Thursday, September 27, 2007

Heart and Soul and Mind

Today's one of those days in the blogging life of my sisters and me when we are walking on a worn path we are all three familiar with. If you get a chance, go read about and look at the pictures InlandEmpireGirl has posted about her middle school students learning to draw during Native American Week at the Inchelium school, where she teaches, on the Colville reservation. Go here. Also visit Silver Valley Girl as she writes about inspiring her seventh and eighth grade in Kellogg Middle School's GEAR-UP program with some thrilling and stirring Dr. Seuss. Just go here.

While my sisters work to help nourish the talents and bolster the spirit of middle school kids, I am working with adults who need the same.

While Silver Valley Girl instills ideals in her students of dreaming of an ambitious future for themselves and while InlandEmpireGirl helps facilitate her students' bringing the history of their heritage and making it alive in the present, I'm going to be working with those parents and divorcees and recovering addicts among my students who are only now, well beyond middle school, trying to take hold of the Dr. Seuss's rallying cry: "Oh, the places these kids can go!"

Classes at Lane Community College, where I teach, started Monday and already two particular students have my attention.

One came to me today with her letter of accomodation from disability services. She's an adult. Right now she has seven kids at home, three or four who are hers. She has a hyphenated name, but wanted me to know right away that she was cutting that name in half. She suffers from ADHD. She needs to be able to get up and walk around if need be. She's in physical pain and needs a special chair in class. I've worked with student in her predicament a lot. I want to say, "Oh the places this kid can go!" and I know that the gravitational pull of her circumstances outside of the classroom and the afflictions she brings to the classroom will grab at her constantly, that she'll be giving more energy to just trying to climb the mountain of her life, slow step by slow step, than she can give to her studies.

I was pleased to see that this woman's face, while unmistakably marked with the deep creases of suffering, is an open, smiling face. I can tell that she is starting this term of study with determination, that she wants no pity, but she wants understanding. She was, in her forthrightness about her condition and living circumstances combined with her hesitance and vulnerability, asking me, without saying it, to be flexible. The abstract time line of a college term and concrete demands on her time may not mesh. She's going to need understanding and flexibility to successfully navigate the whitecaps of life and the demands of school.

She doesn't have the luxury of youth, of having the youthful energy to mess up and know there's most likely a next time. Her next time is now.

Tuesday night one of my adult students stayed after class to tell me he's deathly afraid of my class. It cost him to tell me that. No grown man wants to tell another man he's scared to death of anything, let alone a college composition class.

This man is in another bind I see too often. He's dyslexic, severely dyslexic. A world of marks on a page that flow in legible sequence for me from left to right, are, for him, jumping all over the place, making reading a painstaking undertaking. What's more, he can't spell. His shame about his spelling leads him to limit his writing vocabulary to the small set of words he knows how to spell and so many of his ideas and ways of understanding the world go unexpressed. He knows the words. He can't make them known to another who reads expecting to recognize those words as spelled in a standard way.

Before I could ask him about taking advantage of disability service's resources, he told me a story I've heard too often. In order to take advantage of those services, he has to have his disability verified by testing. The testing costs five to six hundred dollars. It has to come out of the pocket of the person to be tested. He doesn't have the money.

He's in a suffocating cage of his anatomy, of the way he's wired.

We talked about some possible solutions: books on tape, speech recognition software, and other technological instruments that he'd have provided for him if he were tested and verified as dyslexic.

My sisters and I have talked often about how none of the assessment policy makers and others in the public who legislate what must be used to hold us accountable in our work, takes into consideration the messy particulars of what inhibits learning and academic success that has little to do with the quality of instruction. We aren't producing shoes. We aren't in the business of products at all.

I've seen students faced with the sort of difficulties these two face triumph academically. I've seen many more disappear, not having found a better place to go, but resigning themselves to never having the quality of life they can dream of improving, but can't make those dreams come true.

My sisters and I try to help our students develop their minds. It's great work.

Most of what we do, though, is a matter of heart and soul. Students like the ones I've described want to benefit from all I have to offer to help them develop and exercise their intellect.

But, more than that, they hope to benefit from whatever I can offer them of my heart and soul. Both of them know that they are intelligent enough to do well in school, but their hearts are in pain and their souls are in doubt. They have every reason to doubt that they'll ever reach the place they want so badly to go. Doubt isn't an intellectual problem. It's a malady of the heart and a poisoner of the soul.


MGM said...

Well said! Well well said! I experience this often from a slightly different angle in my own profession.

Hope said...

I passionately believe in education. I’ve kidnapped several young adults and taken them the LCC or CCC to apply for admission and help with financial aid paper work. Many people just don’t think they have what it takes to get started and some just need a little push. The other afternoon one of my kidnap victims, that never started school, but has changed her view of work to be more career minded, stopped by. She was sharing her story with another young mom that did start school because of our trip to the college. The story was out! My only worry is that now they don’t feel special because I do this for many people. Not all go on to college but most do see their future with a more positive outlook. They are all special. They are the children, all grown up, that just needed someone to say “you can do it!”

Christy Woolum said...

Very nice post. It is interesting to look at our parallel paths in our working with students.

Student of Life said...

If I had a "Three Beautiful Things," this post would be on it. I admire you for your work and for your understanding of the human condition. Education is not black and white as some people in our government would like to make it.