I have a dream! No really, last night I had this dream. I dreamed 10 women were chosen to meet with Oprah Winfrey. At the meeting we were privileged with the opportunity to chat with the powerful Ms. Winfrey. I sat listening to the ardent pleas of these strong-willed and driven women who had been chosen — hand-picked by Oprah herself — to break bread with arguably one of the most famous and influential woman in the western world. Each had a mission they were selling. Oprah listened, smiled and nodded, impressed with their knowledge and drive.
I sat quietly in the background off to the right. I did not know why the venerable Miss O had selected me to sit in her court. I am the mother of identical twins with Down syndrome who are empathically savant but who learn differently. I am the mother of a beautiful Old Soul with Attention Deficit who is intellectually and creatively gifted… who learns differently. I have a personal mission I fight locally under the banner, “think globally, act locally!” In this group, I am an unknown in a field of knowns as I think my private thoughts about not belonging. I feel less than. Different. The session ends and as we file out into the hallway, guided to the exit doors, Oprah seeks me out.
“Why did you choose me to participate in today’s forum?” I ask her. ” These other women have worldly missions. They are powerful. They seek fame and fortune.” She looks me in the eye and asks, “What is your mission? What will you do in this world? What will be your legacy? And, how will you achieve it?” I secretly think my legacy will be my amazing children and realize Ms. Winfrey will see that as a “cop-out” (to use a term my Dad favored). She is right! She is not asking me to list what my children’s accomplishments will be but to decide what MINE will be beyond gracing this world with their amazing presence.
I tell her, “I want MY children and all the children like them now and in the future to be able to ride the bus with their peers!” A metaphor! I want my children to go to the school down the block and be accepted as a natural part of that population — not to receive an equivalent-but-elsewhere education. I do not want them segregated either in a separate school or in a separate classroom where they’re “allowed to come out and have lunch in the cafeteria with the normal kids”. I want them to receive the education they need to excel in life… with the support they need to claim it. I want REAL inclusion and individualized education according to the needs of the child. The laws support this notion but, where I live and in many other places, it doesn’t exist in practice!
I explain that our education system is broken here in NY and in the US. In NY we are the second worst state in the nation at practicing inclusion. We are known for our antiquated segregation of people with special needs. We segregate our challenged and our gifted children. In doing so we hold everyone back… denying them role models that push them beyond their current abilities! In the US we lag behind in educational statistics. We are educating to the Bell Curve instead of educating ALL of the children to their unique and full potential. I relate my experience as a corporate manager — before having children — where I was required to identify the learning styles of each of my employees and create a career path/plan that accommodated their individual learning styles and needs in order to help them succeed in our company. I marvel at the thought that our education system does LESS for our children…. These children are the future of our country. The future of our world! Miss Winfrey is smiling, nodding, silently encouraging me! As I feel more empowered, I talk about what I want for my children and for all children with Down syndrome, Apraxia, ADD, for every child that learns differently than those “typically developing” children that live squarely under the bell curve. I am talking about exceptional children – those who fall above and below the bell; those whose needs are not met through the current middle-of-the-road system but who require unique support and accommodations to achieve their full potential.
I go on, explaining that I’ve been accepted to train in the New York State Partners in Policymaking program. I want to make a difference — not only locally in the elementary school where my children will be embraced with open arms and an education plan that will meet their exceptional needs… because I will fight to make it so — but, I want to make a difference “globally”. I want to drag New York State out of the dark ages and push us forward into a time when our exceptional children are educated side-by-side with their peers, where they are provided the appropriate accommodations within that setting to meet their greatest potential. I want role models for every child at every level to push each to the next level of his or her potential.
I want to be the force that realizes the implementation of the laws as they were meant to be implemented… set forth as a result of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts! The laws that allow exceptional people — minorities of all kinds — to ride the “regular” bus, go to their local school, drink from the same water fountain and eat in the same cafeteria as everyone else. I want to be part of the solution that sees our education system over-deliver to all populations exceptional and typical. I want to be a catalyst to the change I wish to see!
Thank you Oprah! Yes, I have a dream… and I’m on a mission!