Friday, January 25, 2013

Disability: Homeschooling

As I was getting ready for a late Wednesday afternoon meeting, I decided to relax for a few minutes with my neglected friend, the remote control. A show on home schooling caught my eye. One mother pulled her child out of the public system because it was too gifted and quickly was getting bored even sitting on classes with kids twice her age. The other just wanted to give her son the power to learn whatever and however he wanted with no structured plan and textbooks. As I was watching it made me think of my own experiences growing up and the ever important role of parents in stimulating our curiosity, steering us in new directions and shaping our interests. I realized that I always focused on rehabilitation and exercises, but never on how and what I learnt. I was never technically pulled out of school of course and it's not that we were looking into alternative forms of schooling like  the kids on TV. But between ages 7 and 13 I was out of school a lot. First it was the Peto Institute in Budapest where I would go for many months at a time without visiting home. When I got older it was a bunch of other, full time rehabilitation programs in Poland often requiring me to be there not only 5 days a week, but also overnight. Somebody had to make sure that while I developed physically during the day, I didn't stay behind my classmates and what they were learning at school. To put it quite simply, my mother was in charge of my education. If you asked her, I'm sure she'd go back even further and tell you how she used to read to both her children when we were little. I remember my childhood favorites, "Marry Poppins" and "The Borrowers" and how she would change her voice speaking for different characters. When I was little, I wanted to be a writer. I had a big imagination and always wrote "sequels" to every book that I loved. But she would also tell you how concerned she was when I was smaller. For some reason I just couldn't grasp the concept of remembering  color names. "The ducky has a yellow beak and a green apron". What is the color of the apron? I just couldn't get it. And we tried again, again and again. I'm sure she must have been fuming inside thinking her son is just not that bright.  But we never gave in. I knew all the letters before I actually went to school. I've spent some time in a body cast from the waist down when I was 6 or so and my mom made sure I'm entertained, but in some productive way. Then I ended up in Budapest. At first my parents would alternate flying in on the weekends. And with them - school assignments. They had to crack open a text book and educate themselves on history, geography, Polish and math before they taught me. Going back and forth they had a reference point. Later, when my mom decided to stay in Budapest continuously for few months at a time, picking me up every later afternoon we read and studied every night. It was more of a  challenge I guess to try to figure out the right pace without any guidance. When I heard the folks on TV saying how having a parent setting a flexible education system I actually understood. My mom new how fast I was learning, what concepts I had a hard time grasping, what my sensitivity allowed me to do. I was familiar with multiplication table I think about a year before they covered it in class. I've learnt declension and conjugation while we were out on walks. My mom could be peeling potatoes and ask "How do you spell so-and so". I was better at writing than math, but still caught new ideas quickly. She'd check my homework until I was twelve. I was one of the first kids allowed to switch from a three line (large writing) notebook, to a single line one, like the upper classes. My handwriting was that well developed. Amazing if you consider I both had a neuromuscular disability and was (and still am) left handed. One thing though. Despite pressure, I never got to holding a pen properly. For the first seven grades, I've always had a high GPA with a "red striped" (for top students) diploma. As new subjects kicked in, like chemistry and physics, my mom educated herself some more. My parents also selected the books I should read and I read quite quickly. It was mostly mandatory literature, but also things they felt a boy my age should read. It's not to say that my mother wouldn't lose her patience with me sometimes, but that's a different story. Every few months, I'd be home, I'd take tests and reconnect with my classmates. There was continuity.  If anything they must have thought of me as a novelty as they didn't see me much and were perhaps more excited to have seen me. I wasn't equally good at everything. Geography was always harder, because I have a poor sense of scale and direction. Working with maps, I always had to work with the same size and shape on my tests that I practiced on, otherwise I'd get confused. Perhaps not a thing for all parents. It was a lot of work.  That much harder I'd assume, without a background in education. But then my parents to put it simply knew children. Three law degrees later, I'd say I turned out OK.

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