My children simply did not fit in the mainstream schooling system. They’re both very bright and along with that come some eccentricities that often get labelled as problems within a very structured environment where children are expected to be alike, fit within the system and not stand out or cause waves.
My ten year old once explained it like this: “I’m like a puzzle piece that’s been put in the wrong box… I don’t fit anywhere. There’s no place for me.”
That’s quite a tough feeling for a small child to bear. And it isn’t that there’s something wrong with her, although within that system that was exactly the message she was getting.
There are many children struggling in school who don’t need to be placed in remedial classes. They need something special, but they’re not exactly special needs. They would thrive in a different environment but not that one. I have nothing against remedial education. It is fantastic in the right circumstances. But a child who is simply in the wrong place and is then moved to a remedial class where there are real special needs kids can look around and label themselves. They end up thinking there is something wrong with them.
These kids will generally fly if homeschooled or placed in a good cottage school or Montessori or within the Cambridge system where they have the freedom to work at their own pace and fill in the gaps they missed by being in the wrong environment.
For some the box is simply too small to contain them. For others it’s the noise levels. Some children are visual or kinesthetic learners and don’t respond to lectures. Most children don’t learn at the predetermined pace of the SA education system. Every child is unique – the exact reason that standardized education is failing. Nobody is standard. The trouble is if kids keep being pushed to move onto the next thing without mastering the previous stage then they end up with huge gaps in their foundational knowledge which will cause the whole structure to come crashing down at some point. That’s the point they pick up the label. Or if they learn faster than the system they get bored and restless and get labeled as ADHD or ODD (Oppositional Defiant that is, not odd – although they can be labeled as odd too!)
If there is a problem with learning don’t necessarily assume that the problem is with your child. It might be. But it might not. And you are their advocate until they can stand up for themselves. You need to question and explore alternatives and not necessarily take the word of those in educational authority as fact.
Only a few children really thrive within the schooling system. Most do not. Your child may genuinely be a special needs child – with Autism or dyslexia or serious processing difficulties and for these children the special needs schools and classrooms can make a huge difference to their ability to learn and develop with the appropriate assistance. But if your child is simply in need of something special – a smaller class, a more nurturing environment, a faster or slower pace, or a different style of teaching – then you need to look beyond the special needs class to any of the amazing alternatives that exist. Every child deserves to feel that there is a puzzle that they will fit in to!