I don’t think the farmers and scientists who created genetically modified food knew the unintentional chaos it would bring to our health. I want to think the primary motive was addressing real needs, and possibly ending world hunger.
I don’t think the writers and enactors of Public Law 94-142 knew the unintentional struggle it would bring either; I want to think the primary motive was addressing real needs and ensuring “children with disabilities (would) gain access to a free and appropriate public education.”
Agricultural research hasn’t always been what it is today; we know now more than we ever did – about the impact of GMO foods.
Brain research in 1975 hadn’t yet discovered what we know today – about the plasticity of the brain, and the impact of labels and invalid identities.
It’s fascinating that Monsanto began cutting pieces of DNA in certain places, and then attach(ing) the pieces to the DNA of other organisms, ushering in modern biotechnology in 1972; in 1976, biotechnology became commercialized.
Public Law 94-142 was passed in 1975.
Perhaps the dates are a coincidence.
What does special education have to do with adolescence? What do “labels” have to do with maturity? or the lack of maturity?
Let’s start here: When schools began to require students to have a diagnosis to qualify for help in areas of struggle, these diagnostic labels began altering the identity of our children – much like cutting pieces of DNA and attaching them to their original identity.
This was not the intent of champions of special education; this is an unintentional outcome.
And it begs to be addressed – with great hope!
Because we all struggle.
If we’re honest, we’re all “special ed.” And we’re all “gifted and talented.”
Just not in the same categories.
When we give ourselves – and our children “new identities” – the brain begins to live out of the new identity, literally altering our very DNA.
Educational labels are unique in our culture. We treat educational conditions differently than even medical conditions.
We don’t ever say, “She IS cancer.” or “He IS muscular dystrophy.”
But we do say, “She IS dyslexic.” and “He IS ADHD.”
Consider this: Have you ever seen a “Dyslexia Free!” t-shirt?! or an “ADHD Free!” t-shirt?! (btw – We’re going to sell these shirts one day! Send us a comment if you’d like to pre-order!)
We give persons hope with “Cancer Free!” t-shirts, but educational diagnosis are too often considered life-time conditions.
Is there hope? Yes.
Where do we begin? By helping the person. Period.
Here’s the catch.
We all struggle. So we all need help. Help is a synonym for love. Love is a process of meeting needs.
We can’t receive love if we’re “wearing a mask.” Read that sentence again.
I offer this analogy: I used to wear a “fixer” mask – sometimes I still do. When I wear this mask, and others love me – my mask gets all the love. Not the real me.
Love is the fuel of maturity. If my mask gets all the love, I stay immature. Believe me, I know this to be true from personal experience. (smiling, here!)
My motive for wearing a mask is always somehow related to the feeling that I need to hide – because I believe I’m not good enough. I trust the lie that there’s something uniquely wrong with me – that I struggle in a way that no one else does.
Shame senses my fear, and hands me a mask. And I put it on. I have a new identity. A new name. A label.
Now others relate to me differently. If my new identity is “fixer” – they expect me to fix. So I do. And they respond to the “fixer” – and the mask gets glued on tighter.
And the real me withers. It may be a long time before I even get to know her – the me, without the mask, that is.
I don’t mature when others relate to me based on my “conditions” or my “labels” or my “struggles.” Yes, I appreciate the help – but the help is based on my condition, not based on my true identity.
It matters. Especially to our minds and our brains – and our hormones.
Helping children based on their disabilities hijacks the intended benefits of dopamine in their systems. It may even increase the cortisol drip.
Dopamine is meant for our good; it flows as an encouragement to get things done – and to reach our goals. Dopamine is designed to work for our good in combination with oxytocin – the love hormone.
Love never requires a diagnosis to qualify for help. Love is a process of meeting needs.
Outside of healthy relationships, dopamine creates addiction – to performance, trivial pursuits, and pain relievers.
Healthy relationships don’t require labels. Healthy relationships recognize true identities – and expect real struggles as part of real life.
Every child is a reader – who, for some period of time, will struggle with reading.
Every child can give focused attention – and all will struggle, for some period of time, to give focused attention.
Grade levels are false traditions that put children on artificial time tables; grade levels work for the benefit of the education system – not the benefit of children.
When we help the child – without a label – the child matures.
Because the child matures, she doesn’t struggle as much with reading. Because the child matures, he doesn’t struggle as much giving focused attention.
And because children get help – without the shame of an invalid identity – they learn to ask for help, and receive the love they need to grow up.
This love affirms them -and acts like a safety net when things go wrong. This love protects them from shame, and from invalid identities.
Love is the fuel of maturity; love is oxytocin.
One of the most important gifts we give to each other is the reminder of who we really are.
Our behavior is always the mirror of our belief. If I believe I’m a person who struggles, and I also believe one day I will read, I’ll trust and receive the love that helps me learn to read – no matter how long it takes. This is good dopamine because it flows with oxytocin.
If I believe I’m a person who has a disability – that there is something uniquely wrong with me – I may try real hard to earn my way into the “unbroken” category. I may strive to prove that I’m just like everybody else; I just want to belong.
But all this striving floods my system with more and more dopamine and cortisol – altering my very DNA, increasing the risk that my children will inherit my struggles, and stunting my maturity.
Or I may give up – and just numb my pain – with screens and other easily accessible ways of hiding. This is the topic of a future blogpost.
This stunted maturity is a primary cause of the prevalence of adolescence today – that didn’t exist in American history before the 1960’s and 1970’s.
I don’t think the dates are a coincidence.
We have more labels now than ever before. I could retype that sentence to say, “We have more masks now than ever before.” or “We have more invalid identities now more than ever before.”
School, and home – must be a place where it’s safe to ask for help – without fear of being handed a label. If I’m going to mature, I must live daily with a shame-free identity.
Humility is the door to wisdom and maturity; humility means trusting God and others to help me when I struggle. (trueface.com)
Our nation is evidence of this immaturity. Immature persons call each other names – and hand out shame. Just watch the news.
We all need help. I could retype that sentence to say, “We all need love.”
By design, not default.
We can’t receive love if we’re wearing masks, or trusting labels instead of true identities – no matter how much love others are giving us.
We can reverse the false tradition of adolescence. We can live in relationships of trust and build communities of grace – starting in our homes and schools. Read the prior posts in this series – and look for future posts, too.
Please share your considerations and questions as comments to this blogpost. If you’re curious, read some testimonials that offer real hope.
I know this post is a bit radical. If you don’t yet know me, I’m a huge proponent of helping ALL children. I’ve chaired hundreds of ARD meetings in my role as a public school administrator; I just wish more of them had been dismissal ARDs.
Much of my life’s work is dedicated to helping families and children whose needs aren’t met by our current system – even our current special education system. Thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement.
Thank you, too, for your questions. We need your passion, your abilities, and your energy. Together we can make adolescence history – and future generations can live full and free lives.