Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It's the Law... (Day 2 of #iSummitWisco)

Today I attended Day 2 of the iSummit. I heard some powerful ideas and had great conversations with my co-workers but it was far from the most impactful part of my day.

About a week ago, I received an email from our assistant superintendent asking if I'd be interested and available to be part of a teacher panel to meet a delegation of administrators and principals from China. The panel was going to meet during Day 2 of the iSummit but since I was just down the street and wouldn't be missing very much I said, yes. The delegation was specifically interested in how we meet the needs of students with disabilities. Since students with disabilities aren't included in the traditional classroom, they had a lot of questions.

I wasn't alone on the panel, my co-teacher and collaborator, Mike Mohammad was there too. We have worked together for nearly 10 years making the science classroom and curriculum accessible to all learners. We've learned together, failed together and succeeded together. We've also presented and shared our story plenty of times...I understand why we were asked to speak. 

Generally we're questioned about what we do, what our classroom looks like and what sort of supports are in place. Today, we were asked to describe our class make-up, how we group students, a little about teacher evaluations and one other big thing. Something that I've never encountered before. Now, I'm going to preface this with we were communicating through a translator and sometimes I didn't completely understand what was being asked. The question was raised that was something to the effect of, how do we respond to public reaction of these students being included?

I wasn't exactly sure how to respond because, well, it's the law. So, that's what I said.

It was at this point our superintendent interjected and reiterated that here in America, it's the law. He then went on to say that all schools are in the business of promoting excellence. However, what makes America special is that we also strive for excellence but additionally strive for equity and equal access. That's part of our value system.

I know that other countries are different and have a different value system. I know that in some countries people with disabilities don't have the same access to education and opportunities as they do in the United States. However, to be in a room with people who are having a hard time wrapping their minds around this concept was mind blowing, especially since I've been spending my days in a large ballroom at a hotel celebrating inclusive practices and really thinking about ways to move to being wildly inclusive with 500 other educators. The difference between the two crowds couldn't have been more different. It was a reminder that there are different realities for marginalized groups everywhere.

After thinking more about this and my own reaction, I was taken back to when I was a junior in high school. I had the opportunity to attend an American Youth Foundation summer camp at Camp Miniwanka in Michigan. I attended a 10 day session that was attended by high school and college aged youth from all over the world. I met others from Australia, France and South Africa among other countries. None of the people I met had as much of an impact on me as Lorianne, from South Africa. Lorianne was a young adult, early 20s and black. Since this was the mid 90s she had very vivid memories of what it was like to live under apartheid and when people couldn't wrap their heads around it, I remember her looking at us and stating, "It was the law." She also shared with us, with tears in her eyes, what it was like to vote for the first time. Listening to her talk about what it was like to live like that, I couldn't help but be moved. Even though I knew what apartheid was from school and the news, I thought understood. I knew nothing.

I feel like today was sort of like that. I thought I understood what education in other countries for students with disabilities might look like...I have a feeling I have no idea.

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