Focus on our kids’ strengths, not their weaknesses

Note: This week on the blog, parents who have chosen a variety of schooling options will be sharing their educational wishes for 2016.

My wish for schools is that administrators and teachers focus on individual children’s strengths and not their weaknesses.

2016 wish logoAs an example, let’s look at high school athletes. Say the Department of Education set a minimum requirement that to play any sport, students must be able to swim a hundred yards. For one athlete who already knows how to swim, this would be reasonable. For another, it would simply take a little practice. But for a third student, who may not know how to swim, it could become an obstacle that would discourage the athlete from pursuing any sport.

We have a similar case with our son. He has speech apraxia, a motor speech disorder which makes it difficult for him to speak. Despite this challenge, he is at the top of his science and computer-science classes. He also takes advanced algebra.

Do we want to make it harder for kids to excel because of the challenges they face, or do we want to offer multiple paths so kids can be the best they can be? We immigrated to the United States to be in the land of opportunity, only to find out that for our son, it may be the land of obstacles.

My son acknowledges that his career choices are limited because of his speech challenges.  Even some menial jobs that don’t require education would be a struggle. STEM is his strength. At the same time, many claim there is a shortage of students pursuing Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) careers, in fields where my son excels.

Florida State Sen. Jeremy Ring is sponsoring a bill that would provide Florida public high schoolers computer coding alongside foreign languages, such as French, Spanish and Mandarin. This would offer students like my son a chance for success.

High school students with learning disabilities and kids with different interests and strengths would have the opportunity to take computer coding instead of a foreign language to meet their high school graduation requirements. Of course, students could still take both.

Ring’s bill also allows Florida’s state colleges and universities to recognize computer coding as a foreign language, and students who study computer language will still be eligible to receive Florida Bright Futures scholarships.

In my opinion, this would better prepare students for the workplace.

Computer language opens up so many opportunities for my son that another language never would.  As an adult, he will most likely require the use of a text-to-speech device, which he has resisted using since kindergarten.

Detractors or people happy with the status quo will discuss the long-term benefits of a foreign language for cognitive skills.  We don’t dispute the long term benefits of any course currently offered in high school, and we certainly don’t want to reduce the rigor of Florida’s graduation requirements.

Every course a child takes is a building block.  Students who think Spanish, French or another foreign language would be beneficial should take those classes.  For those students whose education and careers would benefit more from a computer coding course, that option should also be available.

Our current one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t really fit every student. We have the opportunity to make Florida a national leader in computer coding education. We also need to provide more opportunities for kids who don’t fit the traditional educational mold, like my son. This will allow them to shine.

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