Punching Stupid and Evil in the Face Since 1986!

"We are on strike, we the men of the mind. We are on strike against self-immolation. We are on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties."-John Galt

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tell your kids they can do anything...unless they have special needs.

It is unbelievable to me that a special needs student who worked hard and made something out of his life has suddenly been thrust into the limelight and is being criticized for succeeding. Otis Mathis, president of the Detroit city schools, has a learning disability identified early in life, but that has not stopped him. Despite that challenge, he graduated high school AND college, then went on to be a teacher and now school board president.

As if Detroit doesn't have enough problems these days, the president of the city's school board offered the shocking admission that he can't pen a coherent sentence.

Otis Mathis, who oversees the academic future of 90,000 public school students, told the Detroit News that he's a "horrible writer" after reports surfaced that he sent a Feb. 29 e-mail to the financial manager of Detroit Public Schools that was rife with spelling, punctuation and usage errors.

Some parents are now questioning whether Mathis is fit for his role.

"It's kind of scary to even talk about," Patrick Martin, 49, a Detroit contractor whose 12-year-old son is a student at Noble Middle School, told the paper. "If this is the leader, what does it say about the followers? It explains a lot about why there's so much confusion and infighting with the board and Robert Bobb."

I thought we were to encourage our children to reach for the stars. I thought we wanted them to believe there was no goal they couldn't attain if they set their mind to it. I thought opportunity and achievement were unlimited to those striving to be the best. I thought we wanted all people to have the same chance at greatness............

Apparently, we do, as long as they never have a special need in their life. We do, as long as they never have some accommodation to help them comprehend. We do, as long as they are "normal" or "average". Then? The sky is the limit........Anything less is to be shunned or discarded.

As the parent of a special needs student I can tell you she works just as hard, if not harder, than my "normal" child. Her IQ is high, her will strong and her tenacity unmatched. Don't ever tell that kid there is a goal she cannot achieve should she so desire. I cannot ever imagine criticizing her for succeeding. I want her to be all that she can. I want her to struggle and fall-then power through to her right end. I would never let anyone tell her there was something she could not do.

Given the state of the Detroit public school system, I have little doubt I would disagree with Mr. Mathis' policies. I doubt I would make the same choices he might be making for the students and the district, but there is no doubt I would never blame those failings or differences on his learning disability. He has gone through the process, he climbed the ladder to get where he is, he was voted in by his peers 10-1 for the position of School Board President. He followed the path that was right for him and he earned his position.
"Instead of telling them that they can't write and won't be anything, I show that cannot stop you," Mathis told the paper. "If Detroit Public Schools can allow kids to dream, with whatever weakness they have, that's something....It's not about what you don't have. It's what you can do."

What message are we sending to kids when we criticize this man for having utilized the services and tools that were offered to him while going through the school system? What message are we sending to students when on the one hand we preach all day about equality and merit based rewards and on the other infer Mr. Mathis has overstepped his bounds by achieving?

The message we are sending is you are great and good........unless you're not.............Know your place in this world and to be sure, others are the ones to decide for you what that place is.



  1. I appreciate you sympathy of this man's special need. I too agree that it is great that he has achieved a high position with this special need.

    I do understand the parent's position as I too get aggravated at my first graders correspondence when it has spelling and grammar errors.

    I would guess that Mr. Mathis being the President of The Detroit City Schools has an assistant. Why couldn't that person either proof read his correspondence or why can't he use Microsoft Word's spell and grammar check?

    It is not unusual for Administrative Assistants to write their bosses correspondence base on a given outline sending them out after given the go-ahead from their boss.

  2. I found your post linked from The Missouri Tea Party website and read your post with considerable alarm.

    I usually don't post responses on blogs -- and certainly not long responses, but I feel that I ** must** respond to your comments in more detail than I usually would.

    I am a 48 year old adult with Cerebral Palsy since birth. I have extreme difficulty ambulating and use two crutches to walk or a walker. I also now own my first Power Chair and am buying a van and the adaptive devices so that I may load and unload the chair without assistance.

    I graduated college with an excellent GPA and earned more than one graduate degree or certificate, including a Masters in Social Work. In high school and college, I worked in both public and commercial broadcasting -- radio and television.

    Prior to earning that degree I was a school teacher in regular non-disability classrooms. I was also the first and only physically disabled person to work as a live in house parent at a home for disturbed youth, a substance abuse counselor at inpatient treatment centers and later taught Junior High in regular non-special education classrooms. While earning my Master in Social Work, I was, a PAID special education social worker for a local public school district.

    I also attended theological seminary and I'm an ordained minister in a mainline Protestant denomination.

    I have a high IQ but I'm learning disabled in mathematics and I have non-hyperactive attention deficit disorder.

    The only assistance that I received during this process was the right to do exams on a computer and assistance with getting books in the library, photocopying, etc. Never in my academic career did I expect professors to grade me differently than my classmates. I did expect, and for the most part, received reasonable accommodations for my physical disability. Sometimes, it was a challenge, but since what I was requesting was "reasonable" under the law, provisions ultimately were made, but I was still expected to meet the same standards as my non-handicapped classmates and colleagues. [Continued]

  3. [continued from previous comment]

    Professionally as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, prior to entering ministry, I was a psychotherapist working with individuals, families, children and adolescents. My specialization turned out to be children and adolescents because employers saw my background in youth work, although my original intent was to work with adults when I was in school. I also served on The Disability Rights Commission in the community in which I lived and worked both professionally and as a volunteer to increase understanding and enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act and other relevant laws and regulations. In seminary I served on the Disability Ministries Commission of the denomination in was in while at seminary. I have since, as an ordained minister in my current denomination, presented workshops at one of our national meetings on Disability Issues and The Church -- "That All My Worship" (Kansas City, 2005). I've also taught at the college and graduate school level as Adjunct Faculty and I am currently being considered for a university faculty position. Several years ago, I ran for elected office at our state level and received a strong number of votes for someone seeking election for the first time.

    Accessibility, both from a physical standpoint and equally important, inclusion from an attitudinal standpoint is very, very dear to my heart. Youth and adults with known disabilities -- those that people can see -- face misunderstanding and prejudice in our every day lives -- socially and in employment,etc.

    People with hidden disabilities can often "pass", but are often labeled stupid or lazy by insensitive or misinformed individuals and may also face discrimination in employment by those who do not want to provide accommodation for whatever the disability happens to be.

    These are real issues that we face, but to excuse substandard work, key to a position, is not accommodation, it is, I believe, excuse making and does a disservice to all the rest of us. It also makes it more difficult for those of us who have worked so hard to accomplish those things that we have because it gives many people the impression that "those disabled people" expect a double standard.

  4. [continued from previous comment]

    I can -- and have accomplished many things in my life, but I could not be a fireman, police officer, park ranger or surgeon (hands have tremors). I am realistic enough to know that there are careers which I should not seek, not because I'm a second-rate person, but because these are unrealistic given my physical situation. I can do "anything" within my power and within reason given my aptitude, training and physical ability to do so just like any "normal" (non-disabled) person providing I am given the chance and able to overcome societal prejudice and fears.

    With the exception of overcoming societal prejudice and fears, this is true of non-disabled individuals as well. Not everyone has to aptitude or physical ability to do "anything" whether he or she has an identified disability or not.

    I grew up before "mainstreaming". In our school district, all physically disabled (and mentally handicapped) students were required to attend Special School District, which largely provided a second-rate educational, segregated experience for those of us who had physical disabilities, but were extremely high functioning intellectually. My parents mainstreamed me into private schools from 5th. grade through high school and these schools did not have "special education" provisions. The American With Disabilities Act did not yet exist and I was expected to do the same work to the same standards as my classmates -- Thank God -- although I used a typewriter for my written homework. I was offered alternatives to required required physical education which I would have been physically unable to do.
    This was reasonable and appropriate.

  5. [continued from previous comment]
    Within The Americans With Disabilities Act and the applicable Special Education Regulations prior to the A.D.A., both academic institutions and employers are required to provide "reasonable accommodations" to persons with disabilities. If a position requires skills as a key component of a position that I or another disabled candidate do not have, an employer is not expected to be hire me or the other disabled candidate. Communication skills, the ability to read and write well and effectively are, I believe, a key skills needed by educators and administrators in a school system -- or any academic institution -- as well as the ability to understand, analyze data and develop policy, which requires good written and verbal communication skills. I might add that most software now includes spell check and often grammar checking and that even the best communicators among us routinely use such common tools. Just because someone is popular with his or her peers does not mean that he or she is qualified for a position -- disabled or not.

  6. hey, just heard about your blog on pastor rob in the morning on my favorite saint louis christian music station on the internet.

    i'm a disabled teen and i think pastor's got it right and you got it wrong. i know there are things i can do and things i can't. that's ok. it's not right for ppl to tell me i can't do things that i can, but it is also bad to tell me or any kid that we can do anything if we just want to hard enough. if we just dream. that's what you're saying and it's wrong. i want a summer job like other but i can't wk in fast food or most other jobs that hire ppl my age. so to tell me just work hard 'nuff and dream and you'll succeed, just aint happening even if mom was like you and supportive.

  7. No offense, but I followed up on this story. It's never funny when a person is born with a disability and cannot read (et alia), but the guy Otis Mathis is a disgrace.

    He got fired later not because he was illiterate, but because he had pleasured himself in front of all the female employees.