovered through this exercise was that students were transformed when given the opportunity to help make their own decisions and goals.  Four themes that surfaced are that students are able to gain knowledge about their disabilities, the IEP process and why they receive services; no student is too young to learn about himself and become involved in decision making; student empowerment promotes learning “as they are encouraged to engage in inquiry, to develop leadership skills, and to make decisions that affect their own lives”; and student empowerment is contagious (Jones, 2006).

Through the efforts of Jones and her colleagues, they concluded that student self empowerment does not take extra time and is not difficult.  There are five steps that she outlines for empowering students.  These include encouraging disability awareness and self-discovery.  Children are taught about their disabilities as well as their particular learning strengths through inventories, internet research, surveys and discussions.  Second, students learn about special education services.  Some students were not only unaware that they had an IEP, but did not know what one was.  “Many students expressed exasperation about the types of goals and objectives written on their behalf” (2006).  Students were invited to help determine their goals and develop strategies for meeting them.  Third, students are taught to monitor themselves toward the achievement of particular goals.  This places ownership of their behaviors on themselves.  Fourth, before students can participate in IEP meetings, time needs to be spent preparing the participants.  This step includes preparing the student and the other members of the IEP team.  Parameters must be set for the language that will be used and how the students will be supported in this endeavor.  The fifth step is to evaluate your efforts.  In all things, we must be looking for ways to improve the process (Jones, 2006).

Although many of the school environments may lack some educational necessities for special education (physical therapy room, swimming pool), it is not enough to circumvent the advantages of offering long-term interaction with non-handicapped peers.  “It is the responsibility of all educators to develop and implement educational delivery systems that maximize the opportunities of all students…to learn together the necessary skills for full participating membership in heterogeneous adult communities” (Brown, 2004).

References

                  Adamek, Mry S. (2001, January). Meeting Special Needs In Music Class. Music Educators Journal. 87 (4) 23-29.

Barnes, Peter (2006, March). The Inclusion Classroom. _[online]. Available:  http://www.teachingk-8.com/archives/your_middle_school_classroom/the_inclusion_classroom_by_peter_barnes.html

Brown, Lou, et al. (2004). Classic Tash Article I:  Toward the realization of the least restrictive educational environments for severely handicapped students. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities. 29 (1), 2-8.

Jones, Melissa (2006). Teaching Self-Determination: Empowered Teachers, Empowered Students. Teaching Exceptional Children. 39 (1), 12-17.

Lapka, Chris (2005, Fall). Special Learners: To Assess Students with Special Needs Think PG”. Illinois Music Educator. 73.

Just Keep Them Busy!

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While watching the movie “Fahrenheit 451” with my class today, I heard a line that had escaped my notice in the past.  Montag was summoned from his teaching duties to a conference with his superior, Beatty.  Two lower ranking officers had just been reprimanded and Montag’s commander followed up by asking him how he felt about sports.  The commander proceeded to list many different sports, all of which Montag found to be pleasant ways to spend time.  The commander, making a reference to the two officers who had just left, told Montag, “More sports for everyone. ..Keep them busy and you keep them happy.” 

I have taught this book for several years now and am still amazed at how prophetic it is/was.  We are so like the world that was created by Ray Bradbury.  Many students no longer read for the mere pleasure of it.  Some brag  that the only time they grace the library is to do research for a term paper, while others (embarrassingly so) don’t even know where the library is!  Paper books have been replaced by iPod, Kindle, and, even worse, movies.  I have students who won’t complete a book report assignment unless they can find a movie based on a novel which allows them to watch it instead of read it.

Another similarity is in our entertainment.  While a parlor wall unit seemed like science fiction 50 years ago, it is as common today as the cold!  Not only does each home have a television set in it (with surround sound), most homes have multiple sets, one for each room.  Children, as well as adults, sit idol for hours in front of these built-in baby sitters and allow the media to dictate what is fashionable, acceptable and holy.  In addition to our wall units, we carry our digital worlds around with us in our purses and pockets.  Students are reprimanded daily for walking the halls and sitting in class with devices plugged into their ears.  They eat plugged-in, study plugged-in, and sleep plugged-in (kind of reminiscent of a seashell?).

The element of the movie that caught my attention today wasn’t a line from the book, but it is true of our society none the less.  “Keep them busy to keep them happy.”  “Increase sports.”  Now why would that be promoted?  It’s quite simple.  In a society adept at keeping the populace from thinking, to allow “down time” or “quiet time” would be terribly detrimental.  In fact, it might lead people to ponder the mysteries of the universe and/or their own existence!  By filling every waking hour with activity, a person doesn’t have time to question or reflect.  He/She merely absorbs what is diplayed before him/her and moves on to the next activity.

This is a philosphy that I have personally witnessed while teaching school.  The idea of getting students involved in multiple sports/activities looked innocent enough when proposed, even noble in its endeavor. The philosophy was that students needed something to do or they would become deviants.  Be in sports or be in jail!  Again, a noble attempt to keep kids in school and off of drugs, but what are some other ramifications of this?

First, if we consider the context of Fahrenheit 451, the idea was that mankind was not to think on his own.  Therefore, to keep the mind preoccupied with television, sports,  or anything else would prevent him from enjoying the beauty of silence.  It would erase the option of having free thought and individuality. 

Second, looking at the outcome of this philosophy, it has effectively helped to disintegrate the family unit.  Not only are the school hours consumed with activities, but so are those before and after.  There are choir and band practices before and after school, ball games and Club activities every other day including weekends.  Sports practices are now being held on Sundays, something that not too long ago was unthinkable!  Sports camps break up the summer.  And parents are madly, blindly rushing from one activity to  another believing that this is best for their children.  How many families still sit down at least once a day and have a meal together?  How many families spend time interacting as a family without outside distractions?  How can children be molded by parents into upstanding citizens when they are never together longer than a commercial?

We have become a society that only relates to one another via technology, even when in the same house.  Every waking hour is consumed or allocated to some task.  We no longer entertain ourselves; we rely on media or other people to do that for us.  We cry boredom because we no longer have the capacity to imagine or invent.  Ray Bradbury’s prophesy has, in fact, become  truth.  People have given away their freedoms in return for ease and leisure.  We have sacrificed generations upon the alter of busyness with the idea that this will bring happiness and prosperity. 

 Several years ago, a girl looked at me in surprise and said, “You’re not a soccer mom, are you?”  The odd part of this question was in the context it was asked.  I was sitting with my three year old son at the time, and he was playing peek-a-boo around my shoulders.  Evidently the relationship I had with my son was not something commonly seen among the other “soccer moms”.  I must admit that I swell with pride at that reflection.  I’m glad I’m not a soccer mom and that I have a healthy relationship with my kids.  We wrestle together, talk together, work together, and when life isn’t going crazy, we eat together.  Happiness is not busyness.  It is not more sports, more television, more…you fill in the blank.  It is less.