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Tony Zizza

A Regular High School Diploma Isn't a Right
By Tony Zizza
Dec 26, 2008 - 8:36:27 PM

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I read an article on December 24th by Amy Griffith Graydon at that left me scratching my head. If we read "Diploma issues trouble special education parents" correctly, are we to believe that tutors in Nashville are hiding? Quite frankly, nothing is further from the truth.

Now, I have no doubt that Don McFolin is a good father. He loves his son. He is concerned about his education as a special education student with Asperger's Syndrome at McGavock High School who is now a senior. This is not open to question.

However, what remains open to question is Rep. Ben West's (D-Hermitage) false concern "that McFolin hasn't been able to secure math tutoring for his son, and believes the situation shows a need for communication between McFolin and Metro schools." Come again? I don't believe that math tutors are not available to his son. His son is a senior for crying out loud! He must know his son struggles with math tests.

What about the free tutoring for the Algebra Gateway Test? What about tutor referrals from teachers? Are they refusing to offer the names of math tutors? Why would they? What about friends, family, neighbors, church members? In this economy, it's unlikely a tutor cannot be found at a reasonable fee to ensure that his son even barely passes the Algebra Gateway test so he can obtain a regular diploma. If his son is doing great in everything else, it's OK to barely pass the vaunted Gateway Test given that it means the difference between a regular diploma and a certificate of attendance.

It's asinine that psychiatry plays such a major role in special education. There are far more students enrolled in special education who have behavioral issues than there are students who have more serious problems with physical issues. It would be interesting to find out how many special education dollars go to students diagnosed with a subjective mental disorder, compared to how many special education dollars go to students who have Cerebral Palsy. I mean, what about their accommodations?

Psychiatry will tell us in their Diagnostic Statistical Manual that a student who struggles with math has a mathematics processing disorder. A student who somehow cannot stop from swearing at teachers and fellow students suffers from a conduct disorder. And around and around we go. We can do better than this. We can admit we have struggles and do something heroic about it. We can make sacrifices.

I found myself in such a position as a senior in College in my last semester. I worked part-time. I wrote a weekly column for the student newspaper - quite daunting when it feels like you're the only conservative/libertarian on campus! - and enjoyed an overall grade point average of about 3.40. Nothing really seemed impossible.

That is, until I had to take College algebra. I kept putting it off. I honestly knew I struggled with math beyond averaging out bowling scores. I studied for what felt like three hours for my very first test and I received an 8. Yes, an 8. Did I claim or want a mental diagnosis? No. I swallowed my pride. I approached my professor after class. I obtained not one, but two tutors. The next ten weeks were absolute hell. I stuck it out for hours and hours. The result? I earned a C minus. I made sacrifices. I made it through.

So, don't tell me that there are no tutors available or that a regular High School diploma is a right. Every mighty struggle with a subject like math is not meant to be subjectively defined in psychiatric or special education terms. Facing a Gateway Test should not feel like facing death. For years, you know it's coming.

Making sacrifices will make passing it - even barely - a glowing accomplishment.

Tony Zizza is a free-lance writer who lives in Hermitage, TN. He writes frequently about psychiatry and education. Email:

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