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Summer 2005 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

An Amazing Movement

by Phil Hatlen, Superintendent,
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: An article with a personal story that illustrates how the Expanded Core Curriculum affords equality of opportunity for student who is blind or visually impaired.

Key Words: Expanded Core Curriculum, ECC, Phil Hatlen, TSBVI

In the United States, Women’s Suffrage is over 100 years old. Amazing things have happened in the arena of equality for women, but if Harriet Beecher Stowe were alive, she would tell you that true equality has yet to be achieved. Over 50 years ago civil rights for minorities became a high priority in my country. And many aspects of the lives of African-Americans and Hispanics have improved. Yet, Martin Luther King Jr. would tell you that equality for all races is still a dream. About 15 years ago our profession was introduced to a new term: Expanded Core Curriculum.

These other movements were originated to provide equality for women and African-Americans. Is there a parallel with the ECC? I’ve never thought before about how learning the skills offered by the ECC brings blind persons closer to equality with sighted persons. If we professionals are committed to equal opportunities for blind and visually impaired persons, how could we think of the curriculum within the ECC as optional? The Expanded Core Curriculum provides opportunities for equality for the blind and visually impaired; to NOT teach it is to deny this basic human right.

It has been endorsed and supported by most major agencies and organizations of and for the blind, it is known and adopted throughout the world, and it is included in most teacher preparation programs. But even Phil Hatlen will tell you that the majority of blind and visually impaired children in this world are not receiving much of the ECC.

What’s the moral of this story? Dramatic change, in attitudes and in service delivery, takes time. As I was writing these words, ready to guilt-trip all of you because you believe in the ECC but are not teaching it, a friend of mine reminded me of the above timetable. She said that to deliver the ECC to all students who need it will require a major paradigm shift, one that doesn’t happen instantly or easily. So, my friend said, why don’t you write about the amazing strides that have been made toward complete delivery of the ECC in a short 15 years? Now, I’m an old curmudgeon, been around a long time, and find it always easier to be critical than complimentary. Then the ECC cheerleaders at TSBVI marched into my office, pom-poms and all, and led a hearty cheer for the good old ECC. Fine, fine, I mumbled, I’ll write something uplifting and positive about this topic of which I’m so passionate!

This will be the first of several installments in See/Hear representing my current thinking about the ECC. Each will contain one story of my history that will explain why I have so much passion and commitment to this topic.

I once knew a woman named Mamie Clemmons. She was on the residential staff of the California School for the Blind in Berkeley. Around 1968 I lost track of her, later to discover that she had bought a large house in the foothills of North Berkeley.

Mamie moved into this house along with six recent graduates of the California School for the Blind. She knew all the young people living in this house from their days at CSB. She knew that when they graduated from CSB, they would not be ready to enter into the social, educational, and occupational mainstream of their communities. She knew what they knew—most were very bright, capable academic students. She knew what they didn’t know—how to live effectively, happily, and productively in the community.

So Mamie started a halfway house for blind young people who needed some maturing and a lot more independence before they ventured into the community by themselves. She didn’t know much about vocational training, instruction in independent living skills, orientation and mobility, etc. But Mamie knew a lot about what blind students didn’t know because they could not learn visually and casually.

In the middle of a huge room on a table was a large bowl of fruit—bananas, oranges, apples, etc. Mamie pointed to the bowl and said, “When these young people were at CSB, they ate when they were told to eat, they had almost no knowledge of snacks. I put out this bowl of fruit and told them to help themselves any time. They were shocked—they didn’t have to ask permission, it could be any time of the day.” Mamie went on to say that if these young people had grown up in their family homes, this wouldn’t have come as such a surprise.

I connected myself to Mamie, those young people, and that house for more than a year. And I slowly came to realize what had been so obvious to Mamie. We were graduating students from our high schools who may have been excellent academic students but were ill prepared for life.

We should be proud, and stand tall, because the ECC has advanced so much in a short period of time. Stowe never lived to see the equality of women. MLK Jr. never lived to see civil rights provide equality to all cultural and ethnically different people. But think about how their work moved us closer to equality among all people. Now, I would never be so presumptuous as to put myself in the same category of Harriet Beecher Stowe or Martin Luther King, Jr. But, in a very similar manner, the ECC is gaining momentum just as these other monumental changes have done.

As with Stowe and King, I will not live to see the day that the ECC becomes a regular part of the curriculum for all blind and visually impaired students. All I can do is push it along, a step at a time, and know that future generations like you will pick up the passion, the commitment, the understanding that the ECC must be a part of the daily learning activities of children.


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October 19, 2005