My maternal grandmother made no secret of the fact that she had a temper like a wildcat. This was never more evident than when she felt her only child, my mother, had somehow been treated unjustly. Woe to any individual who was on the wrong side of grandma’s wrath. She was all hot headed and feisty like the Heat Miser (pictured) out to set the world right again and restore justice. And she did too!
This trait was passed on to my otherwise very civilized mother. Back in the late 80s when I was in elementary school (just seeing if you were paying attention – mid 70s) my sweet, mild mannered mother could become the HULK when it came to protecting her children. There were times she stormed the school in defense of my older brother and again, I would not have wanted to be the one on the receiving end.
Nowadays it is my sister Jennifer whose head spins in defense of her children. Even I back off and watch the fireworks when she gets going. Jennifer has set more than one teacher straight. As an educator I respect that. As a grandson, son, brother and uncle I applaud them all.
Parents are the best advocates for their children. This can manifest in those “I am going down to that school right this minute” instances which are sparked in the heat of the moment or in the more calculated process of ongoing interventions. Somewhere down the line or maybe it has always been this way, the political system of education has bullied parents. I find this to be especially true for minorities and non-native English speakers. Teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, principals, speech therapists, specialists; teams of professionals with agendas (who may or may not have a student’s best interest in mind) tell parents what is best for their own child. In fairness, I do believe that the professionals are acting on behalf of the child but tend to neglect parental input or at least solicit it.
Well, perhaps parents know best. Perhaps listening to one another and coming to a mutual agreement and understanding will best benefit the child. Perhaps the child should have a hand in deciding the 'best placement', 'least restrictive environment' or 'educational setting'.
I find it frustrating when parents are stripped of their voices and subsequently the voice of the child is lost. Why is this so prevalent? It takes a great deal of effort to instigate change but I know of two dedicated, intelligent mothers who have refused to allow others to make decisions about their child’s education when met with difficult circumstances.
I was introduced to Marianne in 2004 when she was searching for a tutor to work with her young daughter Samantha. Samantha is a bright, funny, sweet child who was also a struggling reader. Marianne hired me to tutor her daughter twice a week for six months. During this time she also educated herself on various educational options available to her and got as much information as possible to help Samantha meet the challenges before her. Marianne was and is an amazing example of a parent 'fighting' for her child.
I have another friend who has become a full time educational advocate since the birth of her youngest son, an autistic little boy. She works tirelessly as the demands placed upon her continue to build.
This all reminds me of the oft-repeated refrain in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. For the trees have no voice”. I encourage parents with children who are too young to have a voice for themselves to fight in their child’s best interest. And I encourage educators to listen to that voice. This is not as easy as it may sound. It takes some effort. A gentle reminder to listen, to ask questions, to work together.
For more interesting reading on this topic check out Through the eyes of the institution: A critical discourse analysis of decision making in two special education meetings by Rebecca Rogers (2000) in Anthropology & Education Quarterly 33(2): 213-237