Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tis The Season . . .

School admission time rolls around faster every year. For some reason, I am besieged each March/April with requests for help from parents desperate to get their children into School X, Y or Z. I am not influential and nobody owes me any favors, so I'm not sure why people keep coming to me. The word, I guess, is desperate. But I put my heart into it because the people who come to me are, typically, poor and even less influential than I am. I write a good letter and sometimes my appeals actually work - I suppose because they are different from the ordinary ones:

"Sachin's parents are not rich or important and it's unlikely that they will ever be able to make a big donation to your school. But they are good people with fine values. They will insist that Sachin play by the rules and they will do all they possibly can to reinforce what you teach him everyday in the classroom. He will grow up to be a model citizen who will work hard and pay his taxes. He deserves the best education he can get because he's going to support his parents and make this country a better place to live in for all of us."

Sachin got in. The principal at the school his parents had set their hearts on had a vulnerable moment and my letter touched him. He gave Sachin a chance and Sachin hasn't let him down. He really is a model citizen in the making, a boy his school will be proud of one day.

But there are so many other children I have written letters for who haven't been admitted, children who are no less worthy, no less precious. What about them?

I'm feeling it particularly this year because several of the kids I've been asked to champion are kids with special needs, kids for whom the decks are already stacked against them and who need a break more urgently than most.

Kirti, for example.

Kirti is one of our EIC stars. She is one of quadruplets and her parents are marvels of the universe. We are all simply in awe of them. Three of their four quads were born normal. They beat the odds. Kirti didn't. She was born with Cerebral Palsy and a host of difficulties.

But Early Intervention helped her through the toddler years and slowly but surely she advanced to the point where her parents believed she was ready to go into a mainstream school. The Kendriya Vidyalaya they selected had to accept her because of the Right to Education Act, but that didn't mean they would welcome her. In fact, the Headmistress at the school told them clearly that they were making a mistake, that she didn't belong with "normal" children and that it wasn't going to work at all.

Kirti is only one child. One of many. There is Siddharth in Bangalore, a child with low vision and high intelligence whose parents are beginning to despair because they can't find a school willing to celebrate the special boy he is. There is Amrit here in Dehradun whose only problem is that he needs a little help to get around. So many children - brave, valiant, eager children who want to learn and are willing to work hard and put their hearts into their studies - are still being rejected because of who they are, because of how they learn, and I, for one, am tired of it.

I am tired of a system that recognizes only one kind of student, of teachers who are prepared for only one kind of child, and of tests that cater to only one kind of knowledge. The world is VAST. The ways we learn are INFINITE. Why do we want to limit ourselves? Why do we even think of rejecting the Kirtis, the Siddharths and the Amrits?


Jyotsna Brar said...

Dear Jo, is schooling itself a necessary evil? As Dayita says- its the cheapest way that society can get a few adults to look after a lot of kids. The problem is in the numbers, Jo. Every child is different. Every child needs lots of time - every child sees differently and hears different things. Those with very sharp eyes and ears and brains, those with clever hands and feet, those with voices and words - and those without all this - we just need a LOT more adults working with the kids of this world.
But, I know what you mean in the blog you have posted up. It almost makes one despair to see how things are. But there are people who are trying. God Bless you and all those who work with you. I just wish I could be more closely involved. Jyotsna

Jyotsna said...

Hi Jo,
This struck a chord with me as i have been there at that very sameplace of which you write about..about struggling with getting school admissions for anandita who has CP..
i blogged about it as well...

somewhere a parent needs to understand their child better,their capabilities,their limitations and their strengths.
Somewhere as a parent one just wants everything 'normal' be it it having friends to play with..
somwehere as a parent i have accpted my child to be different and people do notice the differences first.

a thought provoking post Jo

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Jyotsna, I know, I know. But as a mother of a child with special needs, I think society gives everyone a free pass when it comes to our kids. If I, as a Mom, were to say I just can't manage, I've got my other two to consider, I'm not trained, I don't know what to do - who would agree? Who would think I had the right to say such things?

Yet that's exactly what we do for schools when teachers and principals make excuses for why they can't admit kids with disability. Parents can't get away with it and nobody allows them to: they're your kids, society says.

Why does everyone else get to make distinctions? When a family has a child with a disability, they make adjustments. They learn about the kid's problem and how to cope with it. They aren't trained either, but they do whatever is needed because that's their job.

I think the same is true for schools. They are there to teach children - whichever ones walk in the door with whatever special needs. They shouldn't be allowed to pick and choose anymore than parents can.

I KNOW we need more teachers. But in the government system, at least, there are so many employed who don't even turn up to work. Maybe we could turn our attention there! Let's make the system accountable; let's make it work!

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Wow, my two Jyotsnas!

Jyotsna 2, thanks for sharing your link. Such a poignant, insightful post. Yet sometimes I feel we should stop being philosophical when our kids are rejected and start getting angry. Why do we put up with it??? Supposing the school said they wouldn't accept her because she was a girl? Or because she was a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian? Why do we accept it when it's because of her disability?

Jyotsna said...

Hi Jo :)
I had the courage to learn all about my childs disability and learn from it but no school is going to make the effort for every child :)
Homeschooling worked so brilliantly for anandita except on the 'friend' front..
i always feel there are many options to simple 'conventional' schooling.Rather than lament a system,one simply has to understand perhaps how it works.
I just dont seem to get angry about her not being accepted.The anger seems to have long gone..I have seen lack of acceptance in playgrounds,in schools...getting angry about it,trying to change the way people think is not going to help me or anandita in anyway..maybe am just complacent :)
keep writing Jo.your posts make me think..