-“In a world that values divergent thought and innovative problem solving why do we label those who think differently as ‘disabled’? In short, how much talent is hiding in front of us in plain sight?” 

 

A former student of mine tracked me down today, from overseas, simply to say thank you.  He wondered if I remembered him and I most assuredly do.

In 2013 I was teaching at Somersfield Academy in Bermuda.  I had been blessed with the opportunity to build, at least as part of my students’ day, the ideal educational program.  We called it the Innovations Program and a significant amount of what was achieved in Bermuda informs the Headwaters Academy approach today.  I met Robbie (not his real name) when he was 10 years old – and one year older than his peers in that Grade 4 room.  I did not know this at the time – I was speaking with students, engaging them in math talk, and identifying who might benefit from our ‘Extended Math’ program (gifted math).  Robbie made my list and I was ready to proceed with starting the extended math classes when his homeroom teacher stopped me.  “You better read his file,” was all she said.

When I pulled Robbie’s file I found a 200+ page report outlining his math disabilities.  He had been held back for a year due to math difficulties and here I was about to put him into an extended math group that would be several years ahead in terms of grade level and challenge.  I was a young(er) man in 2013; with the brashness of youth I chose to move ahead anyways.  I called his mother to invite him to join the group. I’m not sure what she thought on the other end of the phone but I’m thankful that she had the faith in me and her son to just let it happen.

To make a long story short Robbie was recently accepted to Exeter (yes, that Exeter) for Biological and Medicinal Chemistry.  Apparently that math disability wasn’t really a disability.

Well meaning individuals have built a large business around classifying students abilities (and disabilities).  I have to wonder, not for the first time in my career, just how many students are mis-labelled? In a world that values divergent thought and innovative problem solving why do we label those who think differently as ‘disabled’? In short, how much talent is hiding in front of us in plain sight?

What would Robbie’s outlook have been if the 200+ page report had been taken at face value? He wrote in his letter about how much he loves all things science and math – would he have been steered away from this?  How much would he, and our world, have missed out on if so?

Unfortunately, Robbie’s story is not unique. In our desire for ‘measurable outcomes’ we often forget that the most important things cannot be measured. We cannot measure a child’s potential, their creativity, nor their possibilities.  So please, never tell me what a child can’t do. Let’s start with what they can do, then look at what they might do, and give them the freedom to achieve what they dreamed that they would do.