On Being “Learning Challenged”: Learning Challenges (Part 2)

Categories: Léo’s Insights 2018-2019 Academic Year, Learning Challenges

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What is it like to have a “learning challenge”? That should be an easy question to answer. In fact, it is easy because there is no such thing as a standard learner, any more than there is a standard person.

When we consider that it is highly unlikely that anyone can learn everything and in every way, it is fair to say that everyone is challenged when it comes to learning in some way.

As discussed already, the main reason that there are any “learning challenges” is because the school system cannot comprehend that there are folks who cannot learn within its confines. Whenever someone does not fit, he/she is declared a misfit, given a label and medicated if required.

Who are the people that make up this school system? Imagine what things would be like if it was run by tradesmen. Would there be a concern if a child could not tell a 1/2” from a 9/16” wrench by age six? Would they need to be in special classes until they learned to “read the wrenches”? Remediation, maybe?

What if a student showed no mechanical ability? Would he/she be labelled with terms like “wrenchcalculia,” “hydraulexia,” “mechanophobia” or some other demeaning term that screams “you-are-not-normal”?

What would they do with the artist? Would he/she be redirected to refine this talent so they could paint houses and cars instead of silly pictures on canvas? What would they do with a verbal academic learner? I am sure some tradesmen have already come up with a few “labels” to describe this “disorder.”

Okay, perhaps this is a little bizarre, but you need to understand the school system is made up of academics who have a hard time understanding how non-academics or non-verbal or disinterested or different students learn. Many of these academics cannot do anything mechanical. Do we label them as having “learning challenges” and send them to special classes for extra funding?

I am reminded at this point of a true story involving a young school psychologist who was telling an older mechanical technician during lunch how her job was so much more important than his! I am not sure what precipitated this one-sided contest, but I can tell you this really happened!

The academic went on about how much more training she had had, how much more money she made (as if she had a clue about the fact that the technician was likely making more money than she was) and how her position within the school system was so much more valuable than that of a mere tradesman who only had limited responsibility in keeping with his minimal training!

Bewildered by the haughty arrogance and complicated words of the psychologist, the older technician simply looked up and said: “Honey, everybody’s got a furnace.”

The young psychologist likely missed the simple truth of this statement as she pondered which type of learning disability with which to label this technician who was demonstrating a contempt for the school system she understood to be “normal.”

I knew this technician and he was a smart man. He had instructed in trade school for years, but found it too restrictive. He wanted to fix things for people, and he was good at it, so he ended up starting his own heating business.

There was hardly anything wrong with his ability to learn, it was just that he learned differently from the young psychologist and was obviously interested in different things. Aside from “labelling” him as a hands on learner, he was hardly “learning challenged” as perceived by someone who could not comprehend his world.

I should mention that he also had a label for the psychologist when he told me this story, but it would not be appropriate for me to repeat it here. However, I can tell you it was likely the more accurate of the two!

School educators believe we are all blank slates that should be able to learn and do everything. Actually, that is not entirely true, but since they have little personal understanding of the individual child’s true makeup outside of the system, they must prepare everyone for everything.

So, if a child is not endowed with math sense, he/she has to be fixed to be able to do math, in case math is part of the child’s future. But this makes no sense, at all. No one enjoys doing something they do not like. “Duh!” Math “challenged” people will not end up working in a math intensive occupation. Even then, just because they cannot do algebra does not mean they cannot work as accountants!

There is no doubt that there are children born with inabilities, but are we not all “challenged” in some way? There are very few people who are good at everything. Nearly everyone struggles with something. Most simply make the adjustments necessary to live with their “handicap,” usually by avoiding the challenging activity.

I am not saying that we should do nothing to help individuals improve in areas of weakness, especially when it comes to the life skills of reading, writing, arithmetic and modern computer skills. Still, there will always be those who will avoid doing those things they do not do well.

We would be silly to believe that everyone is going to be good at everything. Not everyone, for instance, will be a good reader or enjoy reading, but everyone should be able to read.

One more thing. Considering that a lock-step school program demands that all students learn in keeping with expectations, sometimes a learning challenge has more to do with timing than ability.

I personally think that the majority of poor readers or non-readers were likely made to read when they were not ready. Could it be that a lot of the “learning challenges” are actually not so much about aptitude and more about attitudes picked up from being made to do something when the student was just not ready?

Next time, I am going to share a few more stories about my experience with “special needs.” You may be surprised to learn that most of the students were not challenged at all!

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