I don't know how anyone could watch the video at the bottom without smiling, at least a little. I love me a good Sooner football match or Thunder basketball game, but Special Olympics takes the cake of sporting events when it comes to heartwarming and inspiring displays of teamwork. During Special Olympics events, all playing fields are suddenly equalized, and disabilities are forgotten. Competing against others is not nearly as important as winning the greatest battle of all: the one inside.
Though I have never coached a Special Olympics team, I do teach students with special needs. And every day when I walk into work, I wish that the playing fields were equalized as they are in Special Olympics. My students are smart, but few people allow them the chance to prove themselves. Their small victories are often overlooked in the quest for higher test scores and better school ratings. Accommodations and modifications do help to some degree, but let's be honest: It is unfair to expect a child with an IQ score of 65 to perform at the same level as a student with an IQ score of 100. Yet, that is exactly what is assumed of "my kids." All of the extra time in the world might not allow one of my students to put down a better answer any more than spending the entire day in the special education resource room with me will. Students with special needs learn differently, they test differently, and they have different skills and abilities to offer to the world.
Where Special Olympics allows children with disabilities to showcase their uniqueness, our education system seems bent on making them look just like everyone else. The boy in red from the video brought tears to my eyes because, although he crossed the finish line last, he had the biggest smile on his face. Regardless of what your perception is of people with disabilities, that is beautiful. He had won against himself. He beat the odds.
Starting in 2014, my students will be required to pass the same state reading test that all of their typically developing peers are required to take. If they do not pass, they will repeat third grade up to two times. Do I think that my students need to learn to read if at all possible? Absolutely, and I will work my tail off to that end. However, I'm not sure that a certain unmodified reading test is the best measure of one's future success. It's almost like asking that boy in the red shirt to start the race five minutes behind everyone else, 100 yards behind the starting line, and with his shoelaces tied together.
I love that Special Olympics provides so many small victories for its participants and that disabilities are not considered handicaps. I hope that public education in the United States will allow the same things for its students with special needs, because they truly have much to offer.
(Check out this and other videos on My WebTV: http://webtvs.filmannex.com/MaryRachelFenrick.)