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So, just completed a successful family vacation. I should blog about it, because I have so much to say, but more on that later. Today’s blog is about my oldest son’s Individualized Education Program, or better known as IEP.

An IEP is basically the school’s mechanism for dealing with a child’s special needs. It is not exactly Special Education as many are aware, but more like … individualized education. In my son’s case, it involved his delay in speaking and his struggle with understanding multi-step instructions. It also involved his social awkwardness. For example, he struggles to look people in the eyes when speaking and he rarely, if ever would engage others in conversation. It is a little more complicated than that, but you get the picture.

The biggest problem for me was when he was younger. You see, everyone had an opinion to what is issues were. Some said he was autistic, others said he was just delayed, and others just thought he was dumb. For example, in first grade, he was recommended to be completely removed from the classroom to be enrolled in Special Education. Luckily, he had a very good teacher that year and could support our opposition to that plan.

I had a brief conversation with his main IEP teacher from sixth grade today. I ran into her while we were placing my son’s school supplies in his locker. I asked her if she would be in charge of my son’s IEP again this year, and she said no, but gave me the name of the person who would be in charge. She then proceeded to tell me how good it was that I forced the IEP teachers to keep the bar high for my son, as towards the end of last year he no longer needed the extra teaching support. My first reaction was to admonish her and the staff for even thinking about NOT pushing my son, but instead redirected the praise toward my son for doing such a great job last year.

Here’s the thing: I have been forcing my son’s IEP team to raise the bar from day one, every year since preschool.  Actually, since before preschool.

Originally, I wanted to blame the Chicago Public Schools.  When my son was three, he didn’t talk.  So, I took him to a Chicago public school counselor.  Her recommendation was that we give him more time and let’s see “if he will grow out of it.”  Instead of waiting, I got him a speech therapist.   I moved and enrolled him in preschool in Wisconsin.  He was placed with kids that could not control their verbal speech, movements and needed strait jackets.  No exaggeration.  This is not meant as a negative on those kids, but my son could do more than they, and should have been in a class with higher functioning kids.  I requested that he be moved to a more challenging class.  They fought this, because they did not want to over stress and frustrate my son with the difficult challenges of the standard class.  He eventually was placed in a different class, after I forced them to place him in the standard preschool class.

But, then I thought, “Maybe it isn’t the public school system.”  I took him to a private therapist.  No diagnosis, but it was recommended that he focus on his strengths so as not to tax his brain with things like the English language.  Really????  Then how will he get better?  He will get better, but let’s not frustrate him too much.

We left for another Wisconsin school district and in the first grade he took his first standardized test.  According to the test it was recommended that he be removed from mainstream and placed in a special class.  Basically, according to the test, my son had an IQ of 5.  Once again I protested the downgrade of my son, but luckily, for the first time, a teacher was on the same page.  His first grade teacher joined the fight to keep my son in a mainstream class.  This was the first and last time I had an education person advocate for my son.  It turned out that my son had a problem understanding complex written questions.  In other words, he knew the answers, he just did not understand the questions.  So, for his IEP, he was allowed extra time for tests, and someone was allowed to read him the questions to make sure he understood them.  Upon retesting, he fell within normal parameters with below-average language skills (no surprise).

Believe it or not, this battle for challenging my son to rise to a higher standard continued until 6th grade.  His IEP recommended that all of his language assignments be half of what other students would be required.  Actually, in 5th grade, he was recommended to not be in the standard English class at all.  Of course, I said no.  And once again, I told his IEP, whatever the requirements placed on the other kids will also be placed on my son.  Once again, I got looks as if I was the meanest father in the world.  Which brings us to the present day, 7th grade, and my son has been scheduled without any help whatsoever, because of how well he did last year.

Why did I have to fight and advocate so much for my son?  Is this the new American education system?  We live in a world where kids are getting ribbons of participation because we don’t want them to feel bad for coming in last place.  We live in a world where preschools are handing out diplomas.  Kids that are behind are not being challenged in fear of frustrating them.  What happened to trying harder?  What happened to making it work despite the hardship?  This is even true politically.  If you don’t have a job, it’s the government’s fault.  I see immigrants every day come to this country, barely speak the language, if at all, and work to support their families here and in the country they came from.  Yet, we complain that it’s the President’s fault the unemployment rate is so high.  When did this become our America?

Do some people and kids need help?  Of course, but when did the system discourage hard work and raising the bar?  What would have happened to my son if I had waited to see if he started to talk?  What if I allowed them to take him out of the mainstream class?  What if doing half the work of the other kids was acceptable?  Then I think about the thousands, probably millions of kids that have learning disabilities and are encouraged to move slower so they are not frustrated.  In my opinion, this is a system that takes kids that are behind and not only keeps them behind, but places them farther behind.  In this country, “Tiger Mom” is a bad name, but if you go to other countries, do they have special programs to help students that are behind, or are they just forced to catch up?  You might think my words are harsh or extreme, but at least in my son’s case, had it been left up to the American education system, he would be far behind his peers right now.

After talking with last year’s IEP teacher, my son asked if he would be in Special Education classes this year.  I said to him, “You were never in Special Education classes, but you did need extra help in your language classes.  But no buddy, you will not be in “special” classes this year.”  And my son replied, “Then I will do my best.” Yeah he will, and every year, his best just keeps getting better.

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While at the store, a guy asked me if I knew what kind of ring I was wearing.  Dumbfounded, I said, “What?”  He continued, “Your ring.  Do you know that it is an Irish Marriage ring?”  I informed him that it is a Claddagh ring, and explained to him that it was not necessarily for marriage and how depending on how you wear changes its meaning.  As you may know, I hate strangers.  I especially hate strangers talking to me.  Quite frankly, no man should be asking another man about a ring.  Come on man!!!  You might be asking, “Why did you talk to him?”  Simple, what this stranger was saying was inaccurate.  And I hate stupidity more than I hate talking to strangers.  I’m just sayin’ …

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So, the title of today’s blog may be confusing.  I also could have called it, “Be Careful What You Wish For”, but I thought that was too cliché.  Nonetheless, I am often confronted with getting what I want, only to find that I really didn’t want that, or more specifically, that particular version of what I got.  For example, I wish I had more friends, but I hate it when people talk to me.  I am going to share two stories of my life that illustrate this dichotomy that I live with everyday.  Both stories occurred yesterday.

My son and I went shopping.  We were looking for a velcro strap for his leg.  He rides his bike to school and the weather has been cooler lately.  Since shorts season may be leaving us soon, we needed something to protect his right pants leg from the bike chain.  While shopping, I saw a woman who I recognized from church shopping with her two kids.  She was directly in the path of where I was planning on walking and I foresaw an impending forced hello and meaningless conversation about something irrelevant.  To avoid this torturous situation, I turned down an aisle and pretended that I did not see her, and hoped, or at least assumed that she did not see me. So, my son and I continued our shopping and went down an aisle, turned the corner, and BAM, there she was right in front of us.  She then, proceeded to walk right passed us, along with her children and did not say a word.

What?!?  How dare she not say hi to me.  I know she saw me.  What kind of person walks by another person that they recognize and not say hello?  That’s not very Christian.  I was upset.  I can’t believe she would just blow me off like that.  I almost turned around and said, “Hey! Lady! (Because I did not know her name, although I probably should have, since I know her husband’s name)  I know you know me!  You better recognize!  What would Jesus do?  WWJD!  WWJD  Bee-yotch!”  OK, the bee-yotch would have been too much, but you get my gist.  At least I had the common decency to duck down an aisle and attempt to avoid her all together, but I guess love and kindness is truly dead.  Yes, I know, I need help.

The second event took place after my son’s football game.  My son is 11-years-old and plays in a youth football league.  His team plays other sixth grade teams in the region.  My son has a physique built for football.  He is 5’6″, weighs at least 140 pounds, size 10.5 shoe and is strong.  He mainly plays nosetackle on defense.  The problem is, well, it is not really a problem, but one obstacle to football greatness is his lack of a single aggressive bone.  He is the nicest kid you will ever meet.  The phrase gentle giant comes to mind.  The truth of the matter is, I want him to do well in football.  And without much effort he plays a lot during the games, but he is not first string.  His coaches know that he could be the best player out there, but they have not been able to tap in to his aggressive spirit.

What bothers me the most is that he doesn’t seem to care or mind that he is not better.  I have on more than one occasion got mad at him for not, in my opinion, playing his best.  He also doesn’t seem to be bothered when the team loses, which is rare, but this might anger me the most.  How can you not want to win?  This is why I no longer go to his practices.  I do not want to ruin the experience for him by being one of those dads.  But, this year, I have been quiet.

Yesterday, his team was behind the whole game and ended up losing 26 to 12.  My son played one series and that’s it.  After the game I was furious, but again, chose not to say anything to him, nor his coach.  I really don’t want to be that guy.  While driving him to his mother’s, I noticed that my son seemed sad.  I asked him what was wrong.  He told me that he was disappointed that he didn’t play much and sad that the team lost.  He looked like he was going to cry.  OK, I did not want THIS.  We talked some more, and I suggested that next practice he ask his coach what he can do to improve and therefore play more during games.  He said he would do that.  And I hope he does.  I am excited for this, but it is crucial that I let him find his own way toward finding self motivation.  It is less about what I want, and more about what is best.  I want him motivated and to care, but not to be overly sad about every defeat.  It’s a fine line.

A quick addendum; I normally sit by myself at his football games because I really don’t know anyone else.  I am sometimes upset that no one sits next to me, or says hi.  Yesterday, I sat next to one of my son’s friend’s parents.  I hated every moment.  It’s not easy being me.

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Last week I drove to work and parked my car in a parking lot that is about 300 yards from my building.  As I am walking a woman starts talking to me about how nice it is to park in a lot that’s free.  Then ponders how many people know about this free lot and wonders if it will always be easy to park in that lot.  She introduces herself, and then asks a whole bunch of questions about me.  Luckily for me, she did not work in my building and I had to cut the conversation short to go to my office.  Who does this?  She talked to me like she knew me.  She talked non-stop and in my opinion tried to make a conversation way too personal for a first-time, you-are-a-stranger conversation.  You know what is weirder?  This happened to me twice this week.  This kind of stuff happens to me ALL THE TIME.  Why?  Why?  Why? And how can I make it stop?!?  I’m just sayin …

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So, today is Halloween.  I can’t overstate this enough, I hate Halloween.  If you were to ask me which day out of the 365 or 366 days of the year I hate the most, the answer would be quick and easy, Halloween.  I realize that I am in the clear minority with this, but I don’t care, I could do without the day.  Here is the run down of why:

I hate makeup.  Not the makeup a woman wears to make herself pretty, or the even the makeup an actor might wear on stage.  I hate the caked on obvious kind of makeup.  This includes Mary Kay old women, transvestites, and clowns, especially clowns.  Why do people like clowns?  They are very disturbing, not funny, not funny at all.

I hate strangers at my house.  It is the one day of the year where it is not only acceptable to knock on a stranger’s house, but actually encouraged.  I don’t know these people.  Then on top of that, they show up at my door with their greedy hands out wanting something from me.  this is MY candy.  I bought it with my hard-earned money.  Who do you think you are?

I have a bad childhood experience with Halloween.  First off, I still have a vivid memory of being told to stick my head down in the back of the car that my brother was driving because of some crazy people in chase.  It was in the parking lot of Ganesha High School in California.  Very traumatizing.  Secondly, my oldest brother, Thomas, made it his personal goal to scare me as much as humanly possible.  This was never more true than on Halloween.  Just a day to encourage bad behavior.

I am not a huge fan of candy.  Probably from my childhood days of being denied candy on a regular basis, but nonetheless, I can do without it.  As a matter of fact, I don’t like candy in my house, because if it there, I will eat it.  So, as a general rule, I do not buy the stuff.

I hate glorifying evil.  Once again, this is the only day of the year where it is encouraged to dress up like the dead, ghosts, goblins, murderers, death, etc.  It’s gross.  I don’t care what your beliefs are, but to actively invite evil into your life disturbs me.

I hate strangers.  I realize this is similar to my previous point of strangers at my house, but this point can’t be stressed enough.  I hate strangers.  Strangers in costume, even worse.

And finally, here as some rules that I think should be followed on this horrid day:

If you are 13 or older, no trick or treating.  A city banned this in Illinois and I completely support the move (http://www.kltv.com/Global/story.asp?S=13413268).

If you have a baby in a costume, or a child that can not speak or go up to the door on their own, but you are collecting candy on their behalf, you need serious help.  I realize that the food stamps may not be sufficient, but using Halloween to go shopping is just wrong.  And they always look like they have just got out of a stereotype movie.  One couple I saw was literally barefoot, dressed like hillbillies.  Costumes? I don’t think so.

If you are a teenager, which you shouldn’t be (see above) you should have an excellent costume.  A wife beater t-shirt and ripped dreams (criminal on Cops) does not count.

No reaching or grabbing for candy.  You will be SHOT!

So, that is how I feel.  I am sure you disagree, but I am clearly right on this one.

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Is it me or are Halloween costumes geared towards women? I took my son to Halloween Express to get him a Superman costume.  I felt like I needed to blindfold him as we walked the aisles.  Sexy cop, sexy prisoner, sexy football player, sexy hooker. OK, I made up that last one, or did I?  I talked to my students about this and we determined that there are levels.  Skank is the worst, followed by Whoorish, and then Trashy, followed by Revealing, and then Sexy.  Just in case you were wondering.  I’m just sayin’ …

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