Personal Uncategorized Why 2.0

Fix the hole, not the peg

A few years ago I was very lucky to have David in my class.  David has Autism.  I have had students that have had autism before.  What made David different was that during the year he was in my class I opened my eyes to a different way of teaching kids, especially special education students.  I realized that every PPT I sat in on was all about how to get kids to conform and succeed in a traditional classroom.  It was the kid that had to change.  It was the kid that would need a IEP, drugs, or checklists.  It was all about taking a square peg and figuring out how to shove them into a round hole.  The meetings focused on fixing the peg, not changing the shape of the hole.  It was very rare to actually get any input from the kid.  We never knew what was going on in the mind of the student.  We seem to enter these meetings with an angle of what does the teacher want the kid to do and how do we make the kid do it.  We sometimes just treat the kid like a lump of clay, and everyone at the table pokes and prods it with suggestions to shape them into what a student should be…in their opinion at least.  Too often we look at the kids weaknesses and try to fix them.  We don’t look at their strengths and try to build on them.  We take a kid who is already frustrated with school, take the things they have the most trouble with, and find ways to convince the kid that sitting in a chair for 55 minutes at a time, taking notes, studying for a test, and doing homework everynight will be the key to their life long success.  We spend a lot of time and money trying to make kids conform to our sytem.  Crazy…

I would like to leave you with a letter written by David for one of his college classes that his mother has shared with me and I have received her permission to share with you.  David was much more than just a lump of clay.  I know that now.  And thanks to him, I will stop trying to mold my students, but instead create an environment in which they can shine. David will shine, as long as he is not forced to become a round peg just to fit into our society’s black hole.

I am David, an individual who possesses autism. My disability makes it difficult to for me to understand the nuances of social conduct. Instead of instinctively knowing these facts, I have to learn them from scratch. For instance, I don’t know when to interject my thoughts into a conversation or when everyone’s interest of my opinions starts to waver. While I have gotten better in many areas, I still have trouble knowing when to speak and how to interpret people’s expressions. I’m still not very good at making eye contact as it’s like getting stage fright, and I am sometimes not aware of my tone. I am also not very social. While I do enjoy talking to people with similar interests, I dislike crowds and extreme extroverts. Being in a packed stadium of exuberant people would be a nightmare for my sense of space and hearing. The situation would overwhelm my senses and make me very unhappy. I prefer a more quiet, controlled environment. I also enjoy my solitude, where I can think in peace and pursue whatever interests me. As a fan of, among other things, Japanese monster movies and anime, I find it difficult to find those who share these interests and so I turn to the Internet. I enjoy reading discussions about them and will, on occasion, join in to add my thoughts to the equation. I also read fanfiction, fan written stories based on copyrighted properties and I often get ideas for tales based around my favorite shows. However, as with with my original story ideas, I procrastinate a lot and have trouble finishing even a story’s plot outline. I hope to overcome this and be able to publish stories about action, adventure, and interesting characters. Many of my tales can get very dark and push a protagonist’s psyche past the breaking point. For instance, I have a story in mind where a very sheltered superhero fan manages to become one and his sanity gradually unwinds when he sees how low people will go. However, that same character will learn to cope with that and still find that people have the capacity to do great and wonderful things. In my own fiction, I’m too idealistic to concede to downer endings.

9 comments

  1. Aldon Hynes pointed me to this post and I have to say, if there were more individuals like you running the system, I might feel more optimistic about the odds of my son completing school without having to be homeschooled. As the mother of a child with Asperger’s as well as a former teacher, it greatly disturbs me the way all children are expected to conform to unrealistic expectations and forced to learn in ways that have been shown time and again to be outdated and not the most effective. It’s nice to come across a progressive thinker and thanks for sharing David’s letter. It was quite inspiring.

    ~Andrea
    My Autism Insights

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Andrea. This is a great post Phil, one well worth coming back to. I think though that the square peg in the round hole definitely applies to most children, not just those with autism. It is well worth remembering as teachers that the best teaching comes from teaching to children’s strengths.
    Thanks for posting.

  3. Thanks Bill and Andrea. While it was not clear in the post, I was referring to all special ed students. Not just those with Autism. I suppose I can go farther and say that it applies to all students, not just special ed.

  4. Dear Paul,

    The title and content of your post hit home for me. You are a thoughtful, caring, insightful individual, and I feel blessed my son David had you for a teacher and that you allowed him to enlighten you. I have found teachers who are caring and flexible mean all the difference to my sons, all three of whom are on the autism spectrum. Don’t each of us need to be treated with dignity and understanding? I applaud your efforts to learn about and care for all your students in the face of a demanding curriculum and unrelenting bureaucratic requirements. Bravo!

    I agree with Andrea’s and Bill’s comments. I hope to connect with Andrea as we share a common bond.

    Thank you so much, Paul, for taking the time to know, accept, and celebrate my son David and for sharing his essay with your fellow teachers…

  5. Your blog is very down to earth just as you are. You also allow the above average student to think outside the box and not have to worry about fitting in the same black hole. I am a satisfied parent whose child had you as a teacher.

  6. LauraJean and I have been corresponding about her son David Vaughn, who will be a student in my General Psychology class at QU this semester. It was great to reconnect with Paul Bogush by learning of this blog! I came to admire him greatly as a man and an educator in my time at Moran. I am looking forward to teaching David in the Fall, and welcome the challenges that presents.
    Charles Kaplan

  7. Paul,
    It is wonderful to read the blog of a classroom MS teacher who appreciates the differences that their students bring into the classroom. As you say, we often try to mold our students into what we believe they should be. It’s all part of the “blame the student” attitude that is too pervasive. Since I work with struggling learners who are often on IEPs, I try to help educators understand that it is often the curriculum that is disabled and not necessarily the students.
    Do you use Universal Design for Learning principles with your students?
    (www.cast.org) When we use multiple methods of representation, engagement and expression, we no longer have to push that square peg in to the round hole. (And in middle school, aren’t they all square pegs just trying to fit in and not be different from their peers?)

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