It’s been about a year and half since my brother, Dan, died. Despite valiant efforts, we watched helplessly over a two day period as his life went from “business as usual” to a difficult decision to remove life support. He died here in Helena, before we moved back and I find myself driving through town trying to picture my older brother walking down the street. It still chokes me up to drive by his apartment. He was 46 and too young to die.
But yet we weren’t surprised. Dan’s life was a hard one: chemical addictions and long periods of homelessness. By the time they realized he was in acute liver failure, it was too late. I still mourn his passing and I also mourn a life of what could have been.
My sisters and I have talked more than once about the “What if’s” and the contributing factors to Dan’s rough road in life. (Yes, we understand that a person has the power of choice and are not pointing the finger at anyone.)
Dan was diagnosed at a young age as “hyperkinetic” (that’s ADHD in the modern parlance) and dyslexic. Dan was whisked off to a facility with the mentally and emotionally ill where he was put on Ritalin and I’m sure…stigmatized.
By the time we moved across the state years later, we were all enrolled in the public school. Having been in a private Catholic school, it was quite a shock for all of us. It was a mean culture and a rough transition as we were the “outsiders” in this small town.
It was an especially cruel time for Dan though. The ridicule and the depth of his academic struggles were staggering. After 6th grade, I don’t even think he attended school at all. He began experimenting with drugs about then. Mom suspected he was self medicating his ADHD since he was no longer on Ritalin. And looking back now….it was the beginning of the end.
Sure there were some other factors in Dan’s “issues.” But I look back and see a catastrophic failure of The System as playing a role in his demise. The One-Size-Fits-A-Few educational models that categorized Dan and his differences as deficient played a role. He was weighed in the balance and found wanting. That’s a shit-load of a trip for a 12-year-old.
Despite his labels, Dan was brilliant boy. He would wire anything, work on a car and had an ear for music. He was a whiz at electronics. He was hyper and happy. Boy, was he hyper!
I wonder if Dan’s life would have played out differently if he was told he was a smart boy. And given the opportunity to cultivate his strengths. Less time remediating stuff he would never be good at (though I noticed his handwriting DID improve with age,) and more time learning a trade that would have given him a livelihood.
I am deeply, deeply concerned over the rising rates of ADHD diagnoses and the corresponding amount of kids on medication. I am troubled by the “Dan’s” that are right now annoying their teachers in the classroom and receiving the message that they’re defective.
Charter schools are far from a perfect fix but it can be the needed first bite into the elephant, as it were. What if there was a school that could accommodate the kids with learning differences?
Yes, I see that hand in the back of the class. The local school’s supposed to do that. Uh-huh. Let’s talk about that with the teacher who’s got 26 kids, four of whom need uber extra help, in her class and is under the gun to make sure her class scores on the latest standardized tests are up to par. (God help our poor teachers, heroes they are.)
But charters aren’t just a good idea for kids with special needs or learning differences. There are also charter schools for kids with technical bents and schools that emphasize the arts.
The powers that be in Montana think the key is to increase the compulsory age to 18 to keep kids from dropping out. I think we need to make school more relevant for these kids and the drop-out rates will take care of itself. And I believe charter schools can help with the need for relevance.
It is incumbent upon parents and educators to realize that it’s time…way past time…to address our education crisis. There are too many Dan’s out there. But there are also dancers and dreamers who are disengaged…and the world needs their gifts too.
If you’ve stuck with me this far in this way lengthy epistle, I thank you. And if you agree that it’s time to bring more options to the table for parents and their kids, please come show your support on Wednesday at 3PM for HB 603.
Filed under: ADD/ADHD, education, Free Range Education, homeschooling, Individuality, Public schooling, Special Needs' Kids, The Mother Lode Project | Tagged: charter schools, Charter schools in Montana, Montana HB 603, public edcucation | 3 Comments »