Luxurious Learning: All Education Should Be Special Education

So, why did Luff come to be?

If you’re here on this page, chances are, you are sick of the public school system for one reason or another. Overcrowded classrooms, overstressed teachers, overwhelming fixation on standardized testing, overabundance of technology in elementary classrooms, overlooking of the horrific bullying problem plaguing our kids…. The list goes on and on.

As a teacher in the public school system, I often felt smothered, squashed, stepped on, and helpless to stand up for anything that I knew was right for the kids in my classes. All of the ills of the public school system kept adding up and piling on, and in the end, I knew I had to leave it; I can’t conscientiously support what school districts are doing to teachers and kids. I don’t mean to say that I don’t support the idea of public education in general. Personally, I benefited greatly from my public education experience, likely because I went in with a love of and talent for reading, which was a privilege most public school goers don’t have (but that’s another blog post for another day). I believe all people should have access to a good education… Key word here being ”good.” Which leads me to the single, most important thing that public schools, in their current form, can’t provide for our kids:

Special education.

Sure, they have all kinds of special education programs and supports. Teachers have to check off all the little boxes that say ”yes, I provided xyz accommodations for Susie.” But as long as those boxes are checked, no one really cares whether or not Susie understands what she’s supposed to have learned. The bureaucracy of the process has sucked all the meaning and joy out of teaching and learning. Susie is shunted along to the next grade with her peers, and hey, who cares if she doesn’t know her multiplication tables yet – she can use a calculator in Algebra class next year anyway, it’ll be okay. We will just ignore the fact that she still doesn’t understand when she’s supposed to multiply and when she’s supposed to divide. Maybe her 9th grade teacher can catch her up on that – even though it’s a fourth grade skill.

And then, Susie’s 9th grade math teacher is infuriated that she has so many kids that aren’t on level. Because she is expected to teach them concepts that none of them can possibly understand – and if she doesn’t, if she does what’s best for them and goes back to the basic foundations of math that so many of her kids are missing – she’s in trouble.

But, it’s my belief that ALL education should be special education. Each child is different. Each child needs to relate to what they’re learning. Each child needs to be challenged and yet feel accomplished at their individual level. Not just those who are diagnosed with ”special needs.” Every child has special needs!

I have a dyslexic tutoring student – let’s call him Joseph. Joseph is in 5th grade and reading at a second grade level. He has to leave his general ed class for reading and go to a special ed classroom. I asked him what he does in his special ed classroom, and you know what he told me?

They give him things to color, or fidget toys to play with.

Do coloring sheets and fidget toys have their place in education? Absolutely they do! But was Joseph’s reading comprehension being served by being allowed to leave his regular reading class and just go play and color the whole time? No.

My point – and my apologies for being roundabout in getting to it – is this. In the public school system, students’ needs simply are not met. How could they be? When 35 kids are stuffed into one classroom with only one teacher to help them all? When every subject they learn is compartmentalized into a certain room and time of day (“at 9 am, in THIS classroom, I do math…. then at 10 am, in THAT classroom, I do science…”) rather than being blended and interconnected with all other subjects, as they truly are in life? When they have 8-10 different teachers for all these different subjects, and so no true consistency in their learning? When they are pushed through to higher levels of learning without mastering the basics first? When they are forced to take an arbitrary end-of-year test that has no purpose or relevance other than satisfying corporate interests?

I have started Luff because I have a vision of a school which is a community. Kids of all ages are gathered into one room to teach and learn from each other. Every child is encouraged to be their most authentic selves. Kids are taught boundaries, mindfulness, and compassion for themselves and others. Bullying, if it occurs, is addressed. Subjects are all blended together in unit studies that are relevant and interesting to the kids. We use gamification of our learning at every possible turn. Fine Arts are taught and used as a tool to enrich learning. Teachers support parents, and vice versa. There will NEVER be more than 10 students with just one teacher at a time. Students are given learning goals, milestones, and meaningful feedback rather than meaningless numerical grades. When a student doesn’t understand something, we stick with it and try new tactics until it clicks BEFORE moving on to a more complex topic. And students get time to PLAY and RELAX when they need it. Learning is flexible but rigorous. We work hard as a team, and then play hard to let off steam!

I believe passionately in this school model and what it can do for kids. I can’t claim complete altruism in this, though. A big part of why I started Luff is because it’s the kind of education I want for my own daughter. On a public school teacher’s salary, I could never afford to send her to another institution out there like Luff – and truthfully, I’m not sure that there are any out there quite like it, since all of our programming will be secular and fine-arts-incorporated. So, two birds with one stone, then. Start a school that’s the kind of place I want to work at – the kind of place that I think is best for kids – and send my own kid to it. It’s a big dream, and some might think it to be impossible. (I’ve sometimes thought it was impossible myself.) Luckily, I have SO much amazing support in this journey, which has definitely been a learning curve.

We all need that kind of support. Adults, kids, all of us. We need truly special education in our lives: learning experiences that are loving, supportive, challenging, and exciting to us. It is my ultimate hope that Luff can provide these things to children, and maybe even adults someday.

I absolutely applaud you if you have read this far into my late-night rants and musings on the state of education, and how I hope to change it with my co-teacher(s) at Luff. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, as well. I’m the kind of person who always has a lot of things to say, so I’m grateful for this medium and anyone who takes the time to ”listen,” as it were. And…. if you have read this, and agree with the learning environment Luff is trying to create, and think it would be great for your own learner(s)… Go on ahead and register by clicking here. I would absolutely love to have you and your kiddos on this journey with me. <3

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