Intermission

If you may have noticed, I haven’t been writing as much lately.  I’ve been on an intermission of sorts.  Life stuff.  And fun stuff (for me at least).  I’ve been catching up on some reading and listening to a lot of music.  Things I used to do a lot before I started blogging.  I just need to wind down at times.  I’ve pretty much been on the go for over two years with education and I really don’t want to burn out.  So I’m taking some time off.  I’ll still try to get some stuff up everyday, but nothing to in-depth.  Unless something big comes my way.  Then I will get that up fast!

My wife and I cleaned out our garage today.  My car was filled with stuff we donated to Good Will.  I had to clean out my gutters when I saw weeds growing out of them in a couple of areas.  While I was doing that, a wicked wind blew green leaves all over the place.  I thought I might lose some trees on the edge of our property, but walnuts are very sturdy.

TV winds down for me in the summer.  Only a few shows I’m watching now: Game of Thrones, Preacher and Outcast.  The season finale of The Americans is on tonight.  I will definitely be watching that!  Like those who watch it, I think it is one of the best shows on TV now.  Having lived through the 1980s it is very spot-on with the rendition of the early part of that decade.  They even had a bunch of characters watching “The Day After” in one episode this season.  Kids today don’t live with nuclear threats like I did when I was a kid/teenager.  That movie scared the crap out of millions of Americans.  It came out in 1983 on a Sunday night.  I’ve watched it a few times since.

I was listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons earlier today.  The Summer trio are my favorite.  Highs and lows, with a crashing crescendo at the end!  Then I vegged out to some Imagine Dragons and later a band you’ve most likely forgotten about or never heard of called Gene Loves Jezebel.

I’m just blabbing here, about nothing specific.  My son has been watching Arrow and telling me all about it.  I’m a huge Flash fan, but I’ve been stuck on the first season of Arrow for a couple of years.  If you haven’t guessed, I’m a huge comic book fan.  In terms of shows and movies, Marvel gets the movies right and DC does really well with the tv shows.  I still haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War yet.  It is on my soon-to-do list.  Along with a million other things.

I’m kind of at a transition point.  My son is exactly where he needs to be with education.  His battles are a thing of the past for the most part so much my anger is fading.  That doesn’t mean I don’t care about education overall, I just don’t have that immediate connection to it I used to have.  I’ll still do the research and the digging and the listening.  But I am really trying to leave emotion out of it.  If anything, I’ve gotten more sarcastic with my writing.  I’ve been involved with this mess in Delaware so long and so intensely, nothing really shocks me much anymore.  But we are entering unchartered territory with Jack leaving next year and the upcoming elections.  At the time of this writing, Hillary is the Democrat nominee and Donald is the Republican.  I really can’t stand them both.  I was really rooting for Bernie, but his age concerned me a lot.  I don’t like the fact that both the frontrunners are two people who I’ve heard about for over twenty years and neither of them ever impressed me.  It’s kind of depressing actually.  I will fully admit it is very hard for me to not want to blast certain people involved in education.  I see them doing some of the same things over and over.  But it’s the everyday people I’m sometimes hard on, and I’m starting to feel bad about that.  My intention isn’t to hurt anyone.  I’ve always figured if you are going to attend meetings about education you are most likely a public person.  Even if they are “secret” or non-public meetings.  I know I upset a couple of people two weeks ago and I feel bad about that.  I’m going to try to be nicer to people on here.   I know, I’ve said that before and then two weeks later I was cussing out some folks.  When I have posts like that, I’m not going to publish them right away.  Sometimes the best thing to do is sleep on it and not go by the moment.

Alright, enough out of me.  For those reading this, I’m sure this was not the kind of post you wanted to read.  Everyone always loves the scoop (or the supposed scoop).  But even bloggers need a time out once in a while!

Lover Of The Light

As I sift through countless documents, contracts, board minutes, financial statements, school profiles, reports, board minutes, audio recordings, FOIAs and whatnot one thing remains certain.  The truth must come out.  Nothing stays hidden forever, and bloggers know this.  Which is why we do our best to get the truth out, always.

It is no coincidence that education bloggers are those who either were or are involved in education.  It is a free endeavor, and we make no money from our writings.  The material we work with is endless, and one trail always leads to another.  This is what education has become in our country.  If we value one thing above all else, that is transparency.  If the subjects of our articles can’t be transparent, we will do it for them.

We start from scratch, with nothing but what our computer links us to.  Over time, we gain an audience and begin to get information.  Sometimes this information is reliable, sometimes it’s not.  We’ve all had to kill an article here or there for various reasons: to protect a source, the information wasn’t quite what we thought it was, or it just plain wasn’t newsworthy.  I’ve had months of research and theories go out the window because of one simple fact involved.

These are the times that we live in, and if we don’t wake the people up, our children will be lost in the quagmire that is public education.  The stakes have never been higher, but we are winning the war.  The light is shining on those who would destroy what is, and they can’t stand the sight.

Bloggers can have it rough.  We see tons of information when we really dig in, and what we see makes us angry.  We see the abuses in our education system on a daily basis, and we get upset.  It should.  We should all be angry enough to do something about it.  We love when new bloggers enter the fray because that means the odds of the truth coming out increase.  We are lovers of the light.

The Constant

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This past weekend I’ve been going through pictures from the time my son was born until the present.  It brings back a lot of memories all at once.  But most of all, I remember the joy.  Every single thing he did was brand new for him when he was a baby.  Learning everything, starting with how to breathe on his own.  All those sleepless nights when he had colic in the first couple weeks were worth it.  All the diaper changes, his impeccable aim, and the messy food.  I wouldn’t trade any of it for a minute.

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As parents, we see everything.  We watch our babies crawl, sit up, and then walk.  And talk.  It’s like watching evolution in fast motion.  The term “they grow up so fast” is very true.  You blink, and they look older the next day.

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And after they get out of that terrible toddler time, they start to think on their own enough and they are ready for school.  And they have no idea what to expect, but they soon learn Mommy and Daddy aren’t the only teachers.  Things they do at home aren’t necessarily the same as what is expected of them in school.  But they have fun…

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They start to meet more and more kids, and they start picking up things.  Their minds expand, and curiosity becomes a game of “What happens if I do this?”

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You start to see them do things you never thought they would do, and at times you can only laugh.  It’s what makes them unique, God’s gift to the world.  None of them are the same.  They try new things and stretch their boundaries of what they are familiar with…

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They learn how to be part of a team.  But sometimes they have things going against them, and they have to work even harder.  Things don’t always work, but they keep going.  It’s all they know how to do.  But it’s hard for them to keep the smiles going…

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They aren’t always happy, and you can see it more and more as they get older.  The constant smiles disappear more and more, and you have to reach out harder.  But that’s okay, cause that’s why parents are here.  We are here for them during the good times…

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and the bad, when they need us the most…

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And the sometimes, when they aren’t even watching us, we have to fight for them…

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and you meet strange people along the way…

Governor Markell, Kevin Ohlandt and Jacob Ohlandt, 5/14/15

Governor Markell, Kevin Ohlandt and Jacob Ohlandt, 5/14/15

But that’s okay, life is full of surprises and twists.  It’s what makes it so complicated and unpredictable.  What is very hard for parents is to see your child and you view them differently.  You start to realize, they are getting old fast.  It isn’t going to be long now, they are going to be an adult.

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But one thing is constant, and that is a parent’s love for their child.  That doesn’t go away, ever…

Happy Birthday To The Inspiration Behind Exceptional Delaware

Before Markell and Herdman started plotting together, before Common Core was a gleam in Arne Duncan’s eye, before the words Race To The Top meant gouging schools in America with corporate education reform, a baby was born.  Eleven years ago today to be precise.  Out in Southern California, he entered this crazy world.  It was a beautiful day, very warm and in the 80s, not a cloud in the sky.

After some complications, my son was born.  My wife had some complications as well, so I went with the nurse to the incubator.  Before my son was placed in there, I reached out my hand to his and he squeezed my finger.  Not even 10 minutes old, and I bonded with him forever at that moment.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Here we are, eleven years later.  He came into this world on a warm and sunny day, and he turned eleven waking up to snow.  There have been many challenges along the way, and there will be more.  But there are also those moments of joy that you can never put into words.  Things only a parent can truly know.

His journey through life is his own, I’m just a guide for a certain amount of time.  He has other guides, like his mom, and others.  His story has become my story, and everything I do on here, every word I write, it is to help him, and others like him.  The battles I fight, the secrets uncovered, it is all to expose and to change.  If I, along with others, ever do win these battles, the biggest challenge will be what comes next.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so something must take it’s place.  I pray that worthy voices will very carefully replace the abomination education has become.  For my son, and the students in all of our schools.

I have to believe something better is on the way.  I have hope.  It can’t be this bleak all the time.  In the meantime, I will continue to write, for my inspiration and my moments of joy, happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, curiosity and insight.  Happy Birthday bud!  I love you!

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Discrimination, Bullying & Isolation In A World of Inclusion

This is going to be one of the hardest articles I’ve ever written. The reason for this is because it is deeply personal. I write about bullying and discrimination often on this blog, and I understand it all too well. I see it everyday, in all walks of life.

“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.” Andrew Smith

Everyone in this world has bullied or been bullied at some point in their lives. Any time you exert will and force on someone to get a desired outcome, this could be defined as bullying. I am guilty of it. In my quest to have the perfect IEP for my son, I have expected knowledge and wisdom of my son’s disabilities greater than my own. This has been my life for the past 9 1/2 months. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until someone said these simple words: “You’ve had two years to understand your son’s Tourette Syndrome. His teachers have had eight weeks. And I’m sure you don’t fully understand it at times.” In a very odd way, my attempts at advocacy for my son in school can be viewed as a type of bullying. I admit I have been forceful in my attempt to do the best for my son, and at times the lines may have blurred between right and wrong ways to go about that.

“A lot of people are afraid to tell the truth, to say no. That’s where toughness comes into play. Toughness is not being a bully. It’s having backbone.” Robert Kiyosaki

Those words affected me in a huge way. My son’s teachers are with him seven hours a day. When I say teachers, I mean the entire school staff, whether they are certified or not. These are people who have been placed in an educational environment to help children succeed. They have hundreds of decisions they need to make on a daily basis. We expect them to make the right choices constantly. But they can and do make wrong ones. They are only human. Unfortunately, teachers are put in impossible situations all the time with disabled students. When I hear about my son calling out in class, or being disruptive, I sometimes wonder what would happen if a non-disabled student did the same thing. Chances are, with my son’s IEP, he would receive a gentle warning followed by a positive reinforcement statement. For a student without disabilities, the reaction may be different. Is this fair to this type of student?

“I know the world isn’t fair, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” Bill Watterson

This makes me question humanity itself. We will give one type of treatment to a group of people because we are required to, but not another. Some teachers will utilize the techniques they see in an IEP with the entire class. But for those who don’t, I can see how some students and parents could see this as a type of favoritism or preferential treatment. I think, in an odd way, this creates a bizarre type of resentment against students with disabilities. Students certainly pick up on it. I can see the conversation already: “Johnny threw a pencil and he was talked to and nothing else happened. When I did it, I had to go to the principal’s office.” For this student, something complex happens. He sees Johnny doing things and gets away with it, but for others they get in trouble. Students, especially those in elementary and middle school, are shaped by those around them. They expect everyone to get the same treatment.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Do I think that student is going to reach out a hand of friendship to a disabled student? Sadly, probably not. The opposite usually happens, and this is when teasing or bullying comes into play. It can be a quiet, covert type of bullying. What happens next, which has happened time and time again with my son, is the disabled student’s reaction being far greater than the original sin. It’s like a snowball sliding down a hill, getting bigger and bigger every inch it moves. Soon, what was once a very small thing becomes so enormous it can’t be ignored. These things could be prevented, but it would take a very educated and compassionate person to stop it.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

If the non-disabled student goes home and tells his parents about this, the parent may call the school. Due to privacy laws the school can’t just say “That kid is on an IEP due to his disability.” This puts the school in a very awkward position. This can result in issues where the non-disabled child is pulled out of the school, and perhaps sent to a charter school or a private school. Or the charter school just can’t handle issues with disabled children, and the student is “counseled out”. These scenarios play out every day in our country and many of us don’t see the forest through the trees.

“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” Benjamin Franklin

Unfortunately, outside of the school environment, these rules don’t apply. If a disabled child has an issue with another child in the neighborhood, a parent may tell the other parent about their child’s disability. At this point, the parent makes a choice: Do I let my child hang out with another child with this disability knowing issues can creep up more often? My hope would be yes, because it teaches our youth about tolerance and understanding. But the reality is a different landscape. I’ve seen it with my own son, where he is completely cut off from playing with certain children. Far too many people see disabilities as a type of mental illness, and when they hear the word medication, it raises this type of belief to high levels.

“I have learned that the biggest disability any of us may ever face is our own attitudes.” Jeffrey K. Walton

Advocacy is the art of informing another about an issue in a desired attempt to achieve resolution. In so many situations with my son, we have attempted to advocate first before issues could arise. But it is my fear this creates certain labels about him in others minds. When issues happen, the first thing this person may think is “They told me he has issues, well I’m not going to let my own kid be a part of that.” I have seen this time and time again, and it doesn’t matter which child has created the issue. It becomes the simple fact that problems are there, and instead of the adults getting together to resolve it, it becomes a blame game. It results in isolation for my son. The worst part is when he does see these kids again and more issues arise. Then it becomes something bigger than the sum of its parts. This is when parents who may have once been friends, turn on each other. The rational part of the mind is replaced by fear and misunderstanding. Anger takes hold, and that’s when things can get ugly, and what started out as a small problem can result in fences that can never be repaired.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to do anything on which it is poured.” Mark Twain

I read the blog Teachezwell often, because this is a special education teacher who is at the top of her game. She gets the students she is helping. She understands how so many of those issues are beyond their capability of controlling. She is not only a teacher, but for these students, their primary advocate at school. I wish I could clone her and place her everywhere in life. But I can’t, and I have to deal with this discrimination my son experiences almost on a daily basis. I see it in stores, or at a park, or anywhere the public is present and they see my son acting out or not listening to me. I understand him and what his limits and capabilities are. I know many of the triggers that cause him to do particular things. But how can I expect others too? Children don’t get an IEP outside of school, but I really wish they could. This is impossible. As long as there is fear and misunderstanding about things that aren’t viewed as “normal”, discrimination will exist.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin

Let’s face it, the vast majority of people who don’t have disability issues in their everyday lives do not attempt to reach out and educate themselves on it. I don’t blame them. It’s not like I research the effect of global warming on crops in Nebraska because it isn’t a part of my world. But to farmers in Nebraska, they don’t have a choice. If I were to meet one of these farmers, he may try to educate me on the dangers his crops are facing, but I would most likely walk away not absorbing what he said. It’s not because I’m selfish or uncaring, it’s because it doesn’t impact me the same way it does them. This is true of children with disabilities when parents advocate for them to the “outside” world. Adrenaline kicks in during problems, and the basic human tenet of “fight or flight” invariably kicks in.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie

Is there any fix to these problems? Not an easy one. It would take a willingness of people to learn and find ways to resolve issues and not escalate them. It sounds very bleak. My heart reaches out to these children who feel cut off from the world and are alone so many times in their lives. They want to feel normal. They want someone to reach out to them and say simple words like “I understand,” or “I know what you are going through.” Loneliness and despair are the biggest enemies to these children. It’s where their thoughts start to live, and a deep and lasting sadness invades the light of their souls.

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss

Inclusion is a good thing. It puts disabled children on the same level playing field with their peers. But it can also have some nasty side effects, the biggest being seclusion in an inclusive environment. I know my audience for this article is going to be those who are in this world in one shape or another. But I would encourage anyone reading this to pass it on. All too often, people don’t know what an issue is unless they see it. Please share this with those outside of the disability world. Unless we educate those who don’t have a vested interest, we can’t expect them to care as much as we do. It’s sad, but it’s reality. Whether a child has ADHD, Autism, Tourette Syndrome, or is blind or deaf, humanity doesn’t view these issues the same way as those who are knee-deep into them. But the best we can do is try, and try again.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama

To read the very awesome Teachezwell blog, please go to http://teachezwell.me/

Why I Care About Special Education in Delaware

I wish I could answer that question with an easy simple sentence, but I can’t.  Before my son was diagnosed with Tourette’s and all it’s friends, I can honestly say I didn’t give too much thought to special needs children.  It just wasn’t in my limited radar.  They were there, and I would see them sometimes, but it wasn’t a major part of my world.  And then a funny thing happened.  It became my world.  My family became very different then.  Every moment, every action, I saw the label.  I saw my son as different, as “not normal”.  I was in denial for a long time.  Not because of him, but because my mind, my heart, it couldn’t accept what was right before my eyes.

Over time, this changed.  My son’s disabilities were with me every waking moment.  I tried to hide from it, to run away from it, but they were there, saying “Help me Daddy”.  And I’ve tried.  For the longest time I thought if I just treated him like every other normal child, maybe things would change.  But they didn’t.  I had to take a strong look at myself before I could accept him for who he was.  I had to, and still have to, realize that it doesn’t matter what others think.  It doesn’t matter, at all.  Let them judge, let them stare.  It’s reality.

First and foremost, I am a husband and a father.  My family isn’t the perfect Norman Rockwell family that so many dream of.  I know I did for a long time, but it’s just not in the cards.  But what I have is something better.  I have something real.  Something so crazy and imperfect that it makes the most sense in the world.  I get to see something some can never see.  I see human emotion in it’s pure, truest form.  Love, anger, sadness, happiness, jealousy, hope.  It’s all there.   My son has the ability to display all of these.  But it’s more than emotions.  It’s like they are colors.  Beautiful, radiant colors, that shine the brightest in his soul.

Conversations I had with people in the past used to consist of my latest TV show craze, whether it was X-Files, Lost, or Game of Thrones. I would talk about music, some politics, but for the most part I was a very self-centered person. My world was MY world and I felt people were crazy for not liking what I liked. Then a little thing became a big thing, and before I knew it, I was fully immersed in a cause. It didn’t happen overnight. It built up for a long time, and I didn’t even realize it.

When my son started having numerous problems at his old school, I figured he was just a misfit of sorts and he liked causing trouble. But it continued, and I knew something was off, but I didn’t know what. Eventually, I found out. He had Tourette’s Syndrome. And ADHD. And Sensory Processing Disorder. And OCD. And Anxiety. And Depression. He wasn’t even in double digits yet, and he had all of this to look forward to. I didn’t have the slightest clue how to help him, and I’ll be honest, sometimes I still don’t.

I don’t expect perfection. Let’s get that on the table right now. I accept mistakes, if they are made with the right intentions. But when the “old school” denied my son services that should have been his by federal law, I was pissed off. When I fully realized the scope of it all, I was well beyond pissed off. So I researched everything. Schools. The DOE. The Government. Common Core. Rodel. Smarter Balanced Assessments. The Charter School Network. What I found was a clear path, visible to those who follow the steps.

It’s the oldest game in the world. Survival of the fittest. Cavemen did it, and those in power do it now. They don’t want to relinquish their power and they will hold onto it as long as they can. Those who get in their way are pushed aside. But something new and bizarre is happening in the power landscape. The Power People are getting together and banding together. They are forcing their will on the people through coercion and specific techniques. And it all begins with education.

We think we know what’s going on, but there are depths and levels of which most people don’t have a clue. It’s a game of chess, and their pieces have been placed in a potential checkmate position for a long time.