Monthly Archives: June 2015

Special Education

Both of my children have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) with the local public schools. Both have autism diagnoses, among other things. I cried the entire hour driving home from the psychologist’s office who provided details about just how much my children were lacking in normality, and neither I nor my husband value normality!

My youngest went to the public school for special preschool education one year. My oldest went to two private schools. His first school promised that if he were at, say, an advanced level of mathematics, he could take that level in their school while being with his peers for his other subjects. After we enrolled him and paid the entire year’s tuition up front, as they demanded, they said that his poor handwriting meant that he had to be held back in math. Ultimately, they allowed him to advance a little. But they sent him home with so much homework that we were all frustrated. We could not cope, none of us. So we taught him at home under the “Housworth Homeschooling Plan” which is a 320+-day-a-year program and 2-4 hours/day of work. We discovered another private school for him, and he attended it from the end of second grade to the middle of the fourth. He had a wonderful teacher who was very good with him until fourth grade. In the fourth grade, the teaching deteriorated substantially. I can’t be alone in believing that because the class dropped in half by Christmas when we withdrew him and educated him at home again.

The Housworth Homeschooling Plan involves doing a little every day, with very few school breaks. On the other hand, the schoolwork is usually over in the mornings, with the afternoon free for other things. Initially, the focus was almost exclusively on reading, writing, and mathematics. As the years progressed, we added science, history, grammar, and other subjects as suited us, like chess. Currently, with his checklist/day-planner, he guides himself through much of his work.

Under this plan, my oldest has remained roughly at grade level in most subjects and is a little advanced in mathematics. I know because we test. We are not allowed to give Indiana state exams as a private, unaccredited homeschool. However, some states provide their multiple choice standardized exams online for test preparation, and, using those, I test my oldest child each year. We also use a number of online learning tools: Spelling City, Read Theory, and Math IXL, that record his progress. This summer, Math IXL has a contest that gives away a computer for the child who practices the most. My oldest is really excited – I told him that if he completed all 7th grade exercises with at least a 90% level by August 1, I would buy him a new computer even if Math IXL does not. He’s a third of the way there in two weeks. He has over four weeks and 2/3 to go, but he hasn’t lost interest yet. If he makes it, he will be a year ahead in math by the standards in this program when the new school year begins.

My youngest is more difficult for me to plan for. He is more severely autistic, with irregular sleep patterns, and he is more resistant to even short periods of sustained schoolwork. He has 8 hours a day of Applied Behavioral Analysis; the therapists work with him on school-readiness such as sustained engagement with materials. He can read; he has been able to read since he was 2 or 3. But unlike my oldest, he would never do it on command. For years, we thought he would be our brilliant child. He walked at 9 months, like I did. He spoke about then too. In a rural coffee shop, I bought him a chocolate muffin that I knew he wanted, and he was so happy he said “I love you, mama.” Maybe he was a year and a half, and I bought him a stuffed animal because I was so happy. For the next few years, he would say a complete sentence once: Pick me up (I did). On another occasion: Put me down (I did). But he rarely spoke, never said the same thing twice, and became more picky in his eating habits. We tried putting him in an Indiana University preschool and they rejected him because he would not nap at noon. He would not lie still on a cot. We put him in another normal preschool that was able to provide an alternative to napping. But he didn’t learn to act like “normal” children. It became increasingly clear that he wasn’t going to and that he needed help. So I got the psychologist to evaluate him, and his older brother, and cried driving the hour home. I am crying now.

I refused stop trying to have a second child, which probably landed me in this mess, but I am not going to give up on him now. The child can read and spell nearly anything. I can’t tell whether he can do basic math or not. He doesn’t do it willingly. Sometimes, he will do a problem quickly and correctly. At other times, he puts every wrong answer in the box before he chooses the correct one. We have gone through “Teach Me Kindergarten” and “Teach Me First Grade” math twice now, and I still don’t know what he knows. But we will figure it out. I found him doing a headstand in his room one day recently – a perfect headstand – so there is something in him that maybe we can still unlock.

In loco parentis

I often think about the role that schools, including universities, play as “parent” to their students. Prior to the 1960’s, this role was strong: pregnant teenagers often were not allowed to complete high school, curfew and conduct rules, especially for female students, existed at most colleges and universities, etc… In the 1960’s, this changed. Students rebelled. The Supreme Court said colleges could not arbitrarily expel students (for instance, for attending civil rights demonstrations). There was an approximately 180 degree turn with students being viewed as independent adults. More recently, there has been a shift back towards colleges and universities acting in loco parentis. There are rules limiting relationships between faculty and students, for instance, even when the faculty and students are not in an instructor/student or mentor/mentee relationship. The in loco parentis emphasis in the reason behind these new rules is clear in the quote from Billie Dziech: “It sends a message: You don’t sleep with other people’s children — whether they agree to do it or not — because you’re abusing your power.” Undergraduate students are children. See:

Currently, Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences are suffering from decreases in enrollments. Basic demographic trends in America are behind some of these losses; peak 18-24 year old population has passed; it will tick up again in a few years but much of the uptick will be due to immigration, which might not correspond to the same growth in Liberal Arts enrollment as occurred during past upticks. In order to attract more students to the Liberal Arts, some schools, such as Wake Forest University, are combining an emphasis on career preparation with a liberal arts degree. Students learn to write resumes in addition to learning to write essays and poetry. The Wake Forest program is impressive. It includes steps for Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors to take while in College to prepare for careers. Students can take classes to explore what will make them happy, get help creating linkedin profiles and resumes, plan for internships, job shadowing, and/or international experiences, and even get help learning how to interview. See:

Such programs can add value to a liberal arts education. They are also part of colleges and universities acting in loco parentis, providing students with extra guidance and protection from the bad choice of not planning for a career. When thinking about these shifts back to regarding students as children, I wonder if we should not also impose curfews again. A bad choice a number of students make is partying too late in the evenings. A curfew and a bed check at midnight on schoolnights and 1 am on the weekends, something I might well do with teenage children, might also help improve the on-time graduation rate…..


There seem to be many ways to lead an organization. There is leadership by example. A past Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, Mort Lowengrub, used this method. The entire time he was Dean he taught for the Mathematics Department. Rumor has it that it did not always work out so well; the department had to carefully assign a graduate instructor to shadow him to substitute when he had to be absent due to duties of the Dean taking precedence over his duties as a teacher. However, this is a prime example of leadership by example. Old Bloomington Faculty Council minutes relate Mort emphasizing the importance of teaching to Indiana University and how everyone in his office, the Dean’s office, taught. His words carried the weight of the moral authority of someone who leads by example.

There is leadership by peer pressure. This form of leadership most likely works best for leaders who can read a room and determine the consensus opinion without having to take a vote. Thus, instead of having the loudest voice in the room dictate the outcome, the leader guides the conversation so that the voice of the quiet majority is heard over the din of the few. This is especially helpful if the leader agrees with the quiet majority. If not, the conversation can be guided around the din. A former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, Kumble Subbaswamy, I am told, led Chairs and Directors meetings by discussion, making all parties feel like their input was valued, and undoubtedly, taking in the consensus opinion in the room.

There is leadership by force. For this to be effective, it is good to have a clear sense of what things you control and what things are in the control of others. Here it is also good to understand consensus opinion and to clearly communicate why one is forcing an outcome. It is a leadership style that is unfortunately necessary at times, but I would recommend limiting its use. Dean Subbaswamy tried to use force on me to get me to move from the Department of Mathematics to the newly formed Department of Statistics. He did not have the power to do so, so his use of force failed.

There is leadership by manufactured crisis. You declare that the ship is sinking, things have to change immediately, you have the vision of how things should change, and everyone should jump on board immediately in order to save the ship. Academia is a Behemoth. If you nudge it to the right when you meant to nudge it to the left, you have made a terrible mistake that will be hard to undo. Is it really necessary to declare the ship is sinking? Do you not believe in what you have been doing enough to stand by it for a little while, giving time for some calm reflection on the state of higher education? There is a guest column in today’s Herald Times (6/2/2015) by James Hart, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, about the history of academia, its role in asking intrinsically important questions such as whether there is a robust sense of “knowing” that goes further than having an opinion. There is intrinsic value to an institution which asks and tries to answer such questions, one that teaches students to ask and answer such questions for themselves, one that teaches all of us not to accept the wisdom of experts but to question it in the pursuit of new knowledge. The economic future of the United States is closely tied to universities successfully instilling such values in the next generation. When saving the sinking ship of Higher Education in the United States, it would be worth remembering the important role Colleges of Arts and Sciences should play in teaching the future generation how to question; it is an important skill in the education of our future leaders.