Many of today’s students must deal with unseen disabilities. We all know unseen disabilities have a profound impact on the learning ability of the child. Unseen disabilities can come in the form of emotional illnesses, learning disabilities (cognitive issues), dyslexia, autism, speech issues, hearing impairment, vision issues, health impairments, and/or ADD/ADHD. Each of those internal disabilities affects the learning ability and therefore the achievement of the child. However, not all unseen disabilities are internal; external disabilities have just as profound impact on student learning. Children who live with unengaged parents, have abusive parents, have parents who abuse drugs or alcohol, or live in some other form of dysfunctional household are also victims to an unseen disability.
External unseen disabilities are far worse, in my opinion, than internal disabilities. Children who suffer from dyslexia, hearing impairment, or ADD have in-school advocates and public policy in place to assist their learning by overcoming the disability. Ask any educator, and they can tell you horror story after horror story about children from abused homes. They will talk to you about the phone calls to DHS that fell on deaf ears. Talk to those same teachers, and they will break your heart with tales about parents who come to conferences or other school activities high or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It breaks my heart to see students take backpacks of food home with them on Friday, so they will have something to eat over the weekend. It is sad when parents have enough money to buy cigarettes but not enough money to buy food or soap. Ever see how other kids treat their classmates who wear the same unlaundered clothes every day or don’t have proper hygiene? Some parents just are not engaged in the educational life of their child. Whether it is not attending parent teacher conferences, not helping their child with homework, or refusing to watch them participate in the band, school play, or on the athletic field, it has a profound impact on children. And don’t tell me internal disabilities have ramifications into adulthood whereas external disabilities can disappear at the age of 18. Yes, internal disabilities can be life-long, but the damage of poor parenting also has life long damaging effects, and its cyclic nature tends to show up generation after generation.
Wouldn’t it be great if our social policy mirrored our educational policy with regards to seen and unseen disabilities? Shouldn’t social services have to meet with parents periodically to ensure the disability is being accommodated in the best interest of the child? Aren’t our children worth this effort? Anyone think we have enough social workers in this state? Anyone not think local cops should be able to remove children from the home when domestic violence situations arise? Shouldn’t instances of abuse and neglect be dealt with swiftly and decisively? Shouldn’t there be palaces were children could be taken, so they don’t have to deal the problems of adults? Shouldn’t the greatest country on earth guarantee that every child within its borders has basic shelter, security, food and water?
Our politicians would never consider cutting special education services or voting on legislation that would further hamper disabled students from getting an education. Nonetheless, those same legislators don’t hesitate to tinker with legislation that adversely affects children suffering from a bad home life. I’m not a social policy expert, but there has to be a way to care for our children when it becomes obvious their parents are no longer up to the task. But if the parents are not up to the task, should the great state of Oklahoma ensure the safety, security, and well being of the children? Maybe we should stop focusing all our educational reform efforts on issues like standards, accountability, and testing and start focusing on the only thing that truly matters: our children.