Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sorrow of the Classroom

Recently I "tested" a man to determine his reading, writing, math and cognitive abilities. I don't do this often anymore but when I do I am always deeply touched. Never more so than the recent testing of "Almondo". This 30-something year old man from an inner city in a very large state, from the slums, poverty and crime, can't read. Or write. Yet he is of at least average intelligence. He was identified in 3rd grade as having learning disabilities but his head-of-household-mom couldn't "afford to pay" for him to attend a school that could provide him services. Well, that is what he and his mom understood anyway. Of course this was not legal even 20 plus years ago but for a mom that doesn't speak English and a dirt poor 8-year old that is the way it was. This man was "moved on" (his words) from grade to grade without ever learning to read. Special education IEPs followed him but to no avail. He dropped out at age 14, got himself a fake ID that said he was 18, and went to work packing hamburger for the next 6 years. Finally got himself a "good job" running a lift truck in a state up north of his birth city and state. Part of the job was pulling garbage and cleaning up after everyone else. He severely tore his bicep, along with a shoulder injury and various other major bodily injuries. He was afraid to tell anyone because he thought he would lose his job for getting hurt. Now he can't use his left and dominate arm and... he still can't read or write. He has waited two years for the local community center to find a volunteer to teach him to read. He had a tutor for a week but she quit just when he was learning his vowels. He cried (with embarrassment and apologies) when he told me his daughter also has learning disabilities and can hardly read and he can't help her...because he can't read anything. He didn't know how to get the schools to help her. I wanted to cry myself. Teachers do tremendous work and I teach men and women in graduate programs that have done everything but taken a vow to not leave any students behind. What happened with Almondo? Who didn't notice? Why do over half of our children with learning disabilities drop out of high school? How can we stop this cycle? Almondo can't read. Almondo has lived on the teetering edge of poverty for years and now with an injury that prevents him from doing physical labor he has fallen deep into the pit. His children had so many difficulties in school. His son dropped out. His daughter barely finished but only because she didn't "cause trouble" but she still can't read well enough to get a job that provides a quality of life that we all want for our children. Almondo tried to hide his did I.