By Richard Josey, Collective Journeys LLC and Chair of AASLH’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee
On the eve of the Super Bowl, making a connection between academics and American football would be a stretch on most days. However, a conversation about learning support with teacher colleagues from other international schools made me consider a couple of things. One, how the career of one quarterback has ended, and how the career of another has bloomed; despite dogma and confirmatory bias. Secondly, how students with learning differences, as opposed to learning needs, also have to fight to prove that they too belong and can be successful in our educational institutions.
In what seems like a very long, long time ago, a football player from Michigan was selected with the 199th pick in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. At the time, most NFL pundits, coaches and analysts echoed similar opinions about the potential of this player; too tall, too slow, too skinny, not strong enough; JUST DOESN’T FIT. Just a week ago, Tom Brady finally left the NFL, widely considered by most to be the NFL’s G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) with seven Super Bowl wins.
Flash forward 22 years where Brock Purdy, another player who quite didn’t fit the mold, was selected with the 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft; a selection infamously known as Mr. Irrelevant, given that this player is the last pick in this yearly celebration of the gridiron. Much like Tom Brady, last year’s Mr. Irrelevant was criticized for not being strong enough, not fast enough, too small, too inconsistent and just took too long to do what he was supposed to do on the football field. For those of you who keep up with the NFL, you might agree that all of these opinions and perspectives were proven to be unfounded based on the outcome of Brock Purdy’s performance this year and that perhaps the true oversight was not in the data collection or analysis, but in the asking of the “right” kind of questions.
All too often people and organizations can get locked into dogma about what true success looks like. Is it really all about getting the A+, or getting that Ivy League diploma? As a Learning Support teacher, part of my role is reviewing student profiles and student performance via classroom observation and through objective measures such as the MAP (Measures of Academic Performance) assessment and ISA testing to determine academic success. What if we ALL as higher institutions of education and even hiring domains, in the real world, went a step further and had an open mind when it came to data and statistics? What if we all started asking the “right” kind of questions when it comes to the potential of an individual? What if we started to speak about considerations of all strengths, if we are going to talk about what qualifies as success, so ALL individuals can be Seen, Heard and Appreciated?
Much like Tom Brady and Brock Purdy, students with learning differences often do not fit the mold or meet certain standards or criteria that are set by other people or organizations, but does that mean that we can not acknowledge, as a society, the varied facets of intelligence that they possess. What if we could truly celebrate the “whole person.” In the case of education, shouldn’t all children be able to come into any school and feel like a winner; feel that they are included, feel that they are relevant because in the final analysis, we are better together.
I think that our daily celebration of the “whole child” here at the Harbour School is what makes us truly special. I also think that both Tom Brady and Brock Purdy would agree that there is something to be said about just having the chance to get in the “game.”