OK, this Monday Inspiration is a tear-jerker… but in a good way.
I found this moving video from my cousin Paula Long (Thanks Paula!) It shows the story of a young man in Sub-Saharan Africa who learns sign-language for the first time. It is a story of educational access and transformation. His story is so moving… I challenge you not to cry.
Check out the video in full, and then read my thoughts below. :)
Update: Patrick Speaks
Patrick Otema, 15 was born profoundly deaf, in the remote area of Uganda. There are no schools for deaf children, where Partick lives, and he has never had a conversation. In this video, Raymond Okkelo, a sign language teacher, offers Patrick the opportunity to learn sign language and connects him to a larger world.
This is the power of education. Language connects us to others and creates community. Not being able to communicate, means not being a “visible” in society.
Education is a Right not a Privilege
This story is not just a story about deaf students in Sub-Saharan Africa, it serves as a metaphor for students in our own country who are locked out of quality educational options. In our country’s history, we’ve locked students out of learning for a variety of reasons: disability (as in this case), but also language status, gender, race, and income.
In SFUSD, we are making great strides in increasing access for many of our traditionally underrepresented students. We’ve mainstreamed our special education system and are working to make sure we work with educators to serve students with learning disabilities in ways that don’t marginalize them or segregate them needlessly from their peers.
In the past, court cases like Lau vs. Nichols guaranteed English Language Learners the right to educational access and learning supports in their primary language. Our district has expanded on this to create language pathways that validate students’ primary language and allow them to preserve fluency in it while they improve their academic language in English as well.
Recently, the district eliminated racially biased tracking in middle and high school GATE and honors math and language arts. Students are no longer sorted by tests into “gifted” vs. “regular” students.
Nonetheless, there is still much work to be done. There is still a small but powerful (read: privileged, entitled) parent groups working to reinstate tracking which labels their kids special and segregates their kids. And students are still being denied access to Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) enrichment due to lack of support and funding at the elementary level or tracking via “support” classes at the secondary level.
I can only imagine the amazing perspectives and talents Patrick (in the video) now has to share as a result of his newfound learning. I wonder what untapped potential is out there in our district’s and countries classrooms as well.