On the Blindschools list, a list for people who attended schools for the blind, there’s a discussion going on about the positives and negatives of our education there. I’ve been thinking about some issues related to this lately. My parents and I have radically different opinions on some issues related to it, but when I don’t agree with them, they either ask in an ironic voice: “Do you want to go back, then?” to which the only intelligent response would be an agreement with whatever they say, or Mum tells me that people have indoctrinated me. Sure!
I started my education at a normal preschool when I was three. As far as I know, I did pretty well there. At least, not bad to the extent that my parents had to quit it. I continued preschool till I was four and then started Kindergarten (that takes two years here) at a normal elementary school. I first had a teacher called Bert, but I cannot remember much from my time with that teacher. Then, when the 1990/1991 school year started, I was transferred to Marianne’s Kindergarten class. That was mostly a nice class and I kept up reasonably well with some adaptations. There were, of course, some “horror assignments”, like a horrible colouring assignment and a spring drawing where you had to pierce the figures, which I found very frustrating.
I don’t know exactly when it was determined that I had to go to a school for the visually impaired. It must’ve been somewhere in late 1991 or early 1992. I don’t know if the educational evalation I had in early 1992 had to do with it. Neither do I know why I had to go to the school for the visually impaired at such a weird time – May 11, 1992. Why couldn’t I wait till the end of the school year? The only explanation my parents gave for my having to go to the special school, is that I had to learn Braille, which I didn’t till 1993.
Anyways, I went to the school for the partially sighted in Rotterdam (where I lived at the time). They have no Kindergarten there, so I started in a first grade-like class, which I officially started in the 1992/1993 school year. I started learning Braille in 1993, but that probably wouldn’t have happened if not a totally blind boy was about to enter the school in the 1993/1994 school year. Academics were taught at a low level and there was little attention for blindness skills.
In 1996, we were going to move to Apeldoorn and, as I had to stay on a school for the blind (I think the remedial educationalist advised us), I went to Bartiméus in Zeist. My parents disagree with anything and everything this school’s officials told them. In 1996, for example, a school social worker came to my house to talk to my parents about my behaviour problems. My first impression was that my parents had invited the social worker, but later they told me the man had invited himself. My parents also translated a 1997 report that spoke of my social, emotional and behaviour problems and my poor daily living skills as not saying that I was intelligent. Duh! They’d done a psychological evaluation and (indeed, without my parents’ consent) asked the lunch group staff about me. They also say that, had I been at a normal school, I’d have performed much better academically. I doubt it, for at a normal school, also the majority of children are going to go to low level high schools. I don’t say everything was great at that school – on the contrary. Many teachers (though not all) indeed denied my intelligence, but how can one see the difference between simple laziness underachievement and not being intelligent, if one has so little experience with academically able students? I didn’t show much effort, partly cause I was lazy and partly cause I was bored, but there were still things I was indeed poor at, like reading (cause I didn’t like it and hence didn’t practice often). Further, the folks’ comments on my behaviour and poor daily living skills were very correct. But I’ve always seen an overemphasis on academics in my parents, probably cause my schools underemphasized it. I hate it when my parents trivialize my problems.
Throughout my school career, my parents have however used the worried reports or statements about me as a means of getting me to get rid of a particular problem. They would/will then tell me that because I do this or that or because I am in such and such a situation, an [insert support worker or special ed folk here] might have to get involved, in a tone of voice as if to say: “And no herlsef respecting person would want a [relief worker or special ed folk again] to get involved.” In other instances, they’d warn me that due to such and such a circumstance I might not be able to go to normal school, have to be a boarder student or whatever. One particular example was in the summer of 1997: we’d just received the 1997 report, and Mum took me for a walk. She told me that actually Dad didn’t permit her to tell me, but I might need to board at the school for the blind. She then told me that it had something to do with my behaviour problems and theorized that they were because I had too many toys, and that one was only allowed to take some toys to the dorm. She wanted me to throw all my cuddly toys except for my favourite one, the whale Wally, all my dolls except for Roza, all the barbie dolls and all my Play Mobile away or give it to Sigrid. She said kids my age (eleven) were all interested in music or reading and that I should develop a taste for that so I could talk about that with them. I recognize the idea that for an 11-year-old toys and dolls are somewhat childish (although when we’d moved to Apeldoorn, the 13-year-old child who previously lived in the house had a whole lot of Play Mobile), but certainly not all my classmates only talked about music and books, and I have no idea what my having too many toys had to do with my behaviour problems. (Mum later pursued her theory by each time I threw a tantrum getting my dustbin, putting it full of the first toys she could get her hands on, and taking it to her room, leaving me the impression that she’d thrown it away.) I by the way threw all these toys away in 2001, just cause I had too little room for my other stuff.
Anyway, I completed elementary school on Bartiméus, and a new educational evaluation was performed in January, 1998. It was actually a second opinion to the one of 1997. My parents respected the remedial educationalist, who had also evaluated me in 1995 and 1992. This remedial educationalist did acknowledge my cognitive ability, but also realized that I had social and emotional problems and some other things, and as a result advised us to have me go to the school for the blind.
In 1998, I went to another school for the blind (cause my parents were dissaftisfied with Bartiméus), starting in seventh grade. There, especially the lunch group folks became a problem. All students that aren’t boarders go to “lunch group”, where they’ll eat in a group of about six students and two supervisors. This at that school, was a separate agency from the school, and so my parents didn’t want me to be a client there too. That didn’t mean I wasn’t allowed to eat there, but it did according to the school. I was very sad, cause all my friends went to lunch group. So I spent my lunch breaks hanging around in the school and doing everything and nothing.
Academically, there were fewer problems than at Bartiméus, at least where it comes to my parents disagreeing with school. Some teachers let me work at my own pace, and I liked that. With math, for instance, I’d completed nearly the entire eighth grade book at the end of seventh grade. Other teachers, however, only let me do more of the same boring exerciees, and that wasn’t really motivating. One particular problem was Dutch: I was bored by the normal assignments, and as as a result the teacher gave me a “homework book” that I could work on. But of course, partly cause of simple laziness and partly cause the other book was equally boring, I didn’t do much out of it. Plus, I hated reading so my book reports were always very bad. The teacher said that I didn’t work on the normal stuff, so why should she give me advanced work?
Throughout 1998, my parents sort of yelled at me so I could go to normal school. They thought that if only I worked hard academically and showed I could do the exercies excellently, the school would let me go to normal school. Well, they apparently again trivialized the social/emotional problems that had contributed to the negative advice.
In January, 1999, my parents took me to yet another remedial educationalist. I begin to believe that all they wanted was a recommendation for public school. This remedial educationalist had no experience with blind people, but he was fairly well-known. After his evaluation, he carefully said that it may be a good idea to have me get experience at a normal school, but it should be a gentlemen’s agreement. Dad, who had gone to the eval with me, was excited, and so was I. When we got the report, he again advised us to use the remainder of the 1998/1999 school year to get me to have experience at a normal school, which then could determine if I could attend a normal school. If it wasn’t, I should continue my education at the school for the blind, but with adaptations to meet my cognitive ability. My parents made an application for me to Gymnasium Apeldoorn (my currnet high school) and went for talks with the school officils twice. During one of these talsk, the special ed folk (the person from the school for the blind that reaches out to normal schools) also was present. Finally, on April 12, 1999, I was ccepted. It was arranged that I could have a “taste” of what this school was like on five normal school days in a seventh grade class. I wrote little reports on each of the days. I think it went pretty well.
On August 24, 1999, we went to get our schedules and I shortly introduced myself to my new seventh grade class. We made a schedule about who was going to help me get around. One sad thing was how long I stuck with this system: the entire year. I think now that it’d have been so much better if we’d terminated it earlier.
One very bad feeling I had throughout my seventh, eighth and ninth grade years was that everything had to go perfect or I would have to return to the school for the blind. In my seventh grade year this of course was the most real, grounded in statements such as “If it fails, it’ll fail within three months,” which by some teachers was taken too seriously. My parents always thought very much in black and white where it came to schools, defining my current high school as the perfect place to be educated. It was and still is my best school so far where it comes to academics, of course. And academically I’ve always done pretty well (except when I dropped my work in ninth). After all, it isn’t boring and I still have fairly high marks.
In the eigth grade, my socialisation with my classmates wasn’t going so well. On the evening of December 23, 2000, I talked with my mother. I don’t know what she wanted to make clear, but she argued that apparently it went so bad with me that Mr. De B. had called for a meeting with Stef (the special ed outreach folk) and my parents. She talked mainly about getting the spec ed outreach folk (think you Americans call it an itinerant teacher or something, but it’s not a TVI) involved as if that was one of the worst things that could happen. Well, they’d had a meeting in October where he was also present. (Meetings with the spec ed outreach folk are pretty irregular.) The issue, by the way, was pretty much settled in two discussions we’d had with the class (one of which I wasn’t present at) where stuff was explained and the other kids could aks questions and give their ciritque.
In the ninth grade, no-one became too much involved with my issues, but that was mostly cause I diddn’t explain about what was going on till June. In the tenth grade, the spec ed outrach folk only visited once, but I’m sure he knew at least some stuff about my issues. That year, the stuff with social skills became an issue, and when I once mentioned it, Mum was very saracstic, as if that wasn’t something one should address.
In eleventh grade, my parents weren’t really involed with my issues. Maybe they thought that as far as school is concerned, it was my responsibility. We – me, Mr. De B. and the new spec ed outreach folk (Stef’d left) – had four meetings that year. When the first was scheduled, I asked my parents if they wanted to attend. “Do we need to?” Mum asked. No, they didn’t, so they didn’t attend. They talked about Jan (the new spec ed outreach folk) as if he just wanted to come and no-one actually valued his input. I don’t agree. De B. also met with Jan once about Rome and with my parents once also. When Mr. De B. scheduled the meeting with my parents, Mum was very sarcastic, as if I couldn’t arrange my own stuff.
And now in twelfth, my parents’ dislike for relief workers and agencies in general and for agencies and folks serving the blind in particular has become a big issue to me. Firstly cause they’ve come to use the possible involvement of relief workers as a means of making me get rid of my problems increasingly often. My mother will for example tell me that I’ll need to go to a [psychologist, psychiatrist, whatever] if I don’t get rid of [behaviour or problem here], as if that’d mean that I would be given up forever. And secondly in relation to my future planning. Since tenth grade, I’ve kept two future planning files. One is the conventional one – after graduation, going to university to study English – and in the second one, I first want to go to the centre for the blind’s college prep programme and go to university in 2006. Mum says the folks at the summer programme have indoctrinated me. Sure! I’m probably still going to university next year, for at least then I’ll have my parents’ support. I’ve tried to discuss my ideas about going to rehab first with my mother on Thursday. Anyways, I’ll probably just go to university next year, cause then at least I’ll satisfy my parents (at least, as long as they don’t get complaints, I’m doing well, Mum argues). One has to apply at the IBG (the national agency that offers financial aid for students) ideally before
December 1st (but can be later). Still I’ve come to argue with my parents over the position of blindness folks, special ed and relief workers in general a lot of times lately. I know that it’d disappoint my parents if I was going to have a service agency or relief worker involved. I know they’ve needed to fight for my right to an approrpriate placement educationally for many years. I know that if Bartiméus had had its way, I would’ve been in their residential programme until I graduated from high school in 2003 and have been sent to Sonneheerdt (a vocational college for the blind) then. But does that mean that getting relief workers or service agencies involved is the end of the world? Does that mean that the only way to prove that I rub along is by pretending to do fine with no agencies or relief workers involved? Does it mean that if I try to make clear that I am not doing fine, I’m just trying to get pity? (Mum says that apparently it’s going fine at high school, cause she hasn’t gotten any complaints.) Does it mean that all my problems are just the result of laziness, to which the only remedy is telling me that if I don’t quit they’re going to call Sonneheerdt (or a psychiatric institution, depending on what caused the argument)? I feel so bad. I feel that because my parents have had to fight to get my abilities recognized so long, I need to hide my limitations. I feel that if I don’t just rub along at high school, go to university next year, etc. without getting service agencies or relief work involved, I’m devaluing their efforts to have me become an independent adult. I know that it was my parents’ goal to get me to become an independent adult. I know they never had an over-protective attitude. I don’t want to disappoint them by not rubbing along or by showing I have problems. I want them to be able to show off about how I’ve risen above the (stupid) spec ed folks’ expectations. But I can’t… Practically I don’t even resemble a 10-year-old and emotionally I’m walking on eggshells.