Ken Bramble: Connecting the Dots in #bced

Some may wonder why a blog that is generally about Autism would be so closely focused on matters of public education of late, but the reality is that these matters are connected, and there is an unquestionable intersectionality between social justice issues. Prejudice based on gender or sexuality, race, religion, disability, class, or the struggle for worker’s rights, or disabilities activism, or railing against racism, sexism, ableism, poverty… these all intersect when we talk about human rights.

The struggle for social justice is inherently entwined in fighting for public education, the rights of our students, and the worker’s rights of our teachers. When a system is chronically underfunded, those with the least privilege are the most vulnerable. However – there are some deeper trends and patterns here that are insidious, and disturbing, and need to be discussed.

The following is a guest post written by BC educator, Ken Bramble, B.Ed. M.A.  Ken is a N.Z. trained teacher with forty years of public school service. He came to Canada in 1966, and though he retired as an Elementary School Principal in 2001, he has remained a tireless political activist and a dedicated public education advocate. He is has graciously agreed to write this post to explain the trends and patterns he has observed, in order to connect the dots of the political/corporate agendas that have been influencing our system. Ken’s observations are of the school system in British Columbia, and is a supporter of equitable education for all B.C. students, but the implications of what he shares are frighteningly far-reaching and alarmingly applicable across a much wider global framework…

~

Connecting the Dots

By Ken Bramble

Change has always been an important part of public schooling. Changes initiated and implemented by professional educators have been the foundation for improving teaching and learning in education for as long as I have been involved.

This healthy, if sometimes painful reality, ensured my ongoing enthusiasm for the work I was doing with children. I participated in the development and provision of numerous initiatives over the years; without exception these were designed and intended to improve the service we provided to our clients, the children of B.C.

Without fanfare or ceremony, change in our school system has insidiously and quietly shifted from best practice to political interference. I have witnessed this shift as professional educators and their expertise have been systematically removed from positions of influence and leadership, to be replaced with political appointees.

It all started for me with the removal of school catchment boundaries over a decade ago. This insidious move was made in the name of “Choice.” whereby, parents would now have more choice in which school they wished for their children.

Hello Competition: Using a corporate model, the political belief was pushed that competition was good in that it brought out the best in everyone. In the production of widgets, yes… in the education of our children, no. Declining enrollment and empty classrooms prompted school administrators to attract students from outside their traditional catchment areas. When this happened, Competition then began to replace Cooperation.

Magnet Schools: In British Columbia, this shift from cooperation to competition was most effectively done with the creation of “Magnet Schools.” Offering something additional which was over and above the basic curriculum, was intended to ensure special status within the schools of choice model.

Parents began to shop for a school before buying a house.

Fine Arts, Hockey Academies and perhaps the most attractive of all, Traditional Schools were now on the à la carte menu.

Enter stage right: The Fraser Institute and FSA (Foundation Skills Assessment) province wide standardized testing to build and foster the stress of competition. Test results were published for all to see and schools for the very first time were being compared using numbers.

The concept of Magnet Schools expanded to include schools better rated by the Fraser Institute. Like all magnets these schools pulled students from schools in what were considered less desirable socio-economic areas. This was the beginning of a downhill slide in public education, where equity and universality had always been hallmarks of a healthy system. Rapidly, we witnessed the creation of ‘Have’ and ‘Have Not’ schools within the public system. In effect the result was a complex of ‘pseudo Private Schools’ within the public system. Chronic underfunding combined with this competition have subsequently placed huge amounts of pressure on our schools. Fund raising has become an essential service, further exacerbating the differences between schools.

Okay…  now let’s get to what is really going on and what is behind these changes?

We can only speculate of course and pull together the threads from various sources, but in my personal view our schools system is being subjected to a political agenda which is global in influence.

The Teachers’ Strike: Currently in British Columbia, our schools are closed pending a resolution of differences between our teachers and our government.

But… is this just a labour dispute?

I don’t think so.

Our BC Teachers are fighting for the survival of a public school system which is consistently rated in the world’s top ten. For what it’s worth, I have for your consideration a probable cause and I will lay out for you why, in my view, we are at a crucial tipping point.

After connecting the dots and undertaking considerable research I propose the following possible explanation of the actions and motivations of the government:

Get rid of the Teachers’ Union: Our current government wishes to remove any union involvement in schooling. In addition they want to privatize the system by applying an industrial model to its structure and performance. Strangling the system financially and creating chaos and confusion with this strike will provide them with the opportunity to step in and make sweeping legislative changes. They will claim that the system is broken and must be fixed. These changes will be politically motivated and based on a conservative agenda recently seen in the USA and other western countries.

Further Fragment the System: Fragmenting the system with tiers of service will come first. Private or Charter Schools will be touted as the choice for academic students with smaller classes and fewer if any special needs students. Parents will be issued vouchers (links below) to supplement the cost for their child’s education at this level.

Focus on Jobs Training: Second, schools focused on job training. These schools will follow a recently published Blueprint for Re Engineering Our School System (link below) to create jobs for the BC Resource Industry.

Instruction would be provided by three levels of instructor: 1) Teachers, with the option of leaving their union 2) Educators, with minimal training, to do job training and essential math, reading and writing and 3) Support Staff to work with our students requiring special education services. This third group would include Resource Teachers, Counselors, Specialists and EAs (Educational Assistants and Para-professionals).

Charter Schools would be managed and governed by a School Council and a Management Team contracting our clerical, custodial and maintenance services to the lowest bidders. School Boards would become redundant, replaced through the further amalgamation of our current school districts. These new Super Districts would have a Board of Directors and a CEO. Their role would be to distribute limited funding and centralize services while seeking and implementing cost saving measures.

Now let me emphasize that this scenario is speculation on my part: evidence may be hard to find but I believe that there is enough empirical evidence (links below) to support that this is the intended direction of the current government. I feel dishearteningly confident that we should anticipate significant changes in the near future which will have a dramatic and detrimental impact on the school system as we know it. These changes will all be politically motivated and have little to do with improving teaching and learning: in fact the reverse will prove to be true…

Sources, Footnotes, and Additional Information:

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Thank you, Ken,  for connecting the dots and for sharing your thoughts, research and readings, and also your all too frightening predictions. Clearly, this is a call for collective responsibility, and along with other concerned citizens of BC, we must continue to take action to ensure the survival of our public schools…

                        …before it’s too late!

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_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Activist, Advocacy, advocate, Autism, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Educator, Public Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

MLA… MIA – What’s the Diff?!? #bced

The [neo]Liberal elected representatives of our Provincial Government are refusing to meet with constituents to discuss the current crisis in education in British Columbia.

Photo of sign in from of Liberal MLA's Constituency OfficeOne MLA posted this outside his office.

To be fair… he did so after children wielding… um… CHALK… wrote on the parking lot in front of his constituency office.

These same children played hopscotch and tic-tac-toe during the #MLAPlaydate.

So… ya..

It was pretty bad…

 

Here are a few more photos from that same #MLAplaydate…

MykiddeservesCSC

You can probably understand why an adjacent business (Re/Max Realty) called the RCMP… No. Really!

HoptoItMLAPLAYdate

MLAMIA.jpg

It is time for the government to drop E80 and either negotiate a fair deal or agree to binding arbitration.

Please sign and share this petition:
Solve the present crisis in #BCED and let our schools open by agreeing to arbitration. http://www.change.org/p/premier-christy-clark-and-government-of-british-columbia-we-the-people-of-british-columbia-urge-and-expect-that-you-solve-the-present-crisis-and-let-our-schools-open-by-agreeing-to-arbitration?recruiter=5114145&utm_campaign=twitter_link_action_box&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

Also, there is a rally in support of public education and arbitration this coming Sunday at the Vancouver Art Gallery. You can find more info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/901258163235834/

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Christy Clark, Collective Responsibility, Educator, Parent, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Mr. Fassbender: Class Size, Composition, and Shame…

Dear Mr. Fassbender,

Yesterday I was invited to speak at a rally outside of your MLA office. I was quite excited to have to opportunity to speak with you, the Minister of Education, in person and thought long and hard about what I was to say.  However, I understand that you were not present in your office, which is sad really, because there were certainly many of your constituents that seemed eager to have your attention and your ear.  In hopes that you might be able to catch up, I am writing to you here as well. I apologize that it is lengthy but the complexities involved make a witty and pithy post less than adequate. Here is the gist of what I said:

On Tuesday I was supposed to begin my 28th year of teaching.

I am a special education teacher and I hold a Master’s degree in education.

I am also a writer, speaker, poet, doodler, singer, social justice activist, and probably most important… a mother.

And it is from a mother’s perspective that I want to take a closer look at class size and composition.

It seems these words are being spoken with increased frequency and are at the centre of many discussions regarding the labour dispute between BC teachers and the government, but I am not convinced that the importance of class size and composition are fully understood.

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 9.32.30 PM

Screenshot of “Fun Fact of the day” by BC Teacher, Alison Evans ♥

This is highlighted by the Ministry of Education’s implication or suggestion that class size and composition should somehow be considered a part of the teachers’ benefits package, which is absolutely ludicrous.

If the government is serious (and I suspect they are) their lack of understanding is truly horrifying.

However, the fact that they refuse to restore the class size and composition provisions that they illegally stripped from the teachers’ contract, is a disheartening indication that this is likely the case.

Either that… or they truly, TRULY do not care about students like my son, which I find even more disheartening.

As a society, we should be investing our resources in educating all of our kids and paying attention to class size and composition is a critical part of that.

Let me explain why – from a mother’s perspective.

My son, H, began Kindergarten in September 2004 and now, in 2014, he is ready to begin grade 10. He and his peers are a generation of students who have never had the benefit of class size and composition assurances, and I can tell you with certainty, that this has had a negative impact upon their education.

You see, I am a parent of a wonderful 15-year-old son who is Autistic and needs support and accommodations at school: he thinks differently and he learns differently. But though his school put forth their best effort to support him, by the time he was in the intermediate grades, my son was spending a considerable amount of time in the hallway, usually hiding behind his coat.

And let me be clear here, although I am a mother of a son whose needs were not met in the mainstream public education setting, I am not vilifying the school or the teachers or the excellent support staff that worked to support my child. The reality is that the school, as a system, lacked the capacity and resources to give my kid what he needed.

I do, however, blame the government for underfunding the system and for tearing up the contract that guaranteed smaller class sizes with a class composition that made it possible to effectively support a student like my son.

It seems grossly unfair to me that my child was in the hallway because, given the class size and needs of the rest of the students, this seemed to be the most practical way to cope with his learning differences.

He was anxious – so he was permitted a break. The difficulty with this response was that it did nothing to resolve the situation that caused his anxiety in the first place. He was anxious because the schedule for additional support frequently did not coincide with his needs.

I suppose it might be considered some kind of a behaviour problem that my son was so inconsiderate as to need support and accommodation when there was no one available to assist him.

Yes… I’ll admit this is sarcasm, but it holds truth at its core, because the reality is that students like my son, who are not being effectively supported, are too frequently seen as a behaviour problem.

Our children’s development is impeded when they cannot trust that the help they need will be there when they need it, and when their challenges are interpreted as misbehaviour the system is causing harm.

I want my child to be in a public school where there is the time and space and resources and capacity to meet him where he is, not where he is seen as someone who must be dealt with or handled or managed. That is not the language of education. That is not the language of relationship, nor is it the language of respect and acceptance.

Rather – it is the language of compliance: the language we might use when we are overtaxed and stressed, or when teaching a class is like trying to keep ants in a paper bag.

In my experience – an anxious child should be pulled in closer to the teacher and given  encouragement and support to successfully work through the situation. This builds the child’s confidence and gives the message, I believe in you.

Instead – my child was in the hallway – hiding under his coat.

Alone

You see, the experience of being Autistic affects my son… it affects him deeply. But more than this – my response to him affects him. The responses, attitudes, and judgments of other students affect him, as do the responses of teachers, relatives, family friends, neighbours, and the attitudes and judgments of strangers…

…and the responses of government!

I worry about the way that he was at times punished at school for his ‘lack of social understanding’ and was given the message (even if perhaps it was only implied in the reaction of others) that he was bad. I worry about the lingering effects of that message on his development of a sense of self and that he may feel that he lacks worth – or that he is not good enough. I worry about the shame my child might feel, and I find myself observing him closely to try to measure and determine the depth of its effect.

I  also worry about the messages of the media proclaiming that autism is a curse, a burden, an epidemic, or a tragedy – and that my child hears and processes messages like these. I have to work hard to undermine the effects of this and loosen shame’s hold. And sometimes I worry we do not have enough time – enough awareness – enough insight and understanding to mitigate the potential damage.

The thing is, however… the most IMPORTANT thing… is that I do not want him to feel shame! I do not want him to feel that he is less because he processes and responds to the world differently than non Autistic people.

So picture my kid – under his coat – in the hall – not near the teacher – and not in the class – and then imagine the thoughts of those passing by in the hall when they see him there… for the umpteenth time.

Imagine the judgment…

What I am saying is that in addition to supporting the development of students with strategies and resources to navigate their way, our goal must also be to adapt the environment to make it a better match, and remove potential barriers.

Sometimes this means changing our language, increasing response time, meeting sensory needs, supporting alternative forms of expression and communication, ensuring and protecting the space/pace/place to recharge, and a myriad of other things to honour the developmental strengths and stretches of our children.

We can know this in theory – we can give teachers all the training – we can understand the language and believe in the pedagogy – but without the resources and capacity in the school system – the assurances of the class size and composition – all the best practice ideas and the best intentions are simply not enough.

I would love for the Premier or the Minister of Education to explain to me why a child like mine is unable to get the services he needs to support him at his neighbourhood school, because I have to tell you – we certainly kept up our end of the deal!

Explain to me how a child with a disability that makes it challenging to navigate the social aspects of the playground is somehow expected to handle recess and lunch with an adult just watching him from afar at the same time as they are supervising two or three other children needing extra support?

Tell me why a child like mine who has language – but has processing challenges, and needs support with developing social communication, is unable to get speech and language support at his neighbourhood school?

Explain to all of us why some children have such limited support that they are only able to attend school for a couple of hours each day.

Explain why my child spent hour upon hour sitting in the hallway – unable to work at school as he was so stressed?

I’d love to hear your take on the reason why a happy, sweet, and delightful boy on the Autism spectrum wound up feeling so badly about himself that we had to enlist the help of a child play therapist, and finally enroll him in a public distributed learning program to rescue him.

The experiences of my son are representative of shortcomings that are systemic: our system is in poverty and schools are taxed with trying to service the intense and multiple needs of students with a myriad of challenges.

So… the government wants teachers to consider students??

Well… when teachers stand up for class size and composition that is exactly what they are doing!

They are considering my child, and other children with special education needs. They are considering every child who is enrolled in the public education system, and those who are working to support them in their schools!

Our students are the future of British Columbia! The saddest thing is… this is their present!!

Christy Clark says Children and families first!

I don’t believe her.

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Here is a link to video  from the rally – Thanks to Langely Teacher‘s Association:  http://bcteacherinfo.blogspot.ca/2014/09/blog-post.html?spref=tw

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in ableism, acceptance, Autism, autism stigma, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Behaviour | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Appreciation on the First Day of School: #Iwillholdtheline

P1060434So the first day of school in BC this year – a time that is usually exciting and feels full of possibility – is little different from most…

Picketing is not the most promising start to the school year… but I am heartened by the support in our community and across the province.

Thank you to the parents who organized an #MLAplaydate at our Liberal MLA’s constituency office today. I was proud to join you with H and Craig this morning.

Thank you to the CUPE members who are with us in solidarity on the lines.

Thank you to the families of my students, past and current, who continue to be so encouraging and who demonstrate such faith and trust that teachers are advocating for their children.

Thank you to my colleagues for your commitment to the future of public education in our province.  I am proud to stand with you ♥

#Iwillholdtheline

MLAPLAYDATE.jpgAlso… ♥ please check this out: http://www.change.org/p/british-columbians-raise-the-higher-level-corporate-tax-by-1-to-fund-education?recruiter=8283114&utm_campaign=twitter_link&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

And this: https://www.change.org/p/peter-fassbender-end-this-strike-and-get-children-back-into-school?utm_campaign=friend_inviter_chat&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=permissions_dialog_false&share_id=XLBrkauAaH\

And this: https://www.change.org/p/bc-citizens-recall-premier-christy-clark?share_id=RpXHZyyAzF&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Advocacy, Autism, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Educator, Play, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Mr. Fassbender: All You Really Need to Know You Learned in Kindergarten

Note: This post is written in response to the BC Minster of Education, Peter Fassbender’s, CKNW radio interview regarding the labour dispute with the public school teachers of British Columbia (BCTF). Today I took part in a live-tweet response during his interview, and I am quite distressed at what I have heard.

I intend to use all of my skills of diplomacy to be as polite as I can be, but you will very likely notice that under the thin veneer of etiquette, my sarcasm and love of irony remain.

My sense of humour is strong – and it buoys me when times are difficult or I am feeling stressed. A good laugh is restorative – and in the work with which I choose to involve myself, I know too well the ongoing challenges of advocating for social justice and the importance of finding a way to resiliency.

I am patient and kind with people and I am a notorious avoider of conflict – but today Mr. Fassbender – you raised my ire.

There are many things you said with which I disagree – but I am going to speak to two in particular.

The first was your wondering whether students in need of special education services might be being overly diagnosed. You said,  “I have a question, I don’t have the answer but my question is – do we overcategorize children?”

As public education teacher in British Columbia, as a parent of an Autistic teen, and as someone advocating for human rights for those with disabilities, I am concerned that this statement has the potential to negatively impact students and may be interpreted in a way that is dangerously misleading.

Let me explain why.

The enormous challenges faced by our public schools with the government’s systematic underfunding has made it difficult to effectively provide special education services for those students requiring it. Additionally, there are students who are in need of these services who do not meet the Ministry of Education requirements for a special education category – because they are stuck in the backlog of those awaiting assessment. So in fact – the likelihood is that number of students who are diagnosed with a disability or who are in need of special education services is actually greater that the current number of students eligible to receive them.

Why would you imply that students may be being overcategorized or overdiagnosed?

I don’t understand, and I cannot help wondering if you are only capable of thinking about the bottom line and not about the human lives attached to those numbers?

Actually, Mr. Fassbender, don’t bother answering my query – that question was rhetorical, and I will answer it myself with a couple of possible scenarios and a bit of inference on my part.

It may be that you are actually unaware that there are students who wait years for assessment, and that schools are frequently in the position that they are only able to provide a psycho-educational diagnostic assessment for one or maybe two students per year for the entire school population.

It is conceivable that you may also be unaware that the current wait time for a student to be assessed at BCCH or Sunnyhill to find out if they might be on the Autism spectrum is 18 months, and that is after they have actually gotten the referral for this assessment. I have seen this take years for some students… and for some – it – never – happens.

Having navigated this strenuous and exhaustive process with my son, I can tell you that the implication that the students are being overdiagnosed or overly categorized is disrespectful to students, their families, and the schools who are struggling to support them, and further, it is just out right inaccurate.

Perhaps you might also consider how offensive it is to imply that students are being overdiagnosed or overly categorized, when we are dealing with a public school system that has been so chronically impoverished by underfunding and a lack of appropriate services to meet the diverse learning needs of students – of all of our students.

It disturbs me greatly that you apparently have so little understanding of these difficulties, particularly when it is considered in the light of the mandate of the Ministry of Education:

…the Ministry has the following responsibilities:
• setting educational standards based on the outcomes students need to achieve;
• monitoring student performance and reporting the results to the public;
• working with partner groups to improve student and school performance;
• allocating funds for the education system; and
• overseeing the governance of the system as a whole.
~

Okay – fine – let’s assume that I have cleared this up for you, and I’ll move on.

Oh… but first, I must take you aside for a moment to have an earnest discussion about the stigma and lack of understanding faced by so many of our students who actually are diagnosed with a disability of some kind, whether it is a learning disability, or a mental health condition, a diagnosis of Autism or… some other special education category.

The message for these students is far too often that they are an inconvenience and that they are somehow a burden or taxing the system. These kinds of messages may not be deliberate, but they are embedded deeply within a system that lacks support for students with diverse learning and support needs. When there is not enough to go around – it is easy to point a finger to blame this group or that group and their accompanying needs for needing more than is available.

But that is wrong, and that is not how a school system should be run.

Additionally, when a comment like you made might be interpreted in a way that implies that a student like my son, who is Autistic, might actually be part of a group that is overdiagnosed – you are adding a potential layer of judgment that could harm our students. Our neurodivergent students, those who sometimes are referred to as having invisible disabilities, are very frequently misunderstood by others. They are sometimes misjudged as being manipulative or presumed to be misbehaving because they may not process or respond to the world as does a typically developing student. The last thing they need is the Minister of Education sending out the message that their sensory issues, tics, stims, anxiety, depression, language processing issues, trauma-based history, etc… are not real.

These students need our acceptance – not further shame, blame, and a shroud of doubt cast about the legitimacy of their challenges.

Mr. Fassbender, you are the Minister of Education.

You are entrusted with ensuring the children of our province get fine education… and yet you spend your energy combating those who are trying to ensure that this happens.

It is like Henry Ford shooting buckshot at the workers in his factory assembly line – and still expecting they will turn out marvelous cars. It just doesn’t make sense.

So now I come to my second point (and I feel I must thank you for hanging in there, as I know this is lengthy).

Today – on the air – you made a comment that seemed dismissive of teachers not having hired agents to represent the BCTF at the bargaining table, and in particular of Jim Iker (President of the BCTF) related to his having being a Kindergarten teacher (**please see end note). To me your comment seemed to be insulting to teachers, and in particular Kindergarten teachers, who deserve respect as they set the scene for the beginning of the public education journey for our students.

Seriously, have you been to Kindergarten? I will assume you have, and if not, I am quite certain that your children and grandchildren have, and I am going to take you back… way back, because I think there are a few things you have forgotten.

So here it is – and I hope you will take it to heart – because I think you would be doing the families and students of our province a great service if you were to get back in touch with some of these important lessons.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

**A final note: “After receiving an honour’s degree in Political Science and Sociology at McMaster University, Jim enrolled at Dalhousie University in Halifax and completed his Bachelor of Education. He…chose a Grade 2/3 primary class in Topley, BC. Jim is a versatile teacher and taught kids in nearly every elementary grade—including Kindergarten. He also was a teacher/ counsellor, learning assistance, and special education teacher”. TEACHER magazine
 
SOS

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in ableism, acceptance, Autism, Autistic, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Educator, Neurodiversity, Special Education, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library: Interviewing Lei

Hand in hand with speaking out and taking a stand for social justice and human rights, there is an opportunity to explore and celebrate amazing things that are happening within Disabilities and Autism communities.  There are many people creating new projects and participating in posAutive events, and expressing or amplifying the important perspectives of Autistic people and celebrating Autistic pride and culture.

One of those people is Lei Wiley-Mydske. She is the creator, curator, and Director of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library.

leislibrary2.jpgYou read that right! Lei was not satisfied with the focus of the books that were available in her community, and she wanted to make books available that were supportive of neurodiversity and so she just freakin’ started her own library!!

You can probably tell I am pretty enthusiastic about Lei’s project, and I am lucky to live close enough to her that I was able to support her library fundraiser this spring, and hang out IRL now and then, but I am going to let Lei tell us more:

To begin, can you introduce yourself and share what is important to know about you?

I’m 38, I work for AWN (Autism Women’s Network) and I am married to someone who is not Autistic and we have one child who is Autistic like me.

Is there anything else that is important we know about you?

Well, I really like helping people, especially parents to understand a little more about autism. I feel like a lot of the time I might not be taken seriously, but I still keep doing it because I don’t think that things will be better for my son than they were for me if I don’t.

I don’t know anybody else who just MADE a LIBRARY! Do you remember the moment you decided to create the Library, and/or what inspired you or made you want to do so?

Well, it was a lot of things. Learning more about the laws in my state, and having my ability to parent my child questioned on the basis of my disability alone was traumatizing. It also made me want to change things so that my son would never, ever have to go through that.

My son also went through a lot of trauma in our school district because people just didn’t understand his communication. They called it non compliance when he was trying to advocate for himself. It was frustrating because I would tell teachers and administration about all of these resources like “Loud Hands” and “I Love Being My Own Autistic Self” that they had never heard of. I was actually horrified when one of the staff at his school said they had never met an Autistic adult before me. I just think if you want to work with Autistic people, you need to listen to us.

Very few people had even heard of Temple Grandin. I mean, she’s probably the most famous Autistic person around and they hadn’t even heard of her, much less all the activists who I learned about Disability and Autism and ableism from when my son and I were first diagnosed.

I was always letting teachers borrow the books I had anyway. I started to think that it might be a good idea to have a big collection of these types of books for anyone to borrow.

LeisLibrary1.jpgWe have an autism lending library in my state, but it did not have the types of books on Disability Rights and Neurodiversity that I thought were needed. Most of the books they have were written by parents or professionals. They were not written by the actual experts on the Autistic experience. There was nothing about the importance of learning about Disability History. There were books for siblings and peers of Autistic kids, but nothing to help Autistic kids find a sense of pride in their identity.

Is there special significance to the library’s name?

I named it after my dad. I just had a really good relationship with my dad growing up. Leislibrary3.jpgMost adults didn’t like me or thought I was a pain. He always thought I was awesome just as I was. My dad also was physically Disabled and I feel like if he was not Autistic, he definitely had some very strong Autistic traits. My dad died in 2002. It’s very hard for me to talk about still, but we (my sisters and I) grew up with both of our parents doing things like managing a food pantry and monthly free meals in the very economically depressed area where we lived. My parents both knew that things could be better and they felt responsible to be a part of making that happen and I think that was passed on to me. So, that’s why I named the library after my dad.

Would you explain a bit about the logistics of how you run the Library and when/where it is open, etc?

I am set up at my local community center from 11-3 every other Wednesday. I sometimes make appointments if people are unable to come to the library, and they can call or e-mail me and we make alternative arrangements… so that they can still borrow materials.

Can you share some of the feedback/response you are getting from others in your community, and beyond?

Well, since the library is new, I am still working on getting the word out locally. I have had some good response from a lot of parents though. Even some from other Autistic adults who are just wanting to learn more about neurodiversity.

There has also been a lot of great response from outside of my community. People have e-mailed me from as far away as Australia to ask me how to set up their own library. To me, that is so exciting because I think it would be great to see an autism acceptance library in every town!

Neurodiversity is a term or concept that is being used more and more frequently and sometimes seems misconstrued. How would you define Neurodiversity?

I like to use Nick Walker’s definition “Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and human minds.”

What are your next goals for the library and how can others help if they wish to do so? Pssst… Lei, this is an invitation for a shameless plug!

Haha. Well, I want to get more books and films. I’d love to be able to host events and guest speakers for the community.

Anyone who wants to contribute can go to our gofundme site: http://www.gofundme.com/edwileyautismacceptance

You can contact me at edwileyautismacceptance@gmail.com to send a check or money order to The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library

Or you can also go to my Amazon wishlist (and I recommend that you use amazon smile and choose Autism Women’s Network as your charity if you DO want to send materials to us from the wish list): http://amzn.com/w/1VS8J88S5ZQWH

Is there anything else you’d like to add??

Maybe I can also say that I couldn’t do this by myself. Like, my friend Jeff helped me to set up the bank account, get an EIN number, register as a non profit and do all that paperwork. Neil is my driver and delivery guy because I can’t drive. He also has done so much work in helping me when I get stressed out or can’t do something. Fallon helps me write book reviews (though we are on summer hiatus from that haha). My friend Irene helps a lot too. She is always promoting the library. My friends Robby and Gavin helped raise a lot of money by putting on that benefit show. Oh, and both Neil and Anabelle Listic helped me with graphics for the library. I want people to know that because I do need a lot of help to get things done and I couldn’t do it alone.

Interdependence!

Thank you, Lei ♥

In addition to creating and running the Library and working as the Community Outreach Coordinator for AWN, Lei is also a moderator of the Facebook pages for Boycott Autism Speaks and Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance (PACLA), writes a blog at We Always Liked Picasso Anyway, and was the co creator/editor of PACLA’s first magazine in April of this year. Lei is active in the online Autistic and Disabilities communities, and some would call her an social justice and civil rights activist. She is AWESOME!

Leiatthefundraiser.jpg_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in acceptance, Autism, Autistic, Father, Neurodiversity | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

#VectorsofAutism: The Live-tweet Storified

Yesterday Laura and friends live-tweeted Vectors of Autism: A documentary about Laura Nagle which can currently be viewed online here.

It was spectacularly well-received and created such a wonderful feeling of community. We were tweeting and connecting well before the 5:00pm PDT start time and long after the 39 minute film had been screened.

It was fun – and this was a real-life real-time echoing of exactly the thing that Laura talks about in the film when she describes twitter, phone in hand:

“I love Twitter. Right here at my fingertips is access to a virtual world in which people who are very diffuse – because there are not that many of us in any part of society – but here we are, hundreds of us… in the palm of my hand. And we.. we’re having different lives, but along various similar themes. And of course this is also impersonal/personal communication, which is about as good as it gets for one of us…”         ~ Laura Nagle: Vectors of Autism (33:21)

Last night many of us were all fortunate to find community in the palm of Laura’s hand… and there we were… in rapt and glorious celebration of acceptance and Autistic pride.

A huge thank you from Lei and Laura and me to all the other wonderful people who supported this event! And now…  Laura and I, and a few other people are considering a do-over… possibly in mid-September.

We’ll be sure to keep you posted…

In the meantime here is the storified version of yesterday’s live-tweet. Check it out and you will have a sense of how amazing the responses to this film have been.

If you haven’t watched Vectors of Autism…  you should!

And if you have… well then… you should watch it again!!

vectorsscreening Laura watching Vectors of Autism at the Arizona TASH Conference  in 2012     (Photo – Leah Kelley)
 

Vectors of Autism is currently available to view (for free) as part of the We speak, here, On-line Film Festival.

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

 

Posted in acceptance, Advocacy, Arizona TASH, Autism, Laura Nagle, Vectors of Autism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Live-tweeting Vectors of Autism with Laura Nagle: An invitation

Vectors of Autism posterAutistic people and those who love and support them are working hard to take a stand against negative and stigmatizing messages about the experience of being Autistic. It can be exhausting and can feel like an uphill battle counter the caustic vitriol that spews from powerful organizations such as Autism Speaks.

A few weeks back, my friend, Lei Wiley-Mydske, and I live-tweeted as we watched Autism Speaks’ gross docutrauma (frickety frack, I love neologisms) “Sounding the Alarm: Battling the Autism Epidemic” which you can read about here and here.

But fortunately there is a flip side to this negativity.

There are films and voices and resources that are created by or involve Autistic people in an honouring way, and that give insight into the experience of being autistic. These contain important and helpful messages and information about the kinds of supports that are needed and how we might accommodate neurodiversity and disability, without the stigma of fear, burden and tragedy.

The film, Vectors of Autism: a documentary about Laura Nagle, is a wonderful example of this. It captures Laura’s story with sensitive insight, revealing her strengths and her challenges, and gifts us with Laura’s eloquent explanation of her experience of the world.

I am of course very much in love with this film, and I will disclose my bias as I have been involved with this project for a number of years now. I will disclose as well that Laura and I have become close friends and so promoting this film is something to which I happily commit. Time and time again I have heard from people that they fall in love with this film, and I think they fall in love with Laura too. I know I did.

So… here’s the thing…

Vectors of Autism is currently available to view (for free) as part of the We speak, here, On-line Film Festival.

And Lei and I were thinking that it would be really cool to live-tweet Vectors as a way to restore balance to the universe after our last endeavour, and focus on something marvelous.  It is also a fun way to spread the word out about Vectors, because the film with the most views wins a prize in the festival – and frankly the prize money will allow Vectors to be entered into more festivals.

And then our spark of an idea started to grow and my lovely friend and STAR of the film, Laura Nagle, agreed to join our flash-film-fest live-tweet as well.

So this coming Sunday, August 10th at 5:00 pm, PDT, Laura, Lei, and I will be live-tweeting as we view the film and we would like to invite you to join us.

We will all watch at the same time and tweet highlights, quotes, favourite parts, and reactions simultaneously…

If there are only the three of us… that will be fine.

But if many people join us and this becomes a thing, well… the bigger the better as far as we are concerned because it is an opportunity to come together to take part in a positive action to signal boost this film.

We intend to meet up on twitter at about 4:45 on Sunday to countdown to 5:00 and sync up our starting time.

Please follow and join in with the hashtag #VectorsofAutismLivetweetvectors3.jpgHere are a few other reviews of Vectors of Autism (so you can check beyond my obvious bias):

http://unstrangemind.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/laura-nagle-vectors-of-autism

http://emmashopebook.com/2012/07/12/vectors-of-autism-laura-nagle/

http://www.newswise.com/articles/of-vectors-and-spectrums-documentary-touches-humanity-of-autism

Screen shot 2014-08-06 at 11.07.33 PM

 

We are so excited and hope you will join us!!

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in acceptance, Autism, autism stigma, Autistic, Documentary, Laura Nagle, Snarfly, Vectors of Autism | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sounding the Alarm… there is no acceptance here…

Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 1.37.36 AMOn Tuesday, July 15, I was still editing the comment below for the Autism Speaks docutrauma, Sounding the Alarm: Battling the Autism Epidemic, which is currently on Netflix. My intention was to leave it in the reviews section on Netflix with a one star review… and, to be honest, I was considering doing so without actually watching the film. Messages of fear and negative stigma about my child and other family members and my friends are not high on my list of the media I am eager to consume.

“As a mother of an Autistic teen and a Special Education Teacher, I find this film offensive.

I daily see the impact of the negative stigma spread by Autism Speaks. AS tells my child, my students and their families that Autistic people are a burden, an epidemic, and a tragedy.

I encourage those who view this film to look deeper… because the stigmatizing rhetoric in this film is a part of a constant stream of dehumanization and fear mongering from Autism Speaks and it needs to be ended.

I hope that after watching this, people will be curious to learn more about the experience of being autistic from Autistic people or an organization that includes Autistic people, rather than one that systematically silences them. Situated within disabilities communities, there are a multitude of sources of information that support Autistic people and their families with acceptance, and a strength-based perspective, such as the Autism Women’s Network, ASAN, and Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance (PACLA)

As an educator and a parent, I implore people to look beyond the limiting stance of Autism Speaks, and I invite them to become a part of the movement working to effectively support Autistic people as a valued part of diversity that is the human experience.”

I had read the other reviews that were being posted on the film and there were about 40, and in my estimate – 35 of them were negative. The reviews that were panning the film listed numbers like 22/22 people found this helpful, or 14/14 found this helpful, and conversely, the reviews that held the film in a favourable light had but 1 or 2 helpful votes.

I was considering a blog post… to get the word out that there were alternatives to this film and to encourage others to do express their concerns.

On Wednesday, July 16, almost all of the negative reviews had been disappeared

Frankly – I was shocked! Autistic people are used to being silenced and excluded from the conversation by Autism Speaks, but this was not something I expected from Netflix.  Go ahead… call me naive.

On Thursday, July 17, my friend, Lei Wiley-Mydske, announced that she was planning to watch the film and live-tweet it… and so I offered to join her.

I also explained to H what I was doing and why, and I invited him to join me. His response was, “Not a freakin’ chance! I’m not watching that crap!”

I am so glad he didn’t. It was far, far worse than I expected… and I hope everyone makes the same choice that H did.

I was grateful to watch the film with Lei, but it was difficult and I cannot recommend not watching Sounding the Alarm strongly enough…

A  few weeks have passed, and I feel I am finding my way to write about this. But I must admit afterwards I was shaken, angry, sad, frustrated… reeling! It reminded me how far we have to go to change the widespread stigma promoted by Autism Speaks. They are the big guys here, and they silence Autistic activists and those who care about them by saying they are fringe radicals, or they dismiss Autistic people by throwing around functioning labels as it meets their needs.

I really don’t have the capacity to say much more about this crappy experience, but fortunately I don’t need to because Lei has written an eloquent review of Sounding the Alarm for the Autism Women’s Network which you can find here. ♥ Thank you, Lei!

You can view the Storified version of our live-tweets here.

I will end with Lei’s Netflix review of the film, which is one of the comments that has been deleted:

Horrifying, and not because of Autism, but because of the disrespectful and dehumanizing way that this documentary treats it’s subjects. Autism is NOT a tragedy. Disability is NOT a tragedy. This is really disgusting fear mongering and if you care at all about the dignity and value of your Autistic loved ones, you will not watch this film.  Lei Wiley-Mydske

And if anyone else has a comment that was deleted from the Netflix I invite you to leave it in the comments below…

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in ableism, acceptance, Activist, ASAN, Autism, autism stigma, Autistic, Boycott Autism Speaks | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

On Literature for Children and Co-creating Meaning

AKA: For Sophie with Love…

I read Kate DiCamillo’s Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to H a couple of years ago. We both loved it! It is a raw but touching tale about being yourself and love and acceptance – and it has parts that made both of us cry. We need to be giving children literature like this: powerful books with so many layers, and so rich in meaning and depth.

Despereaux Sketch.jpgI also read Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux  to both H and my primary class. Hard not to cry for that one too. Thus, my son and students got to see an adult in their lives cry. I think that is a gift to them – an authentic response to good literature… and a glimpse into our inner workings. When we share our appraisal, we gift them with our sensitivity. There is power in the message: “This really touches my heart… It is safe and okay to feel things deeply and be so moved.”

When H was noticeably struggling with loss and grief, and I was reading books with him to support and assist him with his processing of this, he would look to me,  as we were reading and measure his response against mine. He would study my face… and then ask, “This is a sad part, isn’t it Mom? Are you feeling sad too?”

When I had a grade 2 or 3 class, prior to becoming a special ed teacher, I always read aloud to my students. I believe with conviction that reading aloud to children gives them access to the literature they cannot yet access themselves. This scaffolding stretches the edges of the world for our children – and we are right there with them to answer questions or reflect – or support them in understanding relationships or connections in the bigger world.

When we read aloud to children (and even young adults), we build the stage for a shared experience of new worlds and ideas and the opportunity to safely explore perspectives and co-create meaning.

I loved to read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. This is a crusty old story written in 1910, which is rich with prejudice, classism, ableism, and imperialism. However,  paired with these values that we’d love to see remain lost in the last century, are huge opportunities to discuss and explore these very relevant topics with young people. There are issues and examples of trust, betrayal, loss, questionable integrity, and resiliency. Encountering these concepts within a work of fiction provides a safe forum to examine complex relationships, and responses to trauma, and what we value at our core. This is also a wonderful book for teaching about inside voice and self-talk, as there are examples of the characters’ inner dialogue and cognition throughout the entire tale. We are able to observe the outside action of the characters and their interactions with each other – but additionally – we are able to see the inner workings of the characters as they are revealed with their shared thoughts.

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop (Margaree King Mitchell) My lovely daughter, Nika, now 21, used to occasionally check this book out of her school’s library when she was in Kindergarten and Grade 1.  It always came as a relief – a tiny island of fiction in the endless sea of non-fiction dinosaur books she would tote home. This story always made me cry… and she used to tease me about that tirelessly. It is a story about goals and generosity and love and sacrifice… and I haven’t read it for years and years (and perhaps my response would be different now) but the memory of this resonates with me still.

I also read picture books aloud. I love the layering of message and multiple meanings that is added with the visual text of illustration. And – yes, of course many of my students could access these independently, but modeling the phrasing and the tone, and the energy I can bring to reading is another kind of scaffolding that brings a book alive and lights a fire for the love of literature.

I love to read aloud using voices, and have always been good at voicing characters and even at adding accents. This brings the story alive, and pulls the listener into the tale.

And… I can reread a sentence that is beautifully constructed… teach how my voice rises with a question, teach the power of the explanation mark – or quotations – and expand vocabulary with rich new language – clearly placed in a well-defined context – rather than in isolation. I can let the words roll off my tongue and be massaged with appreciation for their sound and feel, and then adjust the volume – or the speed – ever so slightly – to draw the children in… and have them begging for more.

Young people need us to help them fall in love with words and story and literature. And good stories… the best of them… give us little glimpses of ourselves… and our possibilities… and the best in all of us.

Here are a few more of my favourites:

Robert Munsch: I’ll Love you Forever

Robert Munsch: The Paperbag Princess

Robert Munsch: A Promise is a Promise

John Bianchi: Swine Snafu

David Small: Eulalie and the Hopping Head

Yorinks:  Louis the Fish   (There is a Reading Rainbow video of this story here)

Mordecai Richler: Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang

Annette LeBox: Miss. Rafferty’s Rainbow Socks

Roald Dahl: James and the Giant Peach

Kevin Henkes: Chrysanthemum

Kevin Henkes: Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse

Simon Puttock: Big Bad Wolf is Good

EB White: Charlotte’s Web

Kate DiCamillo: Because of Winn Dixie

Ahhhh… powerful stories… subversive stories… inside stories… stories about identity and being your true self, stories that resonate and make you fall in love with words and worlds.

I invite you to add your favourites here as well ♥

____________________________________________________________

30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

©Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)   

Posted in Autism, Children's Literature, connections, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments