Educators educating Educators

Jan 19

Richard Lavoie

I recently attended a speech by Richard Lavoie, a renowned special education expert, and found him to be an inspiring and thought provoking speaker. If you have an opportunity to hear Dr. Lavoie speak, even if you do not have a child with special needs, be sure to attend. He is exceptionally insightful, entertaining, and down to earth using his real life experiences in the field of special education to convey what it is like to be a child with learning differences.

In addition, Lavoie’s web site contains exceptional information and inspiration for parents and teachers of children with learning disabilities and is a valuable source of insights into the mind of a child with a learning difference.

Below I have attached two items from his web site. The first item is a discussion of his idea concerning the differences between “fair” and “equal” in a regular education classroom.

The second item is a piece of writing titled Governor Palin's Journey of 1000 Miles. First, let me state the following: the purpose of the posting of this article is not political; it is purely educational in intent. It is an article written by Lavoie and published in the Boston Globe after the newspaper asked Lavoie his opinion on the role Trig Palin, at the time a six month old special needs child, was playing in the Presidential campaign.

I found that both items enabled me to view special education through a somewhat different lens and as an educator, which enhance my skills and insights when working with all students.


“Fair verse equal” in the classroom.

“Fair” does not mean that every child gets the same treatment, but that every child gets what he or she needs.

A philosophical issue for the practitioner to examine is that of "fairness". It seems that, as parents and educators, we mold children's values and morals. We teach them valuable lessons related to honesty, courage, integrity, loyalty, and so on. Yet, it seems that we allow children to dictate to us the concept of "fairness". When asked to define "fairness," most children respond: "Fairness means everybody gets the same.” Unfortunately, we often allow children to convince us that this indeed is the definition of that concept. As a result, we attempt to deal with all children in an identical manner. When a teacher modifies a lesson for an LD child or adjusts the course requirements for him, his classmates charge that the situation is "unfair". Rather than respond to their complaints, the teacher should explain that the mature conceptualization of "fairness" is not equal, identical treatment; rather, "fairness" means that every student receives what he needs. Because each individual's needs are different, "fairness" dictates that their programs and expectations will be different. Children are capable of understanding this concept if it is explained clearly and if it is observed daily in the teacher's modeling behavior.

Watch this short clip on You Tube as Dr. Lavoie explains fairness.


Governor Palin's Journey of 1000 Miles

As an advocate for families of handicapped children for over three decades, I have taken a special interest in the role that Trig Palin is playing in the Presidential campaign. Trig, now six months old, is nominee Sarah Palin’s son. He has Down Syndrome. Governor Palin often tells her audience that she will be a champion for “special needs families” because “she knows what you’re are going through.”

With great respect and empathy, I must say, “Sorry, Governor, but you don’t.” You will...someday. But not now. Not yet.

Trig is – and always will be – a blessing in your family’s life. But, Governor, your journey has just begun. You will understand...someday. But between that day and today, there will be a lot of other “somedays.” and your family will spend stressful hours in a hospital waiting room while Trig undergoes corrective surgery. The doctors will call it “routine” ...but that characterization will seem foreign and insensitive to you.

Someday...a relative or “close friend” will suggest that Trig not be brought to a holiday function because “it may be too much for him to handle.” Your relationship with that person will never be exactly the same again.

Someday...all the students in his class will be invited to a birthday party...except Trig.

Someday...some stranger in a store will stare at him and ask an insensitive and intrusive question. Startled, you will give a bland response. But for several days after the incident, you will generate great and clever retorts that you “should have said.” (By the way, you won’t be able to recall these “clever retorts” the next time this occurs).

Someday...your adorable daughter who stroked Trig’s hair during the GOP convention will grow into adolescence. Trig will embarrass her in front of her friends and she will tell you, “I hate him! I hate him! I hate him!” (...she will feel guilt-ridden after her rant and will cry herself to sleep that night). will have to place him on the special bus. will recognize that toilet training will take years...not months.

Someday...he will sob bitterly in his bed and you will hug him tightly. But he will be unable to tell you where his pain is coming from. and your husband will decide to take separate vacation plane flights because of your gut wrenching fear of what would ever happen to Trig if the two of you were to die together. will take Trig on a long and expensive journey to meet and be examined by a “professional” who claims that he can “cure” your son. After weeks of “therapy” you will realize that the approach is baseless and you will wish that you had invested the funds in tutoring and counseling. will – inexplicably and irrationally – blame your husband for Trig’s plight and you will have an intense and hurtful argument. You will apologize later...but the damage will have been done. will deny the severity of Trig’s problems and you will insist that he be allowed to participate in challenging academic or social programs. He will fail miserably and publicly. You will be greatly guilt-ridden. will begin researching long-term housing for Trig when he reaches adolescence. You will learn that there is a 5000-person waiting list for placement. will take him out for a special dinner on his Prom Night and you will hope that you can take his mind off the event that he is missing. will sit down with his siblings as they are building their adult lives and explain that they must also plan to play an ongoing role in Trig’s life because Mom and Dad will not live forever.

Most “special parents” I know have lived these “somedays”. They recognize – as you will, Governor- that raising a special needs child also has great blessings, triumphs, victories and golden moments. You will meet extraordinary people on this journey.

Governor Palin, my thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with you on this journey. I suggest that you contact other special needs parents and talk to them. They are a remarkably generous group. Learn from them. Listen to them. Lean on them. But don’t try to lead them. Not yet. You’re not ready.

Governor, I pray you will be ready...someday.

©2008 Rick Lavoie,





“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.