Saturday, January 14, 2012

Make Your Desire the Other Person's, Too

People quickly acquiesce when there are no other options. Getting your own way is usually as simple (and complex) as making your option the only one possible. I have watched two of my own children as middle schoolers do that quite effectively.

Each time we have moved into a new school district the tendency had been to place Noelle in special education because of her paraplegia. However, she preferred to be in regular education and was able to handle the academic work there quite well. When we moved to California from Washington in Noelle's eighth grade year, the school administration's proposal was once again to place her in special education.

When Noelle indicated her preference for regular education, the principal explained that all children who cannot walk had always been placed into special education, and, therefore, she would, too.

"Well, then," Noelle commented, "I wonder how you are going to handle the problem that comes with that placement."

When the principal asked what problem she was talking about, she said, "Clearly, I'm the one who has to go to the classroom every day, and I do not intend to go to that one." She was placed in regular education and was very happy there.

The principal met his match, as well, in her younger, gifted brother Shane, who was in her grade because he had skipped some earlier grades in school. The principal wanted to place Shane in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program. however, Shane looked through the materials and found them unchallenging. He preferred to make his own program through the Independent Study program. Frustrated by Shane's lack of appreciation for the GATE program (and probably feeling the need to have another GATE student in the school program), the principal explained that being in the Independent Study program would bar Shane from school dances and other such activities. Shane replied that he preferred books to social activities and willingly accepted that restriction.

Seeing that his words had no effect, the principal said in a rather frustrated tone, "You don't understand! You have to have a behavior problem to get into the Independent Study program!"

Very calmly and pleasantly, Shane indicated that he would be willing to meet that entrance requirement, saying, "I could develop one if you would like." He was placed in Independent Study and was very happy there.

Noelle made her option. Obviously, no one could physically force her to go to a particular classroom on a daily basis and monitor her to be sure she stayed there all day. The alternatives to her choice were simply too cumbersome, impossible, or undesirable.

Shane also made his option the only choice. Of course, the principal did not want another child with a behavior problem. He could avoid that in only one way -- by meeting Shane's request.

These two children very much enjoyed their middle school years. Noelle learned far more in regular education than she would have learned in special education and passed the state exams just fine for regular education students. Shane immensely enjoyed his learning situation. His teacher had been a gifted education teacher in earlier years and was one of the few teachers who did not fear Shane's ability to inhale information and question assumptions. For math, the teacher asked Shane to work with a tutor from the local college because Shane learned too fast for the middle-school teachers to keep up with him. She learned incredible amounts of math that year, in addition to completing most of the high school program in other subjects -- all while being in a "punitive" program rather than the GATE program that, ironically, would have asked far less of him. It was, indeed, a good year.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

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