27 January 2011


We may come near, then,
with freedom
to the throne of the grace,
that we may receive kindness, and find grace
-- for seasonable help.

Hebrews 4:16
Young's Literal Translation

"...to me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.

Therefore I ask you not to lose heart... "

Ephesians 3:8-13
Young's Literal Translation

Many moons ago, when I headed off to college, I wanted to be a doctor... a neonatologist, in fact. I also figured someday I'd be a wife and mother.

It didn't take me too long (about 2 semesters) to realize that with my personality, I would never be able to do those two things together well (my husband loves to remind me- I'm too "driven," and easily consumed by whatever is the current driving force). I promptly changed my plan. Instead of declaring a pre-med major, my decision morphed me into the College of Education, specifically the field of special education. I did probably pray about it, but it wasn't one of those agonizing choices and so I can't say that I was following any clear or specific leading from the Lord. In hindsight, however, I can see evidence of His shepherding throughout that time.
It was about 35 seconds into my first class before I realized that a key word in the field of special education was "access." Equal access to a "free and appropriate education" meant that certain students needed specific accommodations - some quite basic and simple, others quite extensive and involved - so that they could have the same opportunity to learn and benefit from school and instruction that other students had. When explaining this concept, I like to use the following illustration: A child in a wheelchair is not going to have access to any of the classes on the second floor of his school building without a ramp, an elevator... someone or something to move him and his wheelchair from the first to the second floor of the building. Once there, he can probably navigate to his classes himself without much further assistance, but without that accommodation, not only would he have little hope of succeeding in those 2nd floor classes, but the material taught in those classes is not readily available to him. 

It really isn't any different for other children with other types of disabilities or learning challenges. Students' learning barriers vary - they may have physical, learning, emotional or behavioral disabilities which, unaddressed and without accommodation, make academic progress difficult and school success nearly impossible. People often feel that making identified-as-necessary accommodations isn't fair - that somehow the presence of that aid gives them an advantage over other students or somehow waters down the material that they are required to learn. That makes about as much sense as saying it is unfair to allow a paraplegic to use his wheelchair. Accommodations do neither. They do not change what the student is expected to learn - they simply help put the student into a position where he has access to learn... or he has access to demonstrate his achievement. Thus material is presented orally or tactilely for a student who struggles to learn via visual stimuli. Additional time or less work when mastery can be demonstrated in fewer tasks can be a life-saver to those students who process information well as long as it is given to them in smaller, shorter chunks. It truly means individualizing learning goals and objectives, tailoring them to the specific needs of each student.
My kids seem to find any and everything about computers and little techie devices intuitive and automatic. Last winter, Rebekah had to read a Jules Verne novel for her English class - since we were in the States and French work is hard to come by on those home assignment years, I persuaded her teacher to let her read the novel in the original French... as long as she wrote her report in English! I downloaded several novels onto my Kindle, she picked one and began reading. One night, about 5 minutes after she'd collected the device and sat down to read, she hollers to me, "Mama, did you know you could check your email with your Kindle?"
No! I had no idea and would have NEVER just started pushing buttons without a set of directions in front of me telling me each step to take. I don't tend to mess around with my computer... exploring without a specific goal in mind (or an instruction booklet in front of me) or with really no idea what I might find. I understand that some of the difference between my girl and I that is learning styles and personality, but in general, I. DON"T. FIND. computers and techie devices user-friendly. I look at all the wires and all the alternatives and immediately am overwhelmed intimidated. I NEED all those help screens, direction booklets and tutoring sessions from my husband or my kids to help me make sense of all the buttons, to figure out the point of the game or to learn the tricks of navigating through a particular program. Those particular accommodations give me access to the power and potential in these often frustrating but wonderful tools that are such a key part of western life in this day and age. Otherwise, because I don't find electronic equipment user-friendly, I'd probably just give up and move on to something at which I could do well innately and spontaneously... and that inability to use computers, for example, would leave me very communication-challenged as email is our lifeline here in W. Africa.

 I've been thinking about that a lot lately... education, school, is just not user-friendly for some students. Is it any wonder they end up giving up or just putting in their time to graduation? Teachers, with all of our good intentions, can kill any seed that might eventually sprout and finally blossom into a love of life-long learning when we refuse to learn how to use accommodations that actually allow students to access not only the material presented, but the process of learning that should be occurring in our classrooms. 

Mulling over that truth brought to mind the passages in Hebrews and Ephesians highlighted earlier...
  • not just the joyful truth and reality that I can run boldly, freely and confidently into the presence of the Almighty One at any moment - an amazing "user-friendly" access that I have ONLY because Jesus made the ultimate accommodation, one that "inconvenienced" and challenged Him drastically.
  • but also this: as a teacher, one way I can allow my students (and their parents) to see Jesus (working gently in and through me) finding and using accommodations to better give each one access to a conducive, "user-friendly" learning environment, whether he or she has an "Individualized Education Plan" or not.


1 comment:

  1. I have a child who has a learning impairment which I have had to learn and understand. Your description and explanation is spot on. My child once entering the middle school years decided to deny the accommodations, partially due to pride of not wanting to be different and partially due that he had learned coping mechanisms that allowed him to get to that "2nd floor."

    Interestingly, in your parallel, the accommodation (therefore Jesus) has to be humbly accepted to gain access. Then on a daily level, we have easy access to God as long as we are able to humble ourselves and look to Him exclusively for help, comfort, etc. instead of other people or things.


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