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Winter 2006 Table of Contents
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The Gift of Time

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

Abstract: Dr. Phil Hatlen discusses the importance of making time to teach the expanded core curriculum to students with visual impairments, blindness and deafblindness.

Key Words: News & Views, blind, visually impaired, deafblind, expanded core curriculum, role of the TVI

When my youngest son was five years old, a summer birthday kid, my wife and I became entangled in a very distressing situation. Two groups of "experts" began to talk with us. One was the Association for Early Childhood Education who strongly promoted the position that the "barely five" child should start kindergarten. The other group, founded, I think, by Gessel, bombarded us with their favorite phrase: "Give your child the gift of time". There is no hurry in starting school. Your child could gain so much information, confidence, and maturity by waiting another year.

Lucas began kindergarten that year, and six years later repeated sixth grade. In his case, the "gift of time" would have been so important. He spent six years in school being the youngest and most immature child in his class. Now he is the oldest and most mature, and it's made an amazing difference in his self-esteem and performance.

The gift of time. It sounds so politically incorrect at a time in our evolvement when preschool children are supposed to be reading fluently by the time they get to kindergarten, at a time when high-stakes testing begins at third grade, and pity the poor eight-year-old who doesn't pass, at a time when the expectations we place on children become higher every year. Do our children suffer anxiety and frustration as expectations of their achievement grow higher and higher?

Does time and instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) have any relationship? You would probably answer, "Of course they do. My ability, as a TVI, to deliver the ECC is totally a time issue". And for years I've been telling TVIs that the time issue is theirs, and if they would get their priorities straight, they would find the time to teach the ECC. In recent years, I've offered several potential solutions to having the time to teach the ECC. They went up the flagpole, but I don't think many colleagues saluted.

One suggestion about delivering the instruction needed in the ECC was (is) to involve others in this effort. Why not have the local rehabilitation agency teach social skills and independent living skills? Why not have some other agency take over in the area of career education? Please know that this has never been my suggestion, because I have a major problem with this proposal. I believe that you TVIs and I have very, very special skills—skills that provide us with the knowledge of how to adapt a visual concept so that it provides similar information either tactilely or auditorily. Skills that enable blind and visually impaired students to learn. I question the skill level in creative adaptation and development of our colleagues in other disciplines.

So let's take another look at the time issue. How about giving the gift of time to the blind or visually impaired student? I believe that it is unrealistic and a disservice to many of our students to expect them to complete their education in 12 years. Most blind and visually impaired students should have at least 14 years of education. It should consist of a balance between academic needs and ECC needs. Even for those students whose academic needs are overshadowed by their functional needs, these additional years are critical.

This concept requires a recognition that blind and visually impaired students have more to learn than their sighted classmates. Their loss of vision adds significantly to the concepts and skills they need to learn for adult life. This does not mean that they are being "held back" because of academic failure, and this may be the most difficult concept for parents and to students.

I propose that we study ways in which we can extend the educational life of blind and visually impaired students from 12 years to 14 years. This will take some doing. First, we will have to convince parents that the blind or visually impaired child has so much more to learn that it will take this additional time. Second, we will have to convince students that this does not mean we are retaining them for academic reasons. No student wants to be "held back", and thus not graduate with her peers. Yes, it will be a significant task to convince students that blindness and visual impairment require additional learning opportunities to the extent that they will graduate from high school at age 20, rather than age 18.

Many have recognized the need for this "gift of time", and have tried various approaches to meeting the ECC needs of blind and visually impaired young people. In 1972, the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired was opened in Richmond, California, because it was recognized that RLF graduates from regular high schools in Northern California were not ready to live and work in the community. In 2002, TSBVI, in collaboration with the DARS - Division of Blind Services, opened a post-secondary program for the same reason. These attempts at solving the issue of teaching the ECC meant that most or all learning of ECC curriculum took place after high school graduation. I suppose this is better than nothing, but it's the equivalent of teaching an 18-year-old to read because there wasn't time to do it in school.

If we infuse in our blind and visually impaired children the concept of equality, including the equality of education, then how do we convince them and their parents that equality really means providing the time to learn all aspects of academic education and the ECC in order to be prepared for adult life?

What's the big hurry in life? Why not give our students the gift of time.

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010