A Better Imperfect

The State of Ohio is looking at students with disabilities in a new way.   They want to create “a culture where each student feels valued and is given the ability and tools to succeed, including the students with disabilities.”

Welcome to 2010, State of Ohio.  Please leave your typewriter and abacus at the door.  Now, if you could only get your collegiate brothers to understand the ability vs. achievement distinction. 

Seriously, though, I was pretty happy to see this article, even though it’s brief and a little vague on how all this wonderfulness will be implemented.  I thought the key line was that to “consider students with disabilities as general education children first is the capacity goal — assuming they will achieve, rather than assuming they may not achieve.”  This is a fundamental part of the work to be done in our field:  Changing everyone’s expectations of our friends and neighbors who live with a label of disability, and changing our expectations of our services to set the bar higher.  You could easily substitute “workers” for “students” in that line and be talking about jobs, or “citizens” or “neighbors” or any role.

An interesting parallel that we’re seeing at Starfire these days:  As the first group of people to join Starfire U starts their third year, we’re changing the way the program operates.  Instead of a staff-driven programming model (staff develop and plan the experiences and calendars according to a curriculum), we are switching to a member-driven model.  Their PATHs direct where we need to get over the final two years in Starfire U, and they are working hard on planning the schedules and making the contacts in the community that can help us get there. 

We’ve only just started this at the beginning of July, and when I ask them how it’s going, I’ve heard “This is hard!” or “You all used to just do this for us!”  One young man told me that all the staff at Starfire are now just going to be “chillin” while they do all the work. 


I had a vision of all of us sitting around with our feet up in an easy chair and cold drinks in our hands.  Ask anyone in Starfire U how much they “chill” during the day and you’re likely to get more LOL’s than I gave you! 

The truth is that supporting them in the new approach is waaayyyyy harder than the work we do in the first two years.  So even though we have higher expectations of them, that also means we have higher expectations of ourselves.

So when are expectations too high for a person with a disability?  When are they too high for Starfire or the people that work there?  I think the answer, as the State of Ohio is finding out, is never.  The key is meeting people (or organizations, as it is in our case at Starfire) where they are and supporting them to achieve, despite their “ability gaps.” 

We’re all imperfect.  We all have an ability gap in everything we attempt or do.  But we can always achieve a “better imperfect,” if we set the bar higher for ourselves and each other.

For those of you who are interested in new conversations and approaches in education, check out this offering from A Small Group in August (8/10/10 at 6:00).  It’s called “Re-Humanizing Education” and it’s at Starfire!

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One Response to A Better Imperfect

  1. Jack Pealer says:

    The piece you cite contains the most positive language about students who have disabilities that I’ve ever seen from Ohio educators. I remember a day when the school psychologist poked her head into the classroom of the (segregated) school to “assess” students by saying: “Yep, I can tell they’re still r——-.” She then arranged for a renewal of their “E-1” (official school exclusion) cards. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.

    Hope the schools can live up to at least a modicum of their vision.

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