It’s been another long time since I’ve blogged at all. Here’s something that I simply cannot ignore. It’s a post I shared on Facebook, so anyone following me there will remember reading it. Right now I’m a bit too bogged down to do more than share an experience I wrote about elsewhere. It deals with seminars that are presented by people who do not know their topic–in this case, special education in general and dyslexia in particular. Sadly, out of perhaps 50 or 60 attendees, 2 were “just parents” (who were the intended audience to start with) and the rest were equally diviided between practicing teachers (some of whom I recognized and know they are talented teachers struggling with special needs children in their own classes) and pre-service teachers who are anxious to learn more about dyslexia. Well, you can figure out the rest of the problem. I’m also going to post this on my other blog site to widen the audience. This is really a sad situation that is becoming sadder. If you want to read about any chatter from my Facebook friends related to this, I believe I publically shared my observations; hopefully you can see the responses as well. I’m Dr.EllieM on Facebook, and have a page called EMiller Education Consulting. Feel free to comment here or on the other venues. Right now, I’m not in the States; I’m in the new country of Sint Maarten in the Caribbean. Sint Maarten is the Dutch half of the island; St. Martin is the French half (If you ask a St. Martiner their nationality, you will always get “French.”).
Again, this is the start of a whole new phase for me. I will be using the educational system in Sint Maarten as an example of what politics can do to education in a country with a total population of roughly 50,000. And yes, that’s tens of thousands.
So… Have to share this: As you know, I have been trying to understand the educational system here on Sint Maarten, specifically special education. I’ve been volunteering services in what in California would be called a non-public school–a privately run school supported by public education funds. Because of the public funding, the school I am “helping” has to follow all curricular work as set out by the government for fully public schools. Wow, am I learning a lot, but that’s not what I want to share. What I want to share sheds some light on why education here is so screwed up.
Last night, my neighbor and I attended (or maybe “visited” is the better word) a seminar on dyslexia in the Caribbean. The event, intended for parents, was populated with teachers and teachers-in-training here on the island. Only 2 parents were in the audience that filled the room so thoroughly that we ended up sitting on a table at the back of the room with several other attendees. (I was execting the tables to collapse at any moment, since there were about 8 of us sitting “Indian style” in two rows, as there was no floor space to stand.) The speaker claims to have taught special education for 20 years, and spent the summer island hopping to become an “expert” in dyslexia. Since schools are shut down during the six-week summer break, and since there were many islands visited, I can only surmise that the expertise was gained primarily from seminars. Deon, my neighbor, has a daughter who was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, and other problems that contributed to her learning difficulties, and–since the special education services on the island are minimal (if you can call some of them services at all)–his children and their mother moved back to South Africa so that the daughter could reap the benefits of a real special education program. So Deon knows quite a bit about dyslexia, learning disabilities and difficulties, ADD/ADHD, etc. OK. That’s background info on him, and most of you already know mine. So here’s the story–a really sad one, if you ask me.
Within 5 minutes of listening to this dynamic speaker give her schpiel, Deon became very restless and stood up as well as he could next to the table. By then, I was already reviewing my notes on a child I’ve been observing. But he didn’t say anything about leaving, so I just kept organizing notes. Then I thought I misheard an explanation about dyslexic children being unable to translate a photograph into anything more than a two-dimentianal depiction. Since raising my hand to ask a question was impossible, I just blurted out, “Excuse me, I was writing and may have missed something. Are you still talking about dyslexia?” She responded, “Yes, that’s how dyslexic children see the world.” That was it. I thanked her for her response, apologized again for the interruption, closed my notebook and stuffed it in my purse, told Deon I needed to go out and have a smoke, if I could wade through the sea of seated educators/future educators. Deon said he had no further reason to stay, and would I mind going home? All I could do was feel grateful that I he, too, had had enough.
From almost the first sentence that came out of the speaker’s mouth, it was clear that she had no idea what she was talking about–not in her capacity of general special education teacher, and least of all in her “expertise” in dyslexia. In that first 5 minutes, more misinformation was delivered than even Fox News could spew. (Apologies to those who enjoy Fox News; I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Stewart, Colbert, and Maher critiquing their news items.) Yet, the teachers and pre-service teachers ate up every word, because 1) she was an outstanding and engaging presenter; and 2) the need by island educators for information on any special education is so great that they will lap up anything.
This is how Sint Maarten operates. That a total charlatan can misinform the very people who are responsible for helping children with special needs is an affront to education anywhere in the free world. The school system here–despite many wonderful and caring teachers who are limited in what they can do by a frigging script (!) that must be followed to the letter if the teachers want to continue teaching–scrapped the plan instituted by The Netherlands long before the Sint Maarten gained its independence on 10/10/10, and has yet to publish anything online that addresses policies, by-laws, objectives and goals, or even a solid vision statement. I personally went to an agency the other day to learn what its role is in special education placement, and was told that there is nothing in writing. When I asked for copies of the forms that are used for referral, I was told that each school had been sent 10 copies a year ago, and that I should procure one from them. When I asked how long a referral takes, I was told that REFERRALS ARE ONLY ACCEPTED IN NOVEMBER!!!!! A bit more discussion yielded the information that the department doesn’t have any real idea of what services it can actually provide and how decisions are made!!!
The Parliament last week finally passed a balanced budget. Any guesses where the money eventually came from? Had I mentioned previously that the Ministry of Education and Other Stuff could not provide an audit trail for where Dutch funds specifically earmarked for education had gone?
Is there any doubt about why I, even as an outsider, am so frustrated?
Feel free to make up your own mind about education–and specifically special education–in Sint Maarten. As for me, last night I decided that I will very shortly becvome a thorn in the side of this educational system. Time to brush off the old college political activist loafers. For better or worse, Everyone who has anything to do with schools on this island will know my name before I’m either kicked off the island or leave on my own. I am all about education. More, I am all about the education of children, especially those who have special needs–even if the need is merely for a little boost of self confidence.
Sint Maarten Ministry of Education (and other things), you stand warned.