Thursday, December 11, 2014

School Meetings: A Source of Major Mental Illness In The USA?

I just came from a meeting at a public school.  Intended to develop and refine an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for a struggling student, it included a massive team of school and other staff.  The student and the mom were there; the kid was in good form and showed up prepared with a list of issues to discuss.  Several of his friends were lurking in the lobby, evidently for moral support.  The special-ed teacher was there, as was the general-ed teacher.  The school social worker was there.  There were not one, but THREE therapists present.  There was a Wraparound worker, whose job it is to get varying service systems, like the public schools and the therapists sent by Juvenile Court, to work together smoothly, like the gears in a well-oiled machine.  There was some woman typing everything we said into a computer; she appeared to be another social worker or guidance counselor of some sort.  I think the office where we met was hers.  And then there was me, paper squared up in front of my chair, pen in hand, poised to take note of any sign of discord, either creative or destructive.

The one-hour meeting took an hour and a half.  Most of the IEP team showed up late, except the ones who didn't really need to be there, like me.  This in itself is extremely disturbing when noted in a public-school setting.  Remember Ivan Pavlov and his drooling dogs?  School staff are trained similarly to the dogs, to obey the sound of a ringing bell; they are trained to move as one when they hear it, to the appointed place, by the appointed time.  From there, they complete their appointed tasks in the appointed order.  Then the bell rings again, and the herd stampedes to the next appointed place...It wasn't happening today, I guess.

While I was waiting for everyone to show up, the desk lady volunteered that the student was on the way from gym class and the mom was down the hall, at what she called the Occult Shop.  "That can't be what I heard you say," I said.  "Where is she again?"  "The Occult Shop," she repeated.  What high school has an Occult Shop?  Especially here, in a part of the country you might fittingly describe as Pentecost Alley?  I probed no further.   I gotta start saving up for that hearing aid...

As I say, the student was ready for action.  There was a single major request made by this student, discussed in advance with the social worker and the parents.  What response did the student get?  Well, that's not fair to you because it's halfway through the year, and you wouldn't be able to catch up with the kids in the new class.

The student said, But this is strictly a review year for me anyway.  I finished the work they're doing now last year, at the other school I just came from. 

The typist said, Well, that's not fair to your special-ed teacher, who would have to walk you across the street to the other building.  This is onerous and cruel and would make him LATE FOR THE BELL.  You also might be LATE FOR THE BELL.  We don't want that, do we?  The social worker, who had discussed this issue with the student earlier in the week and who, you would think, would have already discussed this as well, was nodding sagely.  Never mind that even at this very meeting, all the school staff were LATE FOR THE BELL.

Nobody suggested at any point that a 15-year-old student pretty well doing well in every class might make it across the street alone.

The social worker brought up another point.  The math class you want to leave is during third hour.  The other building doesn't HAVE the math class you want at third hour.  The typist nodded sagely.

The student stared at the floor as the adults decided that the kindest thing to do for this poor child was to keep the math class -- the one with the F on the grade report in front of us -- just the way it was, F and all, I guess.  It's fairer for the student.  It's fairer for the teacher.  It helps everyone OBEY THE BELLS, was the adult consensus.  (And isn't that the important thing?)

The student had already laid out the exact reasons why the current math class was a bust and what was needed to make a passing grade possible -- things available, we learned, in the class across the road.  Only after the decision was made, and the kid was crushed, did mom ask whether it might be possible to have some of those things added to the current math class.  The school staff treated this as a thrilling innovation -- even though the typist said every kid in the school is supposed to have those things ready to hand, like a math book to refer to and a calculator.  They did not, however, commit to getting these things for the student.  The typist, who recorded everything everyone else said, did not type this into the plan.

The therapist for the parents -- Flod only knows what she was doing there in the first place -- overstepped her bounds and tried to do some impromptu therapy on the student.  The student's therapist, guidance counselor and school counselor were already there and did not contribute a single syllable.  By this time the kid had gone from calm and purposeful to agitated, starting to pace the room and talk about getting out of there.  I was twitching quite a bit myself at that point, but occupied myself writing down all the examples of discord. 

So even though there are 2 Fs on that grade report and the kid wants to do better, the school staff is happy keeping everything JUST AS IT IS.  Because then they can OBEY THE BELLS.  They can proceed WITHOUT VIOLATING THE EXISTING PLAN.  And that, dear reader, is how the desire to maintain Order can create Chaos, specifically the Chaos churning in this kid's guts...


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