Saturday, October 17, 2015

Blind Spots

The cafe, my cafe, was closed when I got there this morning. The sidewalk tables and wrought iron chairs were still locked up with their cables and the interior was dark as the mouth of a cave. I knocked anyway. Again. I even said something to the door. Hello? A caffeine addict on a Saturday ripe for writing will not be denied.

What to do?

I'll wait. I'm guessing there is a story here, some domestic calamity that kept the baristas from their calls of opening duties, a broken water main, a great sickness, maybe a plague I didn't yet know about. Had to be some reason.

I could go to Starbuck's, but, no.

So I clear a spot on the locked couch and settle in for a wait.

Now this is living, dear friends. I am sitting on a couch, watching the clouds race past, with nothing demanding my attention but free time, for a half hour anyway.

I think about the bony meal of my life, the compromises I keep making, the shortcomings, the small victories. It seems there are road blocks falling in front of me, no matter what the path. I feel numbed, desensitized, under-appreciated, over-stimulated. It isn't until I pause for a second to consider these things that I am even aware of them.

When I look up, I see a blind woman approaching me, sweeping her cane, coming right at me.

She is impaired rather than fully blind and asks me if the cafe is open yet. I give her the bad news and she pauses to consider this.

"I'll wait," she says.

I am not one to share my solitude well, but stay open, social.

"People think that blind people can't do math," she says. "I tutor them in calculus. People assume all kinds of things about what blind people can and can't do."

She seems to be reading my mind. I am embarrassed.

"I teach writing," I say. "People told me working class men can't write, or jump."

She likes that.

We settle in to talk about how school has become a standardized script for teachers, how creativity, and diversity of learning styles, intelligences, have been abandoned for expedience. We talk some about how tragic that is for students who don't fit the mold for whatever reason.

The bumper sticker version of this goes something like this: We ask only how intelligent students are, not how they are intelligent."Intelligence" is only a certain kind, abstract reasoning skills. There is nothing wrong with abstract reasoning. It's wonderful, but it's not the only game going, and reducing education to developing a single intelligence is a loos for all of us.

That kind of thinking leads to a flattened world where diversity of thought, talent, and possibility are all diminished. Students don't build on God-given talents like art, music, connection to nature, or physical movement unless they are recognized, or fight for it.

It usually takes as advocate or two to make the non-standard path a possibility.

I look at her, and see her, really, for the first time. She is sharp, strong, a fighter.

I envy her, because I have lost contact with the struggle. I am numb, beat, tired, just this side of demoralized. I can't even feel my anger at the machine any more. The reduction of education to low level SLOs followed by quantitative assessment has poisoned teaching. Just a fact in my experience.

Creativity, critical thinking, passion, elan, humanity have all been shoved into the corner, an afterthought if they appear at all.

"I'm going to get a master's degree in blind education," she says. "I'm going to write a text book on how to work with blind students and math."

"You go girl," I say. "You go."  

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