Tye, Education Policy Graduate Student, CA

Tye was a special education program specialist in Santa Cruz County, CA for four years.  He is studying education policy, organization, and leadership at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education.  Tye enjoys reading, working out, and hot-tubbing.  He was interviewed by friend and peer, Casey.

Take a moment to think about a child you care about and tell me a little about that child.

I'm thinking about a student I had the opportunity to work with over the past four years.  He's a student with autism - and when I met him he was not being included in general education except for very brief non-academic periods. Now, not only is he included for his full day, but he also only has assistance from a paraprofessional for a small percentage of that time.  So I've been able to see a lot of growth with him.

Can you tell me the kind of things that he enjoys the most? 

He has a lot of varied interests that depend on the moment, right now he is very interested in Star Wars for example.  He really likes little figurines of all kinds, dancing, music, and being the conductor during music class.

Can you talk a little bit about his personality and traits?

He's really funny.  He's incredibly pure maybe would be the word.  I think part of that has to do with having autism and not having a lot of social awareness. It causes him to be really genuine all the time which I think sets him apart from other students in general.  He's really curious about the world and he's just happy to be around and to be alive - most of the time.  Some of the time he's literally screaming in your face.

Let's fast forward to when he's in his thirties when he is out of school and in his adult life.  What do you hope for him in his adult life?

 I would hope he has an opportunity to be in a community of people that he enjoys being around whether that's family or a group of friends or a work community.  I would hope that he is independently able to navigate his life - that he has the skills to be a fully functioning member of society in whatever way he chooses to do that.  I hope that he would have figured out a way to take things that he loves and turn them into a career in some way.

Is there anything you worry about getting in the way of him achieving that good life?  Can you talk about that a little bit?

I think that autism can be a pretty profound disability and that may prevent somebody from being able to access relationships in communities of people. In that sense I worry about his personal ability to enter into those communities.  I also worry about when I think about schools - I worry about schools not really being made for students like him.  Not being able to be included in a lot of experiences that other students might be included in.  Particularly in the relationship building and community aspect of school.  Similarly I worry about that being true when he gets up and goes into the workforce, entering into a community, or building any type of relationship.

How do you see school's role in helping him reach the future you would like for him?

It is important to push him out of his comfort zone and recognize he doesn't have a lot of the skills that other students just naturally have so figuring out a way to teach that because he is coming with a different set of intrinsic skills.  Figuring out a way to not necessarily make that into a curriculum but to purposely work on that to help him become a whole person.

I would say building on his weaknesses while continuously building on his strengths so that he can be a full person.

Do you think schools will play that role?

No.  I don't.  I think that schools are made to process a high volume of clients - for a lack of a better word.  When you process a high volume of people and you don't consider them as individuals. In a system like that it is sort of impossible to consider their individual weaknesses and how to improve them, or consider their individual strengths and how to build on those strengths.  So unfortunately I think that what will happen is that not only will he not learn how to build those relationships and be a community member but he also won't necessarily improve at the things he is good at and appreciate them and turn them into an empowering life course.

When you think about the roles you would like schools to play, do you think schools will do that for all students?

There are a lot of different roles of schooling.  If I think about that student in particular I am thinking about the ability to build relationships and be a functioning member of a community - whatever kind of community he would choose.  I think that I would apply that to all students as well.  Do I think schools are doing that?  No.  I think schools are more focused on achievement on tests and learning the basic math and reading and writing and are not as concerned with relationships. I do think that individual passionate teachers do that.

You talked a lot about relationships being important and finding individuals and cultivating their strengths and acknowledging their weaknesses.  Do you think people agree with you on each of those levels in terms of what the purpose of schooling is?

I would say that people would not agree with that.  It is hard because if I had my own child in the school system, I don't know if I would agree with it either. When you are looking at education as a consumer and you have a child in the system and you are thinking what is the system going to do for my child. It skews the entire way you think about education when you are thinking about it as this commodity - even if deep down you know it's more than that.  I can't guarantee I wouldn't feel that way if I had a kid in the system.  I think people who think about education conceptually agree with me but I don't think that people who are consumers of education agree with me.  

Let's shift this to talking about you and your experiences.  What have been some of your most empowering educational experiences?

My most powerful educational experiences absolutely have been when I've been a part of a community.  I had this experience at the end of high school where I did this abroad program with a small community of young people and teachers. We all lived together and we all took our classes together.  We ate our meals together.  It was more like a family than it was like a school in some senses.  It was very community oriented.

When I think about that experience I think it was a very powerful educational experience for me because it was so focused on relationships and community building.  When I think about what we're doing here [at Stanford GSE] I think it is by design that they bring in a cohort of people and do a lot of community building because ultimately it is going to be a very powerful educational experience.  On the flip side of that, the least empowering educational experiences have been doing course online.  Not that I don't learn anything because I do learn, but it's not an empowering educational experience.  It more of a get-in-get-out experience.

Would you say those experiences have affected the way you think about empowering education today?

Yeah.  I would imagine so.  I think it's hard to take myself out of the questions.  I also think that it's based on what I've seen be empowering for students after working in public schools for a number of years. I also think it comes from having worked in pre-schools for a long time.  It's based on a lot of my experiences.

Let's picture yourself in school.  Can you tell me about your favorite teacher when you were in school and why they were your favorite?

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Dudley, my second grade teacher.  I liked Mrs. Dudley for a number of reasons.  She was the first person to tell me I was going to be a teacher, when I was eight years old.  I didn't know she was right at the time.  Since she saw that skill, that strength in me; she would pair me up with students who were struggling academically and she would let me be their peer teacher.  She saw how to utilize that strength so I think that was one of the reasons I liked her a lot.  The other reason is because she gave us tootsie pops every Friday.  As a kid my family didn't let us eat candy, but I was allowed to eat it because it was given to me by Mrs. Dudley.  I would have a lollipop every Friday if I did a good job.

In closing, was there anything that I didn't ask you that I should have or anything else you've been thinking about related to schooling that you wanted to talk about.

I've been thinking a lot about the value of working on something that will not be finished in your lifetime. I think that schools rarely, if ever, have kids think about that.  Think about the value of seeing yourself as this tiny piece, this tiny speck of the universe and understanding the value of being passionate and working on something like education that will never ever be solved in your lifetime and understanding that's okay.

Casey UlrichComment