Michigan educators are meeting to discuss their options for teaching K-12 students when schools are closed due to virus concerns. U. S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos who is from Michigan should consider consulting with special education experts at the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the National Braille and talking Book Library, and Learning Ally. Hadley teaches students using audio books as well as large print and Braille that are mailed free to students’ homes. they teach online classes via computers. Now they are also conducting interest groups via phone or computer access where teachers and participants interact by talking to each other. Hadley has perfected the school-without-walls and distance learning options for over 100 years. Learning Ally and the Talking Book Library already have textbooks in audio format that are being downloaded and read by blind and visually impaired students as well as the physically handicapped who cannot hold a print book or turn pages.
When I was growing up, my favorite “teacher” was Captain Kangaroo who had a TV program before Mr. Rogers. Early children’s programming, PBS, the History Channel, community access stations, etc. demonstrate that out-of-school learning has been available for decades and can be put to good use now. The popularity of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune show that audiences are hungry for programming that stimulates their brains. The university courses that are available on DVDs at the public library make updating skills great fun. Take a look at the list of subjects offered by Great Courses and the Teaching Company. When the schools close, the public libraries will also close, but libraries have websites with books that can be downloaded and other tools for patrons. The number of resources that can be found with a Smart Phone or iPhone on You Tube or Google seem infinite and make research at any age fun.
My parents were the children of immigrants. They were only required to attend school until they finished the 8th grade. They were brilliant people who earned their livings as factory workers. My father could build a home from the foundation up or take a car apart and put it back together again as I handed him his tools. The things he taught himself allowed him to earn money doing odd jobs when there was a strike, a factory closing, and when he found himself between jobs. My mother read the newspaper from cover to cover every night. They had me leave my school books on the coffee table before I went to bed. Then they would read them. They also read the set of encyclopedias that they bought for our family. They taught me that common sense is even more important than a formal education, especially during difficult times. I trust that parents will be just as concerned about continuing their children’s studies at home as their children’s teachers are and will be eager to share the teaching responsibility with them.
I am an educator, a trained teacher and librarian. I know the value of a good education, but I also know that learning comes from many places and in many ways besides the traditional classroom. If the deaf-blind woman, Haben Girman, could graduate from Harvard Law School, become a disability rights lawyer, and write her memoir, America’s schools can weather the current challenges. Times like these require the help of special people who have special skills. Special Education experts are up to the task.
It seems as if the whole world has been grounded like a child being disciplined for doing something wrong. If we are wise, we will all learn the difference between what we want and what we need and love what we have left after the virus is gone.