April 20, 2009

The Broken Places

On her return
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
Okay, first of all, the important news. Schuyler's solo trip on an airplane? A total success. (Is it mere coincidence that Schuyler recently presented a class report on Amelia Earhart?) Everyone had a great time, my mom got to spend some time with her weird Martian grandchild and get a little better understanding of who she is, and of course Schuyler made new friends on both legs of the trip. Thankfully, the boys she met on the flight back were actually BOYS and not grown men; I must review the concepts of "stranger danger" and "just because your Big Box of Words has (now had) your address and phone numbers programmed into it doesn't mean you should necessarily share that information" with her once again.

All in all, the experiment was a great success, and so I will be ready to put Schuyler on a plane by herself again in another nine years or so. Because seriously, for that hour she was on the plane on Friday, and again on her way back? I aged six months each way. I had no idea that my memory could recall so much of the movie Fearless.

Julie and I spent the weekend in Austin, where, after we got a little business out of the way on Friday, we proceeded to have a swell weekend, just the two of us. It was interesting, visiting parts of Austin such as South Congress Avenue that were sort of new to us, even though we lived there for a year and a half. Interesting, and thought provoking.

What we immediately noticed when we visited all the quirky little shops and restaurants was a near complete absence of children. We saw signs in many of the store windows banning strollers and expressing in a variety of cute ways the idea that if kids WERE to come in the store, they were to behave like small adults at all times.

It wasn't necessarily off-putting; these weren't really kid-friendly stores (even the toy stores were more like places for ironic hipsters to buy clever doodads to put on their desks at work to help mask the whiff of corporate slavery), and even if Schuyler had been with us, we always demand (and sometimes even receive) good behavior from her. I'm all for embracing the fun carefree nature of childhood (surely that's no surprise), but I still believe kids need to learn to socialize properly, which often means taking them out to good restaurants and public places that aren't necessarily adorned with cartoon characters. I don't believe in excluding kids from public places, much to the annoyance of many a childfree kook who has emailed me over the years, but neither do I believe in letting them grow up feral at the expense of the world around them.

But what these stores and their environments did bring home to us was the simple fact that Austin in general is not a terribly child-friendly place. I suppose I'm just asking for hate mail by saying that, but there it is. Austin's a city for young people, that much seems clear, but not so much young people starting families. And again, that's fine, we don't need to take over every American city, covering the land with the scourge of Charles Edward Cheese. But this fact might contain the beginnings of an understanding to why Schuyler's school situation there was such a failure, and why she's found so much success in a town like Plano, where one might expect her differentness to be shunned rather than celebrated.

Now in fairness, Schuyler was not in the Austin schools, but in another local school district in the area. But my impression from speaking to a number of parents and SLPs is that while many of the Austin area schools are trying very hard to improve special education in their programs, they are nevertheless fighting something of an uphill battle. A number of Austin schools have been in danger of losing accreditation or even being shut down after receiving unacceptable ratings, including one, the SAILL Charter School, which was established specifically for the purpose of providing a mainstream education to students with disabilities.

Is there a relationship between a community's approach to families and the quality of its schools? That seems like a pretty logical assumption to make, although it would really just be an assumption on my part. But I do think that educational priorities in this country have been seriously skewed for a long time, and in a state with as checkered of an educational record as Texas, the problem seems especially acute. I addressed it in the original draft of my speech to the Texas Speech Language Hearing Association Convention a few weeks ago, and while I eventually cut part of it out in the interest of time, I sort of wish I hadn't now.

The right to an equal education in which every child can communicate and participate at the highest level possible for their abilities is a civil right. If we as a society are going to stand up and say that we believe in a public education for every citizen, we need to make good on that promise, and to put our immense resources and commitment behind that promise. And if we can’t do that, if we can’t educate our people, I’m not sure what’s left to do except sit on the couch, turn on American Idol and wait for the Visigoths to climb over the walls.

I work in the city of Arlington, in the Dallas area, and every day as I drive into the city, I see the looming beast that is the new Cowboys Stadium. I’ve seen it referred to as the Enormodome, although I usually just refer to it as the Death Star. The current cost of that facility is estimated at over one billion – BILLION, with a 'b' – dollars. To assist the Cowboys in paying the construction costs of the stadium, Arlington voters approved tax increases that will provide $325 million in funding. At the same time, about half of the over one thousand school districts in Texas will suffer budget shortfalls this year, including Arlington, which will come up about $15 million short.

We as a society must do better. We simply must.

On the surface, it seems like a city as conservative as Plano wouldn't be a very welcoming one for us. Julie and I are both very liberal, and neither of us is religious at all. (I self-identify as an Agnostic, but Julie is a full-blown Atheist. She's hard core.) But the reality of Plano's conservatism isn't so much that people here are largely rich or Republican or Christian, although those points are certainly true enough.

Plano is a town that values family above all else. They have shown it with a financial and philosophical commitment to education, and the result is a public school system that rivals the best private schools in some other communities. Special education in particular has received a strong commitment here, and while there are problems here like anywhere else, I never see the casual disregard for students with disability here that were so familiar to us before. We've never been told that Schuyler couldn't receive a service because the school couldn't afford it. And as the parent of a special needs parent, that is a very powerful statement to be able to make.

When the McCain-voting, Jesus-loving, SUV-driving people of Plano met the lefty, Socialist, godless Rummel-Hudsons, they saw a family that was willing to pull up stakes and move, as often as it took, to provide an educational opportunity for their daughter. When the book came out, they saw a father who cared and hurt and loved for his little girl, and who was committed to advocating for thousands, maybe millions, of kids like her.

And when they met Schuyler, they didn't see the purple hair or her "Punky Brewster meets The Addams Family" clothes, and they didn't recoil at her disability. They saw her as one of their own.

It might be tempting to try to draw some sort of ideological lesson from all this, and I'm sure a few conservatives will try. But it's not about the politics. There are plenty of wealthy, conservative communities that don't take care of their kids, particularly those with disabilities. Highland Park in Dallas is among the richest in the state, for example, but while neurotypical kids can expect to be very well educated and end up in Ivy League schools, its reputation for special education and for kids who don't fit a traditional learning environment are pretty awful. And two of the great AAC success stories I've seen first-hand were in the very liberal San Francisco Bay Area; one was in Oakland, a community with an extremely diverse student population, to put it gently.

What it comes down to is priorities. And those priorities are set by YOU, the members of the community. You set them when you choose just how vigorously to to fund your public schools, where federal laws for students with disabilities provide protections that don't bind private schools. You chose how strongly to commit to the future and how hard you are willing to work to build a world where every kid is given the opportunity to reach their potential, even those who are broken or those who are gifted in ways that defy traditional pedagogy. Those kids often grow up to be adults who are active and contributing members of their societies, rather than wards of the state. That's a good conservative argument right there.

And as parents in particular, we are the ones who set the expectation for a community and for our schools. I've been writing and speaking a great deal over the past year and a half about empowering parents to advocate effectively for their kids. Not just by being squeaky wheels (although sometimes it's the only option available), but also by understanding how the system works and what they can reasonably expect their schools and teachers to accomplish. I've got little patience for teachers and SLPs who are afraid of the technology and the extra work required to help kids like Schuyler, but I don't have much more for parents who won't make the effort to learn about their child's disability and to research and really educate themselves on the possibilities.

I recently read an essay for the AAC Institute, written by longtime AAC advocate Robin Hurd, titled Defining Our Terms: Perspectives on AAC Funding. One paragraph resonated with me, for obvious reasons:

Several families have gotten their children AAC systems outside of the "normal" process, and are seeing good outcomes for their children who use AAC in spite of the lack of involvement of an SLP. The growing availability of information via the internet makes getting the needed information more and more possible for families. The dirty little secret of AAC is that families are often driving the process. Without the efforts of families, many children who need AAC would not have access to the devices or be taught to use them effectively. While some SLPs are knowledgeable in AAC and are a credit to their profession, too many know nothing about AAC, yet continue to attempt to provide guidance to children and the schools that teach them, to the detriment of the children they are supposed to serve.

It doesn't just apply to SLPs and teachers, and its certainly not specific to AAC users. Parents of disabled children will always be their best advocates, and they'll always find more success when the community in which they live places a high value on educating their kids in general. I understand why many communities want to couch this issue in terms of money. That's why it's more important now than ever to refuse to do so. Special education is a civil rights issue, nothing less. Our commitment to public education needs to be total or not at all. Can you imagine a school district announcing that while they'd love to provide an equal and appropriate education to students of color or lower income, they just can't afford to do it this year? Can you imagine the public outcry? So why is it any different for kids with a disability?

I'm not trying to disparage Austin. It's a city I love and always have. But I'm gradually getting a better understanding of why we might have been destined to fail there, and why we were also destined to find success in the last place we might have looked. I wish there were more places where broken children could find their way, because there's a real value to the community in having these families amongst them, something beyond treacly inspirational stories about God's little miracles or learning to love Holland. It's a tougher value, but it's one that is real.

Hemingway was right. "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."


Michelle said...

Bwahaha! She's picking up boys already! You are in for it when she becomes a teenager.

Azaera said...

I want to thank you for this post. As the parent of a Skyler with his own monster (a rare syndrome causing blindness and part of his pituitary is missing meaning he requires lifetime hormone therapy) I think more parents of special needs children need to stand up for their kids and to force the school systems to do what's right. If we band together we can make a change. (At least that's what I'd like to believe.)

robyncz said...

I'm glad Schuyler's weekend went well and you and Julie had fun, too.

As the mother of young children in Austin (who grew up, incidentally, in Plano), I respectfully disagree on your conclusion that Austin isn't generally child-friendly. If I judged the Dallas area on Deep Ellum or lower Greenville or whatever the latest trendy spot might be (it's been a long time since I've been to those kinds of places, since I'm only in the Dallas area with my kids these days!), I doubt I'd think Dallas was very family-friendly either.

Personally, with all the wonderful outdoor options here, I think Austin is a great place to raise a kid. It wasn't a perfect fit for you--and I applaud you for doing what you needed to do for Schuyler--but you might have overgeneralized a bit here.

Not arguing. . .just sayin'

Robert Hudson said...

I see what you're saying, but I don't think I agree. Remember that I lived there for a year and a half; I'm going off of more than an afternoon on South Congress.

If outdoor activities were enough to make an area a good place to raise a kid, then it would have been great, although those same options are pretty much a Texas plus rather than an Austin one.

Like I said, I love Austin, but from the perspective of trying to raise a kid there, I feel pretty confident in my conclusions. Not what the Chamber of Commerce would want to hear from me, but then, I can't imagine they'd expect otherwise at this point.

L. said...

I found this post really interesting. I'm quite liberal politically, but really appreciated the nuances you drew here. So often things are more complicated than the easy answer. I am curious, however, if you've noticed any distinguishing factors that set apart the communities where parents *have* fought for their kids, vs. those where they haven't. If it isn't political orientation (which is perfectly acceptable) is there something else going on?

Robert Hudson said...

I know that in Oakland, there was a really active PTA, and since they were doing a lot of fundraising for the school, their voices were taken pretty seriously. I think the key is as simple as parents involving themselves in "big picture" circumstances, beyond their children's immediate classroom situations.

Parents who are involved AND informed are the key, I believe. I think in the same way that inclusion into mainstream classes makes for a more tolerant and informed general student population, having parents who become involved in the process in very direct ways makes for a community that has a much better and more realistic idea of what works and the kind of resources required to make it so. When bond elections come up, they are more realistic and understanding about where their taxes are being spent, and less likely to say "What happened to the last pile of money we gave you?"

I guess in a way, the idea of a community that understands how expensive quality education really is and is willing to pay higher taxes and to allocate that taxes to the public schools really sounds like a very liberal concept. But don't tell Plano.

It comes back to the old saying. If you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance.

Steph said...

I have to agree with robyncz. My son is 'neurotypical' so we don't have to deal those kinds of battles, but I have found Austin overall a wonderful place to raise a child.

The outdoor options are extraordinary. The greenbelt trails, Zilker, Lake Austin, the playgrounds everywhere, the general focus on health and outdoor activities, all make for a great city. There are also tons of cultural activities for children. My son has been welcomed into the Austin Childrens Museum of course, but also Bass Concert Hall, UT family day, free yoga days, the ACL festival, the Long Center, etc. There is an incredibly strong network of parents in the area, through the Austin Mamas and Austin Papas groups (check out www.ikeasaurus.com for an example of the incredible goodwill of that community), and some of the schools are excellent, especially in Eanes ISD in West Austin.

I was raised in the Dallas area. Some places are wonderful for kids. Plano might be one of them. But others, such as my hometown of Garland, are not. Just like any metroplex, there are a mixture of good and bad options that each family has to judge on their own.

Unknown said...

So glad all went well, and that you and Julie had some time together.

And for the rest of it: thank you. Powerful words indeed.

Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about Texas in terms of child-friendly or not, but I do know that Texas School for the Deaf, in Austin, is one of the best deaf schools in the country -- so much so that people move to Texas just for the school. They have a very active and involved PTA and provide a number of services for the families as well as for the kids. I'm not sure why Austin works for families of deaf kids, just that it does.

Jeanine said...

I'm going to be another Austin parent of young kids to respectfully, but vehemently, disagree.

I do want to mention that it has taken me several years of living in Austin to get to know it -- I'm not sure that living just outside of Austin for a year and half gives you enough to go on, with all respect. I absolutely don't question the particulars of your family's choice (obviously!), but it's a big leap to then generalize from your experience and state that "Austin isn't good for young families."

We have found amazing resources, good schools, and plenty of fun, child-friendly things to do within 15 minutes of our house that do not involve Chuck E. Cheese.

And the public school around the block where my daughter will be in kindergarten features a special-education program that is,
according to an Austin American-Statesman writer,

While we don't have a special needs monster in our life right now, a.) who knows what's ahead for us; and b.) I'm glad my kids will get to share classrooms with kids of all kinds of abilities and monsters, big and small; and c.) a school that does a good job helping kids with their monsters is usually doing a lot of other things right too.

I'd write more, but we are headed out to Amy's Ice Creams on Burnet Rd. for some sweet, sweet Mexican Vanilla action.

cd0103 said...

I haven't ever lived in Austin, but found your observations very interesting. I read another blog written by someone in DT Austin who raises two children with their own challenges , but they don't go to public school. They go to a private Montessori school.

What I find so refreshing is that Plano ISD is doing great things for Schuyler. They have always had a great reputation for over-achieving neuro-typical children and I am glad they support those who don't fall in that category.

I am glad you found a place that nurtures her.

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

I'm reading your posts about letting Schuyler fly alone with great interest!

My little guy doesn't speak (for different reasons than Schuyler) and I had a heart stopping moment last week when the ECI coordinator mentioned transitioning him to the school's program - and putting him on a BUS!

I don't know if I'm ready to let him go... especially if he can't even tell someone his name! LOL!

BTW - he hates those picture cards, too.

Robert Hudson said...

I don't know anything about Texas in terms of child-friendly or not, but I do know that Texas School for the Deaf, in Austin, is one of the best deaf schools in the country -- so much so that people move to Texas just for the school.

You know, it's funny, but one of the reasons we moved to Austin in the first place was because of the School for the Deaf. At the time, we thought Schuyler's future communication was going to be done using sign language, and we entertained the idea of her living and attending school among the deaf community. This was long before we discovered AAC.

What we found, however, was that the School for the Deaf had no programs for hearing children who signed. They had no programs for teaching sign language to members of the community, and the program that recommended, at the Austin Sign Language School, was almost exclusively geared towards American Sign Language, with few classes utilizing Signed English, which is what Schuyler (and other hearing kids) would be using.

And let me be quick to say that this level of insulation was and is entirely appropriate for the Texas School for the Deaf. Their focus is on the deaf community, and they can accommodate just a fraction of the kids who need their services.

But it was a disappointment for us, finding out that it was, for all the right reasons, a closed institution. It meant that if Schuyler was going to learn sign language, she would either have to learn it from us or from her school.

And as it turned out, they weren't interested in teaching it to her, either.

Robert Hudson said...

Jeanine, I'm not going to respond to the rest of your comment, because now we're just getting into anecdotal stories. We lived in Austin long enough to know that the schools were failing our child, and we did enough research in the school districts in the area to know that it wasn't likely to improve.

I didn't write this post to tell anyone that their town sucks, but to say that we just didn't give it enough time doesn't work. Schuyler was losing time and growing up quickly. We wasted enough time.

The thing I wanted to address was this:

And the public school around the block where my daughter will be in kindergarten features a special-education program that is,
according to an Austin American-Statesman writer, outstanding.

I followed the link. I read the article. And perhaps it's because I have a child with a disability that I read it very, very differently than you did. This in particular jumped out at me:

But despite all these poignant leaps in physical and mental development, I was told in a recent school meeting that Meredith will be getting a new label next year: "Mentally retarded."

I was told I could think it over. The reasoning is that the label better fits her disabilities and that technically the definition is correct for Meredith based on her school testing. I tried to think about it logically on my drive home that day, but all I could think about was that other label — "retard" — and how that was going to feel if anyone ever used it to refer to my child. By the time I was at the corner of Koenig Lane and Burnet Road, the tears were racing down my cheeks. And that would be the down of my escalator.


Meredith learns differently, but I didn't know until I visited her middle school that vocational activities are pushed for special education students as early as sixth grade. A child like Meredith, who has spent 60 percent of her day in a regular education classroom, will be excluded from nearly all these same classes in middle school.

Ugh. The fact that this sounds familiar, from the stories I hear every day from parents all over the country, doesn't make it any easier to hear. It's the culture of "here's what your child CAN'T do, and here's what's left".

It's the same kind of approach that said that Schuyler would never be able to write her name or graduate from high school. Vocational classes were mentioned as an option for kids like her, because what else could they hope to do?

I don't know if she'll graduate from high school or have a career or live independently, or any of the other things that we were told not to expect. But goddammit, she can write just fine. And she's just getting started.

I'm sorry, but that article really pissed me off. Vocational activities? Fuck that.

Anonymous said...

Maybe your mom would write a post about her weekend?

Melissa Luxmoore said...

Hi there...thanks again for posting another motivator. We have been having a down time lately as we just found out that the organisation that is supposed to be helping us with speech and OT hasn't provided us with anywhere near the support that was promised but have just taken their employees out for seafood buffet in a 5 star hotel, with 'excess' funds that had to be spent before june 30.....Squeaky wheel? Uh uh....hear me ROAR!

Jeanine said...

I followed the link. I read the article. And perhaps it's because I have a child with a disability that I read it very, very differently than you did.With all due respect, you have no idea how *I* read that article, Rob.

The thought of sending a sixth grader to vocational education because of her special ed status made my stomach hurt.

But maybe I'm wrong. If this author is not waving her fists in fury here, maybe I just need to settle down and listen.

This author has written articles for years about her daughter's experiences in AISD. I've read them all, and mixed in with a lot of disappointment, setbacks, and just plain anger, she has, mostly, written about an amazing and transformative place for her daughter that she has chosen with her eyes wide open.

I don't "get" what she's going through, obviously. But I am willing to give her credit for being a thoughtful parent and take her perspective seriously. Meredith isn't Schuyler -- her options, I believe, are a lot different.

I would never suggest to not be a fighter for your kid. But maybe someone has another approach for their kid that works for them. Are they not worth listening to?

Anyway, I just wanted to share another viewpoint about Austin schools.

Robert Hudson said...

But maybe someone has another approach for their kid that works for them. Are they not worth listening to?

If you want me to understand, then show me something better. Show me how it works for her.

You're right, I don't know how you respond to that, any more than I know how her situation sits with her. But when you hold her up as someone who thinks that her kid's school is a great place for special education, and the example you give reads as anything but a happy or especially encouraging result, then I have to make my conclusions based on what you give me.

I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm really not. But if that piece doesn't represent her situation accurately, then please, show one that does. Because that piece, standing on its own merits, doesn't seem to show a parent happy about her child in an "outstanding" program.

What I saw in that article was a frustrated mom making the best of a bad situation. And THAT is a story that is all too familiar to me, and thousands of parents like me.

Incidentally, the only thing you've said that I truly take issue with is the suggestion that I am intolerant of how another special needs parent advocates for their child. I'm hoping I'm being overly sensitive and misreading you, because that's a pretty bold thing to suggest to someone who is dedicating a significant part of his life to advocating for families, and LISTENING to them, all because I said something you didn't like about your town.

You have no idea how many of these parents I hear from every week, or how many of them have shown up at book signings just to cry. Every single one of them takes something out of me; every single one of them breaks my heart. And more than a few of them live in Austin or the surrounding area.

And if it's okay with you, I think that's all I have to say about that. I do sincerely appreciate you writing and sharing your opinion.

Anonymous said...

Wow, interesting stuff to think about. We spent all of 2008 in Richardson, never thought we'd ever live in Texas after New York, but I'm glad we did, it was an eye-opener... and I learned that most of my preconceptions of "Dallas" and "Texas" were just flat-out wrong.

I'm curious about how you think the Plano school district will work for Schuyler as she gets older. I know the high schools have some pretty big problems with drugs and such, right? I have to confess, my experience of the high school girls in Plano was pretty much limited to watching them drive their Hummers and BMW's to the mall to buy $500 sunglasses, so I guess I haven't let go of all my prejudices yet. :) Do you think Schuyler will find a place for her as she progresses through school, or do you anticipate another move?

Olive said...

I read your blog as often as you post and just want to say that my eyes were watering as I read (failure to blink or something). I am a special education teacher, mother, and wife. We are actually planning to return to Texas (which we left awhile ago) in the near future. The plan was Austin....primarily we feel like we need an open minded community for our out of the closet family. I orgiinally lived in the Dallas metro area so I understand your feelings on religion, values, etc. My question is (after telling you how fabulous your blog is) do you think the Dallas metro area would be a better choice for an out of the closet family. I know....off topic. Need someone other than my family and friends to answer truthfully. :) Michelle

Olive said...

Fuck that....is right.

Robert Hudson said...

Dallas and Austin (and Houston) all have reputations for being gay-friendly cities. I suspect all three have very different cultures within their gay communities. Austin is a town that would seem to be an easy answer as far as general acceptance by the general population, as opposed to Dallas, where you have a very strong and well-established gay community but also no shortage of good ol' boy bigotry lurking at every turn.

Having said that, here are two things that might surprise you about Dallas:

1) In 2007, The Advocate listed Dallas among its first ever list of Ten Best Places to Live for Gays and Lesbians. Here's the full list, in alphabetical order:

Columbus, OH
Dallas, TX
Ferndale, MI
Ithaca, NY
Lexington, KY
Missoula, MT
Portland, OR
San Diego, CA
Santa Fe, NM
Tucson, AZ

(Dallas isn't the only surprising city on that list, I must say.)

2) In 2004, Dallas County elected an openly lesbian Hispanic Democrat, Lupe Valdez, as sheriff. She won re-election in 2008.

So I'd say either city would be a safe bet, depending on your feelings about the specific culture of the community.

Olive said...

Thanks, as you know finding the right place is difficult. With what you have said about schools in Austin I rethink where we might end up. Being from Dallas I know that the community is large...I worry more for my children than myself. I don't care if someone likes my life choices. What I care about is my children suffering at the hands or voices of others because of them. And of course....like you....I want my child to have the best education. Not the best possible....the best. And like you as long as I can make it happen....I will. But, it is a sad world when you have to consider emotional well being in addition to educational. Like you (I assume) I could never see my family in Plano....but I have learned many times over you really can never say never. Thanks, Michelle

Meghan said...

Hah! Punky Brewster meets Aadams family.
She's Punky Wednesday. Don't mess with her!

Anonymous said...

Really, really thought-provoking post and comments. We live in San Antonio. My kids are neuro-typical (ages 5 and 2), and my son attends a accelerated private school for a number of reasons. For one thing, I am a college professor, and I find that the students are often quite unprepared for college. My Ph.D. is from UT, and I've often wished we lived in Austin.

My sister-in-law lived in Austin, but moved to a suburban area so her daughter could attend in the Lake Travis district, which has resulted in a hour commute for her, but she wasn't pleased with her daughter's Austin district.

A friend has a 3-year old who isn't yet talking much, and no one knows why. Her daughter is doing a lot of speech therapy through a local school district, but my friend feels constant frustration at the ill-fitting labels that have to be applied even when they aren't accurate.

I really want to believe in public schools, but I see so many problems now that we are "opting out." My husband and I both had wonderful public school experiences. Based on anecdotal evidence, it actually seems like the special education system here is doing a better job than the "regular" (for lack of a better word) classroom settings. The system is truly broken, and the repercussions for college success, etc. are huge.


Jeanine said...

… all because I said something you didn't like about your town.Wow. What a completely patronizing way to respond to what I said.

You are right the article shows a mother’s anger and frustration. But it also featured sentences like this:

Meredith's world, largely created by Principal Janie Ruiz and teacher Bonnie O'Reilly and a classroom of energizing fifth-graders, is defined by a seamless culture of inclusion where kids with disabilities and kids without disabilities learn side by side.

And another article says this:

Each morning, Meredith spends about an hour in a typical first-grade classroom before returning to her Life Skills classroom for a tailored academic program, called an Individual Education Plan. She has learned buckets of new things in her special ed classroom, but, knowing her teachers and therapists, I never had any doubts that she'd grow in knowledge.Is Plano much better than Austin for special needs education? Probably. It also has 1/3 the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and has three times the percentage of white students. I think that is the “no shit, Sherlock” axiom at work there. And I’m enough of a pinko liberal to point that out.

For the record I called “bullshit” on your limited experience with Austin being a basis for saying the city is not a good place for raising children. Some limited experience, ignoring any evidence to the contrary, and issuing a blanket generalization is right out of the Fox News school, and I thought more of you than that.

And I’m a fan, Rob. I’ve read your blog for a decade, bought your book (hardcover, no less) and, as a parent, have followed many of your links to special needs websites to learn more about some of the issues. Yet you’ve managed to completely alienate me.

“Angry Dad” mode may work well for advocating for your daughter, but if you want to be an effective activist for your cause and get others on your side, maybe rethink your approach.

Robert Hudson said...

Yet you’ve managed to completely alienate me.

Well, I'm genuinely sad that you feel that way. What I did was disagree with you. And I'm not sure that I did so in "Angry Dad" mode, either.

I think you're wrong, as you think I'm wrong. I guess that's where we're going to leave this.

Robert Hudson said...

Is Plano much better than Austin for special needs education? Probably. It also has 1/3 the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and has three times the percentage of white students. I think that is the “no shit, Sherlock” axiom at work there. And I’m enough of a pinko liberal to point that out.

And here's where I'm (respectfully) calling bullshit. This is the program I visited in Oakland, the one I specifically cited in my entry. It's one of the best special education/AAC programs in the country, and many (perhaps even most) of the kids are from very economically disadvantaged situations, much more so than Austin. A large number of them come from homes where the only English being spoken is coming out of their speech devices, if the kids are even able to take them home at all

Again, it's about making excuses, and about deciding what you want the kids to accomplish, not what you've already decided they can't.

The TACLE Program at Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland, CA

robyncz said...

Schuyler was never enrolled in Austin ISD schools at all right? You guys were zoned to another area ditrict. Or am I mistaken?

Jeanine said...

But, see, I DON'T THINK YOU'RE WRONG in most of what you said.

Yes, no excuses from schools!

Yes, give children a chance a accomplish all that they can!

You betcha, get that little girl
best AAC device money can buy!

Yessiree, if someone starts teaching my 6th grade "mentally retarded" daughter to start sewing wallets, I'm gonna go ballistic.

And, dammit, AISD needs to much better!

The Oakland link was interesting, but I don't think you can compare education programs (or outcomes) across states very well. As state-controlled programs, there are just too many confounding variables across those settings.

My primary objection was that you are way off-base in assessing Austin as "non-child friendly" because it has some crappy schools and a snobby shopping district. You conflated a few really different things there. Then you were dismissive of any postings to the contrary, including the (mostly) positive series from the Statesman writer. Yes, I know it's your blog.

This is a real problem, and it needs an honest discussion. Schools that are crappy in special education are often crappy in other ways. You shepherds have some of your own battles, but we are all fighting the same Orcs.

I think you're wrong, as you think I'm wrong. I guess that's where we're going to leave this.See what I did? I didn't leave it. I am indeed bold.

Sarah W said...

You can call my town crappy and non family friendly all you want. Chuck E Cheese is probably the high end of child entertainment here. Thankfully I don't have kids at this point so I don't have to delve into the evils of its school systems just yet. But we are really close to Columbus, OH, which apparently is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the U.S. Cool. Who knew?

By the way - totally cute picture of you and Schuyler. And Jasper. I'm glad those two ended up such close friends.

Anonymous said...

I get all hacked off every time I think of this subject, both because of my background as a public school teacher (from an impoverished area) and a parent to a child with a whole host of special needs. i don't think funding education should be a choice that shows up on a ballot. If you want to live here and enjoy our freedoms then you should be ready to pony up. Don't like it? Move to a third world country fuckers.

Olive said...

Hetha--yup. Don't like paying taxes....to fing bad. You know what the reason so many of us are educated is taxes. So if you don't like it....you are right....move on. Education isn't cheap. Quality education costs more. And 7,000 dollars (the typical amount paid in most states) isnt' enough to educate a special needs child. Oh, and just since I am on my high horse.....where are the priorities? A new football stadium obviously has a larger impact on the life of our children....much more than a good education ever will. Please.

Carol Askew said...

Just had to say thank you for a great post. I check your blog from time to time and just started reading your book. My daughter Megan is 8, non-verbal, without a diagnosis even after many tests and specialists. She uses a Dynavox V AAC device. Anyway, I grew up in Ft Worth, and lived in Plano when I was single and loved the area. We now live out of state. I'm glad to know that Plano is doing such a great job. If we ever end up back in Texas, I know where we want to live! Thanks again for everything you do to educate. I also love reading about Schuyler.

Karen said...

I really think that schools become what we (parents, teachers, community) put into them. And if I'm right about that, then I can see how people can have very different opinions of the same school. What is a great fit for one family can be stiffling and miserable for others. A teacher who was outstanding one year can be burned out the next. A program that was failing one semester can become invigorated when a new family moves in and brings fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Schools aren't static. They change with each person who walks into them.

Linda Ball said...

Glad you found your way with your kid. Sorry it wasn't in Austin. (Or the not Austin of Manor.) I swore I'd never comment on your blog again after being (in my pea-brained childless cloud of self-important opinion) misunderstood. However, I just have to say that I took FOUR (4) kids aged 8, 6, 2, and 2 to that toy store and that Big Top Candy store on SoCo and we were warmly welcomed. Sure I spent most of my time taking the great nephews and niece to Phil's Ice House and places with play scapes and ice cream, but if some of your readers think we aren't kid-friendly maybe it's true but you can thread your way through it for a visit even if the schools suck. Kite festival is also case in point. Flame away, folks, but that's my experience. No, I don't have kids in school. You are the expert there.

Anonymous said...

I've traveled all over the country over the years, and I've never been to a town as in love with itself as Austin, Texas. Rob, did you write this blog post just to make all these self-absorbed Austinites apoplectic? Are you poking the beehive with a stick?

Robert Hudson said...

Rob, did you write this blog post just to make all these self-absorbed Austinites apoplectic? Are you poking the beehive with a stick?

You know, I did actually have a larger point, but it's been lost on a lot of people. I think it's just getting silly now.

To be honest, if I could write this entry all over again, I wouldn't have even mentioned Austin.

Robert Hudson said...

Okay, that was just obnoxious. I'm going to call time of death on comments for this post.