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Boundaries, Drawn with a Dull Pencil

IMG_8723Recently, I returned to The Inclusive Class Podcast as part of a panel discussion. The participants are usually professionals in the special education field, but they are almost always parents as well. My perspective is probably a little different, since it is almost entirely that of a parent and is therefore mostly experiential and anecdotal. Perhaps I’m also the resident cautionary tale. Well, someone has to be. You’re welcome.

The topic was how to facilitate inclusion for older students, which is the thing we’re living in real time these days. The point I tried to make in my part of the discussion involved the challenge of allowing Schuyler to make her own mistakes as part of her journey towards independent adult living. There’s value in failure, and while we’ve known that for a long time, perhaps all along, it’s something that is becoming more central to her experience.

Failure is how Schuyler learns. She is a remarkably stubborn kid; she fixates on problems, particularly those she perceives as injustices, and doesn’t let go of them easily. (According to Julie, this is a case of the apple not falling far from the tree.) It can be frustrating as a parent, and hard to step back when she clearly does need help, but steadfastly does not want it. Schuyler wants to make her way in the world, even as she struggles to understand it now perhaps more than ever before. That world has become so much bigger, and her part in navigating it so much more complex.

Schuyler is learning to push, which is a skill she will need later, and she’s learning when to do so. She needs to learn to pick her battles, and failure is a part of that. I guess sometimes you pet all the dogs in order to find out which ones bite.

Recently she became argumentative with a teacher over a very minor point. The teacher told her to sharpen her pencil, and Schuyler insisted that it didn’t need sharpening and chose not to comply. Schuyler called me from the next teacher’s classroom, very upset because her stubbornness had earned her an afternoon of detention.

“I’ve never had detention,” she said angrily, although when repeated on her iPad in its crisp English accent, her indignation lost a lot of its fire. (AAC developers take note: How about a button at the top of the screen that can change the intonation of the spoken words depending on the user’s mood? Maybe even just a little red bar to touch when you want your words to reflect that you’re pissed off. I’m actually serious.)

“Well,’ I said, “you do now. There’s an old saying. ‘Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.’ That means you’ve got to be ready to take responsibility for the things you do. Sometimes taking a stand means taking the punishment”

She grumbled for days, about how her pencil didn’t need to be sharpened and how, again, she’d never had detention before. She was concerned about this black mark on her reputation, although she felt much better after I confessed to her that I’d had detention a few times when I was her age, and for committing worse crimes than not sharpening my pencil. (Again, cautionary tale. It’s a dirty job, but an honorable one.)

In the end, Schuyler served her time (half an hour after school, shorter than the bus ride home that she missed), and she found one of the dogs that bite. And so it goes.

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