|Image is man holding poster that says "Expectations are premeditated resentments"|
image was created by me using a meme generator
That about sums up how I feel about expectations related to Little Man. If I expect his permanently altered brain to develop on schedule or expect that a brain that is neurologically different to function exactly the same as one that is neurotypical then I am setting myself up to be disappointed, frustrated and yes, even resentful, when it does not happen. Worse yet I am setting him up to be discouraged, frustrated and resentful as well. I would argue that these are not emotional states associated with learning achievement.
To quote one of the smartest men ever*, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So you can imagine how I felt when I heard Arne Duncan say, "We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.” Really Mr. Duncan? How kind of you to correct me. I assume you have years of experience caring for and teaching special needs students that inform this knowledge. That or you have read widely and deeply into the literature and studies that show this. I somehow have been grossly negligent in my observations of my own special needs child and sibling because I missed this entirely. In fact, as I mentioned above, I’ve been misled somehow into drawing an almost opposite conclusion!
Therefore, I must go forth and research right now to find the error in my ways. Imagine my surprise when I find that Arne has no classroom time in his employment history, not even with neurotypical children no less special needs. He did not study education as an undergraduate or a graduate. His entire connection with education seems to be on the basis of having good friends that appoint him to plum positions. Arne also has no direct experience with special needs children personally – not through his own children or his extended family that I could find.
Somewhat disappointed I fall back on my second thought – surely there are studies showing the truth of this. Now here we get into some more meat!! Yes there are studies showing that “high expectations” lead to greater success – for all children**.
What’s missing from Arne’s rhetoric however is an acknowledgement that high expectations for a special needs child with neurological differences are not the SAME expectations as those for a neurotypical child. I understand, I mean I really really get, how hard it is to recognize limits without limiting potential. But it is a task anyone involved with a special needs person has to be willing to take on. Because the mental and emotional damage done when you drive someone constantly past their limits ends up decreasing their potential in the long run. As a mom I struggle with this every single day. Am I accommodating or enabling? Am I protecting Little Man’s psyche or limiting his achievements?
I know I do not make the right call every time. No parent of any kid anywhere manages this perfectly. But I would hope the man charged with guiding our nations entire educational system would have a less simplistic view ***.
*The quote is from Albert Einstein. Of course there are all sorts of arguments as to who actually was the smartest but good old Al is always mentioned up there with Tesla, Hawking, Tao etc.
**High quality studies specifically on children with neurocognitive differences are a bit on the thin side but there are some if you dig. It’s interesting to note however that they are usually measuring “high expectations” in relation to the disability and usually in response to a specific intervention or accommodation to measure the effectiveness of that intervention – not a standardized test measuring the child.
***Not to mention some actual experience.