Thursday, November 3, 2011

another way

Concerning a just equality      “You must take her to see this specialist for a diagnosis. Your daughter may be developmentally delayed.” Whatever else I was told about my daughter’s condition, I didn’t hear. At 18 months, she wasn’t talking, at least not more than a few words. “Here’s the address and phone number,” I remember being told.  
A month later, after our appointment with a nurse in Henrico County, I knew how far behind the norm my daughter was. “She should have an CAT scan,” the specialist advised. 
“Here’s the problem,” the pediatric neurosurgeon told us, pointing at a sizable X-ray sheet. “It’s cerebral palsy. She has an inoperable cyst in her right temporal lobe.”
That also explained the cluster of other problems, partial deafness and amblyopia, a weak lazy eye, we would discover later. As I reviewed her maladies, I berated myself for not noticing them earlier. As a best guess, I was told that my daughter had suffered a pre-natal insult to her brain. Outraged, bewildered, and tearful, I held my daughter close to me, vowed to find ways to help her attain a normal life so that she could be a fully functional and happy child.
Although I never lost sight of that purpose, I never forgot what determined the intensity of my commitment to enable her to eventually be an independent adult. For almost twenty years, she and I waged a war against naysayers and unfavorable odds.
Eventually, with help from family, friends, and godparents, and by using hard-earned skills, she won. She is my child no longer; she is a woman equal to any of her friends, a joyous and trustworthy companion for her husband.
What I learned from her taught me that there were many children who could, with appropriate encouragement and guidance, radically and positively alter their lives. Putting that knowledge to use when I was President of our Optimist Club, I initiated a campaign to sponsor a willing individual to study with Dr. Glenn Doman, near Philadelphia, at his Institute For The Achievement Of Human Potential. Although it would cost thousands of dollars, I convinced our club to foot the bill.
My plan was to level the field, to bring about an equality of opportunity to children of families housed in the projects. By teaching a dedicated volunteer how to apply Doman’s techniques, I knew we could train parents of infant children to be able to foster intellectual gains so as to grow their offspring to be academic superstars. Doing that, I figured, would enable that generation of children to compete so effectively in the work force that they would be able to lift their entire family out of poverty’s cyclical grip.
Conversations with Dr. Doman and his lieutenants were encouraging; they were willing to do the training. Prior to beginning my search for a suitable volunteer, someone who would fervently commit their time and energy, I thought to ask the one question that was absolutely pivotal. As soon as I heard the answer, I was heartbroken.
“It’ll take four years,” the Institute representative told me, then repeated, “about four years.”
Unfortunately, I had only persuaded our small Optimist Club to fund the project for four months. Paying for four years of study and living expenses was impossible for our club. Finding someone to spend four years as an unpaid intern, even for this most worthy cause, was even more unlikely.
My vision of sewing seeds for a society that would become absolutely equal and equally competitive went the way of so many narratives that sought to impose their perfection on the messy free world and its inherent imperfections. Despite Montessori based methods that had worked so well for my brain damaged daughter, methods that would have produced, I believed, similarly significant results if applied to less advantaged communities, I knew that my idea was more a dream than a reality.
That’s why, since then (after I ended my Presidency), instead of gearing up for profound social changes, I have, much like teacher Jane Elliott (please see A Class Divided, ISBN 978-0-300-04048-7), aimed at success one classroom at a time. 
As for my daughter and her younger sibling, my younger daughter, I taught them to prepare for life, to be aware of its many options. I taught them compassion along with the need to love themselves if they were to have love for others. I taught them the importance of literacy and flexibility, to cherish life rather than expectations. With the help of friends and family, they learned that faith could be empowering.
But I didn’t teach them to choose a lifestyle based solely on material rewards. I didn’t teach them to revere noblesse oblige, nor to think that they were members of a class that made them better or  more attractive than anyone else. They learned to work to attain what they wanted; they learned the joy of working hard and the achievement it brought. They learned to take care of themselves, that no job was so menial as to be beneath them.
What has that yielded? My older daughter is a much sought after caregiver by families with very young children. She has a part time job as an editor of a small magazine; one day soon she will begin her study to be a nurse. 
My younger daughter works for Hillel as she completes her collegiate degree. She’s an inspirational and most caring motivator; she’ll probably be Phi Beta Kappa due to her diligence, her commitment to hard work. As a career, she’s considering being a Rabbi.
Neither of my children have joined the Occupy movements. They don’t want what’s not theirs. They’ve learned that their worth and the value of life has nothing to do with other people’s money. It has little to do with wealth; if that is to be, that will come.
But both of my girls, young women now, are leaders who’ve learned to use their precious minds, who’ve learned to follow their hearts. As formulas go, in my humble opinion, there’s none better for gaining the success of a joyful life.
They lead by conveying their clarity, present a kind of wisdom that others can grasp and understand. 
I wonder where are such people among those who populate the various Occupy movements? What essential clarity do they possess? I sense deficiencies in that regard, expectations that have been manipulated in ways that are self-confining rather than expansionary.
Have they been taught that benefits spring from sound foundations, from sparks of creativity, from hard work willingly done, that they seldom come pre-packaged as gifts? Based on what they are asking for, I have reason to wonder.
                                                     B. Koplen 11/3/11
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