'American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Convention 2019      NOPBC BOARD MEETING

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The Greatest Danger of All

by Fred Schroeder

Fred SchroederIntroduction by Carlton Anne Cook Walker: Dr. Fredric Schroeder is president of the World Blind Union and a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind. He is an amazing mentor and godparent to our children. He firmly believes in helping our children become the individuals they have a right to be.

Thank you, and good afternoon to all of you! I'd like to begin by introducing you to Terri Rupp, who is the president of our host affiliate here in Nevada. Do you all know that Terri Rupp is a marathon runner? I thought you might find that interesting.

What is the greatest danger your blind child faces? You might think first of physical danger. Obviously all parents want to make sure their children are safe! Perhaps you might think next of the danger of getting a substandard education. Clearly that is a very serious concern! But what pops into my mind, having grown up as a blind person, is the danger that your child will accept a role of passivity, that your child will come to believe that he or she cannot do the things other people do. When that happens, your child will feel inferior and will quit trying.

There's a phrase in Spanish, espiritu quebrado. It means broken spirit. The greatest danger of all is that your child's spirit will be broken.

When I think back on my childhood, one of the first things that comes to my mind is being put somewhere and told to wait. I wasn't isolated as a child, but I was not included, either. I was put somewhere, and from time to time someone would come and bring me something. My role was one of complete passivity. I didn't like it, but I didn't know what to do about it.

When you pursue educational opportunities for your child, you're helping your child get the foundations of literacy and numeracy and all the other skills that we associate with good schooling. You're also teaching your child that she or he can achieve according to your child's individual ability and willingness to work hard. 

How does all of this translate into practice? I ran a special education program many years ago, and we had to write IEPs for the students. The Department of Education in our state came for a visit and criticized me for doing the IEPs wrong. We had an overarching goal for all of our blind kids, and it was very simple. It said, "Carrie will perform at or above grade level in all subject areas." The Department of Education said, "That's not individual!" I said, "Okay, but it's the goal for Carrie."

Why is that the goal? If Carrie is behind, that means we haven't done something we should be doing. The goal of being at or above grade level is one that a parent can understand. It's very concrete and simple.

One of the problems with special education is that it uses what I call a progress model, or a "doing better" model. Suppose your fourth grader is reading at a second-grade level at the beginning of the school year. Then suppose she almost reaches a third-grade level by the end of that year. Has she made progress? Absolutely! At your IEP meeting the school is likely to tell you, "She is doing wonderfully!" And yet she has fallen another half year behind. She'll be entering fifth grade, and she isn't quite at a third-grade reading level yet. The progress approach doesn't only damage your child's literacy. It puts your child at risk of a broken spirit.

I have deep personal experience with this situation. I had low vision when I was growing up. At that time there was a widespread belief among doctors that if you had poor eyesight and you used your eyes a lot, you would lose even more vision. I was literally prohibited from reading print, but since I still could see a bit, they insisted that I didn't need Braille. Figure that out! What on earth would possess educators to say that it's okay for a child to grow up illiterate? Well, they assumed that illiteracy is the natural consequence of being blind!

When I was in fifth grade a publication called My Weekly Reader was sent to classrooms around the country. The kids in my class got My Weekly Reader, and later in the week there would be a discussion of the various articles. All of the kids around me knew things about the subjects we were talking about. They knew things that I didn't know. They read the articles and I didn't, so no wonder they understood things that I didn't understand! But as a ten-year-old, you don't think of the situation that way. What you think is, I'm blind, and these sighted kids know so much more than I know! I must be inferior to them.

I don't say this to discourage you. You have tapped into the greatest resource by being here at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. You are now part of a family that believes in you and your children. This week you will see that people take an interest in your children's lives. They will tell you that they want your children to have greater opportunities than they had growing up.

The greatest danger to your blind child is that he or she may accept and internalize the things society believes about blind people. You can head that off, because you are part of a family that will encourage your kids. It will even encourage people like Terri Rupp who are foolish enough to want to run twenty-six miles when no one is chasing them!

How do you know when expectations are age appropriate? Gather information. Become part of a network. Talk to other parents. Join NFB listservs and Facebook pages. If your child has a particular interest, no matter what it is, we can find a blind person who has done what your child hopes to do. That person can be a mentor to your child and a source of encouragement and inspiration.

Good luck to all of you. If I can ever be a resource for you and your children, I'm more than happy to help!

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