Mothering Bean: Part Eternal


Right now, this beautiful child is sitting next to me, watching Bill Nye, while we wait for his home-study instructor so we can begin the journey to finish 5th grade from the safety and security of our home. Home-schooling has never been something I felt called to; it’s only something we’re embarking on because we’ve come to the end of our rope with a mismatched and poorly suited 5th grade year. There truly was no other option.

I’m pro-level with Special Ed;  I’ve done M.Ed level work, and I’ve got my own kid in-house.  I’ve been doing IEPs for nine years, and we’ve had predominantly stellar experiences. Bean has had wonderful teachers, tremendous therapists, deeply committed members of his team, over two states, and five schools. In the three years we’ve been in the DC area, he’s changed schools three times because of re-districting. I have moved once. He’s the worst possible child for that to have happened to, but I was powerless to stop district gerrymandering. He’s also gone from having the very best academic and social year of his life- a year where he excelled at every subject, made friends, loved his teachers and his school, and where his IEP team praised him for making such great leaps and being such a wonderful kid. In one year, he went from that, to our deciding, after 8 months of almost daily calls from the school, to pull him and spend the rest of the time before 6th grade rebuilding the damage done to him by his current school.

He’s still the same happy, quirky kid here at home. But I now have a concrete example of an educational team where an IEP can be followed to the letter, but where there can be zero investment in the child. I knew, the day I first walked into his classroom, that it wasn’t going to work. His assigned teacher may be a wonderful teacher for other kids, but for this particular child, she was wrong. I regret tremendously not asking to have him switched right then. I talked myself out of it. It was a mistake.

I try and teach my children responsibility and I don’t automatically assume my child is without fault. I wait, I weight things out. I talk to my kids, and to their teachers. The importance of the individual teacher cannot be overstated. Many kids can navigate many teachers, and there won’t be blips. Some kids do phenomenally with some teachers, and then some kids are catastrophically failed by some teachers. This was one of those times. At every chance, Bean was read and interpreted as a problem. When someone sees you as a problem, you start to believe you are a problem.

When you child comes home from school almost every day and cries, something is wrong. When on Sunday evenings, he realizes school is the next morning, and he bursts into tears yet again, something is wrong. When the teacher, who is armed with an IEP an inch thick and a full-time aid in the classroom, calls me 4-7 times a week, something is wrong. Last week, she called me three times in one day. Something is very wrong.

I am also a fervent defender of my kids, and when I walk into the district offices and ask for a meeting, it’s because I’ve been up all night reading the legal briefs and the actual legislation for IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act). I will be able to cite case law, and point out where federal (not state, not local, not school district… Federal) law has been violated, and I will ask if we should be recording this meeting.

Basically, don’t mess with me.

So when I walk into the district offices and ask for a meeting with the head of Special Education Services, I get one. And while I’m really glad that my reputation allows me to get that meeting, and my phone calls afterwards are taken, I am really *really* angry that a school district has to be coerced into following law they should be following for every. single. child. What about the mother who doesn’t speak English well, but whose child qualifies for services he’s not getting? What about the single mom working two jobs who simply cannot take off for yet another meeting? (Jon has used almost a week of his vacation because of IEP’s this year.) What about the mother who lacks the education to walk in armed with legal citations and the ability to advocate? The gulf between the privileged and the disadvantaged widens, and I am furious on their behalf. It’s really not enough that I, in a position of very real privilege, can advocate for my child. It should not be this hard.

FAPE (Free Access to Public Education) is something to which every single child in America is entitled. It’s not only for the kids in good neighborhoods, or whose mothers know how to work the system. It’s not only for the parents who can take time off to attend another meeting because the school is failing to meet the standards set out in an IEP. Every child. Every time. Every school.

So last week, after a phone meeting with the head of Special Ed for the school district, we made the very hard decision to throw in the towel and homeschool Bean for the rest of the year. He will still receive instructional support from the district. A (new) teacher will come to our home for 420 minutes a week. He will still receive all his special ed services, including therapy and counseling, here at our home. He will still receive music instruction, and be able to attend activities with his classmates, but he will not ever enter that classroom again.

If any of you are pro-level home-schoolers, I’d love and welcome some suggestions and feedback. As far as I’ve gotten is asking him to write me a list of five things he really wants to learn about. He wants to know how birds build their nests, how centrifugal force works on wheels, how light bulbs work, why humans taste things as good or bad, how clocks work.

And it’s straight-up privilege that I can do this to make sure he gets what he needs. It should never come to this.

5 thoughts on “Mothering Bean: Part Eternal

  1. I’m so sorry that it’s had to come to this, but so happy that you have this safe way point and oasis for him (and you).

  2. I had a longer comment with more specific advice but it got eaten while trying to sign into wordpress. Shortly, I am a 8 year homeschooler (3 kids, currently finishing grades 1, 5, and 7). I think what you started with is great. Take those things he wants to learn about and you can easily get science, reading/writing, social studies/history, and math out of them.

    Basically, the overall advice I’d give you though, is to make small goals for each day. Some days you can really dive in and it’s beautiful and you run out of time because everything is so interested; and other days you fight to have some focus and whether it is worth it to push through the goals or not worth it and you call it a documentary or field trip day is something you have to be in touch with the spirit to decide. Homeschooling can be a wonderful thing – and a gut wrenching thing. If you decide to be in it long term then it’s important to know yourself, your child, and what learning style matches both. There are SO many things available out there for every point in the homeschooling spectrum – from classical to unit studies to unschooling. For short term, be kind to yourself and to him, and be clear in your mind what exactly your goals are, so you can pull them to mind when you have a tough day. Feel free to email me if you think I could be of any help!

  3. Great article. Our son struggled through school. Every year I was back and forth in the classroom trying to get him help. We dragged him screaming and kick and pleading to 12th grade. His one joy was choir. He has a beautiful voice. The choir teacher was a first year teacher with minimal experience. He constantly belittled the class (honor choir) and especially our son. It ended when the teacher kicked him out of class and our beautiful son tried to shoot himself. After 2 weeks in the psych ward he was finally diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He had been tested for many things and pronounced “normal” yet I questioned “Why can’t he write? Why doesn’t he make eye contact?” It makes me furious with those I thought were “helping” us. Two years later and I have never heard him sing again.

  4. My dear friend, thank you for being such an advocate for your children…for all children! You are an amazing mom…feel that with your entire being. You are the mom Bean needs and is privileged enough to call his own. I am so sorry it has come to this – as a former SpEd teacher, it is heartbreaking to me that it had to come to this…but thank you again for being Bean’s advocate (and Jon!).

    I can’t wait to visit with you…

  5. Every last word you wrote here could be me. I identified so much with your words, thoughts, and reactions. And quite frankly, I wish I’d written about my identical experience a year ago with my son. My boy is 9 years old and is on the Spectrum. His school years have bounced from down to up to down to up again. You couldn’t have written true-er words: “The importance of the individual teacher cannot be overstated.” Some years, his teachers have been completely willing to understand him and his underlying reasons for his actions—to meet him where he is and try to help him take a step up. But other years, his teachers have just cracked a whip over his head and driven him deep into himself. As you said, causing great damage. I hand-pick his teachers every year, but the dynamic cannot be foreseen until he’s in the classroom. And this scares me. I brace myself each September as I perceive the relationship and hope he’s in a good place. And twice, he has not been. And I’ve kicked myself in hindsight that I didn’t pull him right out. Instead, I called meetings with the teacher, with the school psychologist, with the LEA, with the district parent advocate—hoping that something would improve. But in the end, nothing changed. I learned a lesson in futility that school year and will now absolutely pull out my son if the teacher fit isn’t right. And you’re right… it’s angering. I’m mostly angered that we know that 1 in 54 kids (1 in 45 boys) deal with ASD. So why are the public educators so at a loss to know what to do with these children? Where is the education? Where are their support systems? Like you, I rely on the Special Ed classroom to help my son, but what about the Gen Ed classrooms and teachers? That is where the gap lies. And that is where my son learned that school is a negative place for him. I hate that this happens to ASD kids, but I’m glad that we can use each others’ stories to help each other. And yours has helped me.

Comments are closed.