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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Shock To The System

Come one! Come all! I am looking for educators, or those familiar with elementary education, in the South Jersey area for a semi-project I'm working on. Specifically I'm seeking out people from Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties. I can't write more about it here right now, but if you think you want more details, might be able to help, or know someone who might, please contact me at

Fun fact for the day (just don't look for another one tomorrow) This Wednesday morning at 2 minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning the time will be:

01:02:03 04/05/06

This will never happen again.

Finally, I hope you will welcome new renter This Is Not The Life I Pictured by giving her a great big click and a comment. I feel bad when people rent from me lately. I don't have a click friendly brood. But who am I to say? Go ahead. Prove me wrong.:)

This concludes our special messages from the national blogcasting system.

Last week, frequent commenter Gigem asked me how I felt about this story in the news about how educators were shocking kids. I hadn't heard about it, but I found the news, not to sound cute, to be well, somewhat shocking.

Apparently, a special needs school in Massachusetts called the Judge Rotenberg Center has made the headlines for using shock therapy on their students. The students at this school range are all different ages and come from all different backgrounds. What they have in common, however, is that they all suffer from some sort of behavioral or mental disabilities.

In defense of the school, the workers were not using this treatment behind anyone's back. When parents bring their children to the Judge Rotenberg Center it seems they know what they are signing up for.

This did not stop one NY mother from suing the school, citing that she didn't realize the shocks would hurt so much. No offense lady but I gotta say one thing and one thing only. Duh.

As for the controversial treatment itself, it is illegal in NY, can't imagine why, so the woman in question voluntarily admitted her son to the program, a program which stands by the fact that this child's violent episodes had sharply decreased. To read more about the story go here.

I wish I could say that the shock treatment itself was more shocking to me, but it really isn't. Every once and awhile I'll joke with my third graders about how I wish I could shock them into sitting in their seats or not calling out. Note to speed readers, I did use the word joke. I didn't actually do it so everybody just calm down.

I even mentioned this story to my students after I heard about it. They were all for it. They even requested I do that to them. Obviously they jumped the gun a bit here. I mean who knowingly chomps at the bit to be shocked anyhow? As if it isn't bad enough when I get a shock every damn time I get out of my car in the winter. That shock hurts like a mother. Can't imagine that not doing damage to a kid who acts up every five seconds.

But then there is the special ed perspective. I don't know how much y'all know about special ed, but some of the techniques used would probably surprise, if not apall you.

See, I worked in special education for one year while I went back to get my Master's in education. It was a very eye opening experience I keep meaning to blog about here. In short, controversial procedures are utilized on special education students everyday that would probably seem downright inhumane to you.

For instance, we had a student in our class who was autistic. He frequently had fits of rage and would lash out at the other students or at the teachers. Tantrums included head butting, throwing of things and pulling of hair.

If you've ever worked with someone who is of special needs such as autism or Down' Syndrome know what I'm about to say is true. Many of these people are amazingly, freakishly strong. It's as if the body is overcompensating, overly expressing itself in one way where in other ways it cannot. A survival instinct of some sort.

This particular child was one of the most severe in the school. If we did one of the actions listed above we had a variety of approaches to "punish" and help deter him from doing it again.

One involved making him stand up and sit down repeatedly at least 20 times. As you could imagine, making anyone stand up and sit down 20 times against their will actually manages to make them angrier, not calmer. So many times, in the middle of this procedure, the child would lash out again. It got so bad that I refused to do this as a treatment. Not only did I feel it was cruel to the child, I feared for my own damn safety.

Other treatments involved sitting on a child to restrain them when they were angry or laying on a child with a beanbag in between you to create a feeling of pressure, something allegedly many autistic children crave.

Sometimes we had to force feed students foods they didn't want to eat at lunch. Imagine the food you like the least and then being told you had to eat it. In special education they often immerse you in whatever it is that causes the most fear or resentment, in order to overcome that feeling. But people like you and I might not like something, and that's ok. We have the freedom to choose whether or not to eat brussel sprouts. Many special education students actually do not.

Food itself as a reward is another red flag. I had to carry around a box full of candy for this same child. On top of the box was a timer. Every 45 seconds that timer would go off. If the child had complied during the previous 45 seconds we were to praise them with something like "nice working" or "great sitting quietly" and then reward them...with food. Chopped up Skittles. Picked apart gummy bears. Goldfish were in there too, but the child next to never wanted those. Who wants the healthy foods when they could have a sugar high? Special education kids might be slower, but they most certainly are not stupid.

The theory was this: the longer you consistently adminster the reward, the more the subject will begin to make the connection between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. As time goes on, hopefully you can up the timer intervals to 1 minute, 2 minutes and so on, with the best case scenario being a complete eventual phasing out.

With this particular child however, his timer intervals were never spaced apart. In other words, we continued to reward him with candy every 45 seconds the entire school year. He never did get the message. What he did get a set of rotting teeth and a slowly emerging weight problem.

So what is the solution? Damned if I know. But the fact of the matter is we might never know for sure what some mentally and developmentally disabled people comprehend and what they do not.

Shocking them into submission and conformity though, does not seem like the safest or even sanest of solutions.



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