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How "Mainstream" Can Be Like Swimming In Shark-infested Waters (Or - Maybe We Should Completely Rethink Education As We Know It!)
Last night I read a post on someone else's blog (shared via the "Special Educational Needs" Group on Facebook) which nearly made me faint with joyful disbelief.  The post was typed by a teacher who said that putting children with obvious and profound Learning Disabilities as well as physical disabilities through "Mainstream Education" was - at best - useless - and at worst - dangerous to the children themselves.

This got me thinking.  What would happen if we turned the Education System upside down, turned the clock back to before every single school child in the UK was expected to achieve 5 GCSEs above "C", and actually allowed the school children to be themselves without having to jump through unachieveable (for some) hoops to get there???  Also, what would happen if school children were actually screened for potential difficulties before they started school - and the Education System acted on those findings (even if it meant removing the child from "Mainstream Education" all together)???  We would also need a system which would automatically pick up those children who develop difficulties as they progress through their school life.

You may find some of the points I am about to raise in the following post disturbing.  You may think I am making certain things I am about to say up.  You may even decide that this is a complete rant about nothing useful.  All I can say is that you are perfectly entitled to your own opinion - just have the courtesy to respect my right to speak (or should that read "type") my mind on a subject I feel I am at least qualified by experience to discuss.

It is a very sad state of affairs when your only true enjoyment of Secondary school (apart from English lessons in the first year) falls in three categories;-

1)  When you are stuck in what most people consider to be the punishment tactic of "Solitary" (sitting in a room on your own all day) and you consider it to be sheer bliss because you can stop pretending to be something you are not.

2)  When you are off school - either actually ill or (and I admit I did this in my first year of Secondary school) skiving because you just couldn't cope with the bullying and having to pretend to be like everybody else in order to avoid further bullying as a result of asking for help.  Teaching yourself how to learn like everybody else is extremely hard work in itself - and that is before the teachers start attempting to cram information into you.


3)  When there is at least one Passport control between you and your school.  You may not be able to have a fluent conversation with the locals of the country you are in (in fact - you might not even be able to understand a word some of them are saying) - but at least you don't feel like you are a performing chimpanzee either.  You feel protected and safe - even when you are not among your family (and there are quite a few of them in your "safe" city).

If you are really unlucky you may end up feeling jealous of a girl who had the same heart condition you were born with - because she didn't have the operations you had had when you were a baby and she died when you were in the fourth year of Secondary School.

Of course - if you had had the power to make anybody in authority listen to you - you would have been transferred to another school a long time before it got to that situation.  You actually told your Year Head straight out that you wanted to leave when you were in the first year of Secondary School - only to come unstuck when you didn't trust him enough to admit you couldn't cope, either with most of the lessons or the bullying.  You might have had a better chance if it had been your English teacher who had shouted at you after you had turned up to the office for the umpteenth time because you had had yet another lunchtime detention.  At least you trusted your English Teacher.  The school you wanted to go to would have been closer to your home so the problems wouldn't have seemed so bad.  As it is - your Monday starts at 8.00am on Monday morning, when you leave home to get the bus, and finishes at what the rest of the world recognises as 4pm on a Friday afternoon, when you finally get home from school - and you are not even at Boarding school. 

When you have taken your GCSE's (after the last Secondary School you attend belatedly - as in extremely belatedly - decide to go for the "too much, too little, too late, option.  They snow you under with "help" which you would have found very useful at the start of your school life but you find it a burden at the end because you have somehow taught yourself how to cope with everything as best you can on your own) your Mum drops the bombshell that - if your parents had made a different choice - you could have escaped all the aggravation completely through being sent to a "Special School".  You cannot help but wonder how much of a waste of energy and effort your whole school life turned out to be.  The reason for you being eligible to attend a "Special School"???  You are statemented as severely shortsighted - much good that "Statement" does you in the intervening years.

If what I have typed above sounds like some kind of unbelievable plot for a Drama series on TV I can only say I wish it was.  I promise you that it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, of my time at Secondary school.

In fact, it got so bad that, even though I seriously considered suicide more than once, I ended up finding it easier to pretend I didn't exist in order to survive.  I sometimes use that trick even now.  It came in extremely useful when there was a minor potential altercation between my neck, the crook of an old-fashioned walking stick, and a coach window!  I do apologise - the crook of the walking stick did end up around my neck - the potential altercation was between the back of my head and the side window of a (luckily stationary) coach - and the potential of that encounter was all too nearly fulfilled.

But - I hear you ask - how can you teach yourself how to learn like everybody else???  With great difficulty and a lot of mental pain.  You start by training yourself to read print at least two font sizes smaller than you are comfortable with in textbooks.  Then you progress to reading terrible handwriting on blackboards (Mr Perkins, my first year Science Teacher, had the worst handwriting of almost anyone I have ever met - along with the lightest touch imaginable when it came to writing on the black, or rather, green board).  Finally, you teach yourself how to read an OHP (Overhead Projector) screen without blinding yourself - dratted Photophobia makes that the worst headache of all.  Oh yes, and whilst you are doing all that you have to navigate around corridors and up and down steps, etc.  On top of all that you have to actually learn what the teachers are trying to teach you.  As Penny would say in that sit-com 'Miranda' - "Such fun"!

I am surprised I scraped through with some GCSE passes above Grade C.

It is only through surviving the torture known as Secondary School that I am able to - mostly - walk among you undetected.  In most instances, I manage to hide my difficulties.  My worst nightmare is having to ask for help.

Now I have given you nightmares with the above I want to share another side of the same coin.  Whilst this has nowhere near the problems attached as my experiences do (as far as I know the child in this scenario has nowhere near the amount of problems that I had) - in some ways I find it more heart-wrenching because they very nearly slipped through the net - it was only thanks to a friend of mine that they are now in the process of getting the help they need in order to be able to catch up.  (I am not going to divulge the name of the child or my friend's name as I do not feel they are relevant.  However, I did get permission from my friend to share this with you.)

The child in this instance is still in Primary school.  His Mum died during his first couple of years at school.  His biological father is not exactly the most reliable person on the planet so the child lives with my friend.  Within the next few years his Granddad had a stroke and his Grandma died.  The associated trauma of those events have left him behind with his schoolwork.  Thanks to my friend's persistence, he is now getting the help he needs to catch up (apparently, at one point the school didn't think he would make it to Secondary School and he may need to go to a Special School).  In the same way that my sight problem and the associated bullying made it difficult for me to "learn how to learn", he is facing the same challenges but for a different reason.  The amount of trauma he has faced in his short life so far appears to have delayed his ability to learn.  With the help of the school (and an outside agency) he is now catching up with his peers.

Why should some children be faced with either being pushed over their limits in order to be able to achieve the impossible in a school setting which is possibly detrimental to their mental and/or physical health, whilst some other children are thrown on the scrapheap instead of being nurtured through their difficulties when they fall behind (unless their families protest and complain to the school concerned)???

I have at least three people in my personal circle of friends with PhD's in a variety of subjects.  One of my dearest and closest friends has a Batchelor's degree in her favourite subject.  As long as I don't try to talk to them about the subjects their qualifications are in I can quite happily hold a reasonably intelligent conversation with them.  Qualifications are not the be all and end all of life.

After leaving school thinking I was worse than useless - as well as too defective to be neither use nor ornament to anyone - I have slowly come to realise that I can put my experiences to good use.  This is through trying to help people who really need it by using my experiences.

However, the best thing about my life right now is being able to type this blog as a result of the support of my friends - both in my personal circle of humans I see and in the circle of friend I have made on Facebook and Twitter.  Not forgetting you - dear reader.  I only hope that - through reading my ramblings on "Life, Love, The Truth, and what you mean to me" ("Bed of Roses" by Bon Jovi) - you realise that there is a party at the end of the particular road your life has to travel along!
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