Happy Verses Educated

The girls brought home report cards this week. Hope’s report card had some good news academically. Hope is not on target to meet any of her social/emotional goals. GB is hard working and a pleasure to have in class. The academic information I expect in a report card wasn’t there.

The same old debate started in my head before I even realized where it was going. It is a debate I have carried out, by myself, for every child we ever had. How much is an education worth? When is the price too high?

I have never been able to answer the first question and it is only in recent years I have started to answer the second.  For my daughters, I have temporary answers that may change. Given GB’s abilities, I want her to keep working hard and do the best she can. I do not want her pushed so much that she is chronically frustrated. Hope’s abilities are much different than GB’s. Ultimately, I see no limits as to how far she can go. Right now, however, academics aren’t making the radar. Hope’s behavioral and emotional challenges have to be addressed first. Then she will be ready to learn.

If you have a child with any kind of special needs, I would love to hear how you feel and why.

16 thoughts on “Happy Verses Educated

  1. I agree with you 100%. My 7 yr old son is autistic, and while he excels at reading and math, he has no ability to tackle abstract subjects like science and social studies. This bothers his mainstream teacher, but his autism classroom teachers and I are on the same page about this – that he can learn that stuff later. Heck, he can learn it when he’s 30 – right now it’s far more important that he simply learn how to cope with the world. Most of his IEP deals with social, sensory, and emotional issues, not academics. I’m much more concerned with him being a happy, functional person than any academic dreams I may have once had for him.

  2. I am blessed with a kid who does well academically in spite of himself. He is SO smart, Social Studies teachers in particular tell me they wish they could clone him. My views may very well be different if I had a different kid. But for HIM– I have never cared a bit about academics. Up until the point I started homeschooling him I refused to help him with homework at home, He is capable of learning. He is on grade level despite multiple moves. If he becomes a well adjusted adult, he will be capable of learning anything he missed out on in middle or high school. If not, it won’t matter anyway. So the #1 focus is on the mental health piece. Dealing with PTSD, processing trauma, learning how to regulate emotions. Now that he is homeschooled I make sure that he reads and writes every day. We do math together when we are both having a good day, and he is interested enough and motivated enough that he takes care of math and science on his own. I think emotional well-being should come before educational well-being, ALWAYS, and for every kid. When I was in 9th grade my dad decided to “homeschool” me because the social and emotional toll of school was just too much. I spent an entire year helping him build a house and reading books and doing no other schoolwork. And I see that as the best thing that ever happened to me, and the moment I realized I *could* be a happy and productive person even if I couldn’t manage to make friends in middle school, because I could do other things like mix cement and hammer shingles. It is scary to imagine how my life would have ended up if, at that horrible point in 9th grade, my parents had buckled down and required me to go to school and get good grades. I don’t think I would have gone to college, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. I am honestly not sure I would have survived it. So I have very strong feelings about this subject. I think you are absolutely right not to push them academically, there are so many things that are so much more important.

  3. I struggle with this all the time! For my 2 kids with FASD, it’s a matter of helping them keep a love of learning alive in spite of their academic gaps. For my child with bipolar disorder, the situation all last year was much like your situation with Hope…when he was raging and threatening us, academics didn’t really make the radar screen. Now that he’s more stable, we’ve rewritten his IEP to focus once again on academics…but it’s still pretty fluid. I change my mind about this almost daily, depending on the individual kid, their needs, and what they seem to be able to tolerate at the time. I try my best to communicate with the teachers and we’re blessed to have a great school that’s been very supportive…but it’s still a work in progress.

  4. I don’t have special needs kids so I can’t speak about that, however, one thing I’ve learned just living life and working is that social skills are so much more important than book smarts or degrees. It’s not the most intelligent and knowledgeable worker who gets promoted to manager. It’s the one who is outgoing, sociable and confident.
    If you can’t manage life and society your knowledge is useless, special needs or not. Having worked with addicts I’ve learned that many of them are very intelligent, some even well educated, but they can’t manage life and have failed miserably. I believe that many of them could have greatly benefited from having their mental and emotional problems focused on in childhood but instead they spent their time learning about presidents and atoms and look where that got them. The time and effort spent on their education could have been much better spent teaching them to manage life.
    I completely agree with you – social skills and happiness is so much more important than academics. Another thing that is very important is good self esteem and self confidence and putting the bar too high could cause damage in that area.
    As long as your kids are happy that’s really all that matters.

  5. I’ll give my two cents as a special needs person.
    I suffer from hearing impairment and ADHD. So, I speak as a person with disabilities, not as a parent.

    I am quite… shocked, stunned, even flabbergasted, even angry by what JM said when she says that “social skills are so much more important than book smarts or degrees”. So, does it mean that someone who struggles with social skills is not acceptable, useless and must be fixed right away because his knowledge is of less values than the social skills you cherish so much ?
    So, does it mean that, for you, it’s absolutely a must that the person must be “perfectly hearing” and “socially perfect” if she wants to be the best of the best in your eyes ?
    JM, you cannot make me a “perfectly hearing” person, nor you can’t suppress my ADHD. Both are tightly connected, even if these two diagnoses are independent.
    I know that socially, I may not meet anyone’s expectations. I may not be able to be a CEO manager, I may not be able to parent (due to my health, quite long and complicated), I know that the noise at parties makes things impossible for me, I also know that I will never fit the so cherished social skills everyone consider as everything whereas the rest is nothing.
    I may never be a manager, as you say that ” It’s not the most intelligent and knowledgeable worker who gets promoted to manager”. And you know what ? I’m ok with that. I’m ok with the fact that I may not meant to parent, and this does not make me less a woman. I’m ok with the fact that I will never be the “perfectly sociable girl who is always invited to parties, or being promoted as a manager”.
    I know that socially, I struggle more than a “normal” person with the combo ADHD + hearing impairment.
    I work my best over it. I don’t expect perfection, I expect improvement. But I don’t set unreachable goals, like not lip read in a noisy place.
    But I am deeply shocked and angry that a parent of a child with special needs can only hope for his child to be “socially acceptable otherwise he won’t be good enough for being a deserving person in life”.

    Add the fact that ADHD is not a recognized diagnosis to adults, and you have the perfect recipe to struggle worse than the disability itself.
    I cannot stand going to the doctor for, let give an example, being unable to move my elbow and as soon as I disclose that I take Ritalin as a treatment for ADHD, I cease to exist in their eyes. For those, I am only “a lazy, liar, inventing an illness because actually, she is of bad character with a such a heavy criminal record OMG ! If she were given in adoption, such a failure would had never happen”.
    Actually, I have no criminal record.
    Actually, I am a student in law.
    Actually, I learnt four languages.
    Actually, my mother was the only one to find solution when everyone was trying to find a blame.
    Actually, I repair computer.
    Actually, I contribute to household by repairing all the technological stuff (and it avoids paying someone 200€/month for all that).
    So much for my “bad character”, “heavy criminal record”, “laziness” and “being a liar” !
    I want the doctor to focus on my elbow, not on questioning my social value to the society !

    So, the person is smart but struggles socially means that she is less a person than someone who is not that knowledgeable but struggles with social skills ? Is it what you wish for your children ?
    You want to have children who are “socially acceptable” but judges people by their utmost “perfection” ?
    The person loves to learn but she socially struggles because of her vast knowledge and fast thinking, but she “will never be a useful person to society if she is not invited to parties all the time”.

    And if the most important value we can teach to children is accepting a person with her strengths and weaknesses ? If the most important values would not be “social skills and being the manager” but accepting a person without judging her and spitting at her because she is not exactly what we wish her to be ?
    Isn’t it the key to be happy and healthy ?
    And if those “knowledge” and “social skills” were only illusion to make believe we control the world ?

    • Wow, you really read something completely different into my post than I intended to portray. In no way did I mean to say that people who struggle socially are useless or of lesser value in any way. I didn’t at all mean to put anyone down and I’m sorry if I came across that way because it was really not my intention. What I meant to say was that based on my experience in life, especially in the working world, employers and society in general do value social skills highly and the chatty outgoing person is more likely to be recognized than the smart but quiet co-worker. I know this very well because I have a lot of struggles socially myself and although I’m intelligent and capable I don’t often get recognized at work while my bubbly and chatty but not that bright co-worker does. Not having good social skills also impedes my ability to make friends which hurts me in many areas of life, including career wise since networking is such an important way to find a get jobs and something that most “career experts” recommend people do to find work. Social skills is not something I cherish. It’s something society in general cherishes. It’s not fair but I have learned the hard way that that’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter how smart or educated I am if I can’t perform well in an interview. You yourself say that social skills is something “everyone consider as everything whereas the rest is nothing” and you know that struggling socially impedes you in life. I did not intend to say that not having good social skills makes you less of a person. I was simply stating a fact that in this society those skills are valued higher than book smarts which I have learned through experience as have you.

      The question asked was if parents of special needs kids should push academics or if social and emotional issues should be focused on first and I think that it’s okay to put academics to the side because without having a healthy emotional life and decent social skills the book knowledge can’t be used anyway. That’s really the whole point I was trying to make.

      • I understand better what you mean.

        However, it makes me wonder.
        Shall we always push to become “the best of the best, the top of the top” vs we are nothing ?
        Or sometimes, shall we accept that we cannot be a top of the top and choose what we truly like, even if it means working in a shelter work ?
        Shall we always focus on social perfection while risking even more frustration, rejection, being gossiped against ?

        As I said, I clearly know that I may not be the top manager, no matter how
        knowledgeable and educated I can be.
        I am okay with that.
        I am okay that with my hearing loss and ADHD, hence the behavior it comes with these two disabilities, I may not be what people prefer to hire.

        I was judged by my stepmother (dad’s wife) as being a useless, bad, lazy, liar
        because I had struggled with social skills, “no matter how bright she can be, she is a failure sub-human”.
        That lady (I wish I could call her otherwise) preferred finding someone, here my mom, to blame for my struggles. She said that if my mom had her parental rights terminated, such a failure would had never happened.
        She always stated she wanted my sister and I to be like her daughters, that she loved us and bla, bla, bla… I can only be clear that she pretended to love us, she didn’t truly loved us.
        In the mean time, I received no help for my ADHD (there was not much then), and no help for my hearing loss.
        For her, bad social skills = a less than human being.
        The worst of all that is that she is a psychologist, and as she couldn’t have children, she wanted to take the health care professional place in a family.
        Now, she is wondering why do I refuse to see her, even for holidays. My father wonders why do I refuse to “forget it for one hour, and spend time for holidays”.
        Yes, she had a Ph.D in psychology, but that does not mean she is someone who knows how to raise children.
        And to add it all, she struggles with her adopted son, now 8 years old. She imagined that adopting him as a baby and from a family without health conditions, everything will go perfectly for having a perfect family.
        She couldn’t and cannot win because she is trying to figure out why her son is so explosive, why all the parenting book she read and why all her professional capacity is failing on her son. She refuses to accept that her son does not react the so high social standards she set up.
        Add the fact that she doesn’t see neither my sister nor I, and you can understand that all her judgment during 15 years backfired to her. No matter how much she begs me to come for the holidays, I refuse to give in.
        She cannot treat people like toys and expect anything from them after.
        She could have had the best social skills lessons and the best Ph.D in the world, it failed to teach her that meanness backfires.
        I don’t believe in her regrets, sorrow after all what she did to me. I know as deeper as possible that her regrets are faked and that she does not learn from her mistakes.

        So, my question remains. Not the question of “social skills” vs “education”.
        The question is : shouldn’t we teach our children not to always snap judge a person who is not the utmost social perfection ? Or should we teach all the social skills while despising everyone who is not the utmost social perfection ? The same goes for education.
        This is the key question for me.
        Far, far away from “happy vs educated” question.

  6. Sorry for another comment, but this one does not target anyone in particular.
    But this blog post opens a very important problem, and I try to answer to this question from my place, the person with special needs. I have made my fair share of mistakes in life, so I don’t speak from a “holier than thou” place.

    I am really pissed off by the dichotomy happy vs educated.
    This dichotomy pisses me off because it means that you must not be educated to be happy, and you cannot be happy if you are educated.
    This blog post reminds me a discussion I had with my GP not later than Monday. She told me that the most important is being happy in life. I just had told her that my studies go well.
    Well, I am still very annoyed because it sounds that having a disability and being educated is antagonist with being happy. Therefore, we not only must suffer from a disability/chronic condition, but we must also choose between educated and happy because “oh well, you cannot be educated and happy when you suffer from a disability, they are dearly incompatible”.
    Let me tell you that it’s not a choice I want to make. I don’t want to choose between educated and happy.
    I have no reason to choose between educated and happy, disability or not.
    I want to continue my studies in the legal field because I love this field. I want to work in this field. It’s a subject I love since childhood. And I cannot stand being asked to choose between being educated and happy under the pretext that I suffer from a disability + a chronic condition.

    I don’t say that “everyone with special needs/disability must absolutely be educated to be happy”.
    However, the reverse is as harmful, even more harmful : asking someone to choose between being educated and happy is an excruciating pain because it means that in order to be happy, we must deny education if we want him to be happy.

    It’s completely forgetting Giuseppina Spagnolo, an Italian lady with Down Syndrome. She earned a degree in etnoantropology at the university of Palermo (Sicily). Here is a link to an article (in Italian, I am sorry but I haven’t found anything in English) : http://www.universita.it/universita-palermo-prima-laureata-sindrome-down/
    Does it mean that because she suffers from DS, she must be uneducated or else, she must surrender her happiness ?

    I am okay with suffering from a disability and with studying law at university.
    However, I am not okay with being asked to surrender education for happiness, and vice-versa.
    I am not okay with being judged of how I feel in life because of education or lack of education.
    Exactly like I am not okay with being judged on my good (or bad) character because I suffer from ADHD.
    I am not okay with those stereotypes.

    • Now you are really reading way too much into something. “Happy vs educated”, in this case, only means that GB’smom is weighing education vs happiness for her daughter who has a learning disability. It in no way means that you can’t be educated and happy at the same time, disability or not, What GB’smom meant is quite clear by her post, which doesn’t say anything remotely similar to what you are talking about.

      • This question still bothers me a lot. At least, the perspective that the question provides.

        So, if I read well the post, having a learning disability/intellectual disability (learning disability is a misleading word in my opinion, because dyslexia is a LD but overall intelligence is preserved) means that we must choose between educated and happy ?
        I am blunt, but this perspective is bugging me a lot. No matter the disability.

        So, does it mean that a person with an intellectual disability must surrender education if she wants to be happy and surrender happiness if she wants to be educated ?
        Again, this perspective annoys me a lot, because it’s forgetting people like Giuseppina Spagnolo (cf article above).

        I think that we cannot know what will happen within 5, 10, 15 years. I have no crystal ball to say that “GB will do this or that”.
        Because the world changes. Very fast. What is right today may be wrong tomorrow.

        So,, why can’t we take GB’s interests and let GB do something bright with it ?
        Instead of torturing ourselves with choosing happiness vs education and trying to figure out the least evil, leaving plenty of damage behind.

        If GB is passionated with gymnastics, why not taking such a choice and help GB reach her full potential ?

        Homeschool can also be an option.
        I know, GB’s mom, that you wish your daughter could socialize. But GB can have possibilities to socialize even if she is not at school. At the gym, with her neighbors etc…
        And she can learn more skills at home than at school, as we keep her stress lower.
        The most important is providing the most positive socialization we can provide.
        It’s pointless to let a child go to school if she is bullied and prefers dying than being alive.
        If homeschool is better for GB, then, homeschool is better for GB. It doesn’t matter if Aunt Gertrude is unhappy about this choice because Aunt Gertrude does not raise GB.

        Don’t stick to something which does not work if it doesn’t work.
        My parents did that mistake. They gave in under the social pressure. Now, they are biting their fingers about it.

        IMO, we cannot put the dilemma under “happy vs educated”. It’s not a helpful perspective, it harms more than it helps.
        It means that we want our child be molded like everyone, that what works for everyone must work for our child. Unfortunately, it’s setting up for failure, because it means giving goals our child may never reach, no matter “education vs social skills”.

        For me, the most important is ” what is our child’s way of learning and how can we teach her what we want to teach her ?”
        Then, with such a perspective, the dilemma “education vs social skills” ceases to exist because we can teach well both to our child.

        You can understand now why the dilemma “happy vs educated” pisses me off.

  7. Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for a while and thought I might give my two cents from the perspective of a special education kindergarten teacher. All of my students have social/emotional goals on their IEPs because they have autism, or developmental delay, or whatever.
    We often work on those goals within the context of school activities – so sometimes, while it may look like we’re working on reading, what I am actually focused on is teaching the child to sit at a table for 10 minutes without screaming. Yes, it would be ideal for the child to also learn other skills along the way, but until the child has the skills to self-regulate and attend to school activities, the focus needs to be on teaching those skills so that they are able to be successful in the school (and life) settings. Because really, how much academic learning can a child do when they are tantrumming, or hitting me, or running out of my classroom? Um, zero.
    However, for my students who have more appropriate school behavior and are therefore able to access academic learning, you bet I focus more on academics, at that child’s level. And you know what? They are happier because they have the developed the skills to self-regulate and participate in the world, in their own quirky little ways. They are happy because they can explore and learn new things. They are happy because their worlds are less chaotic when they have the skills to manage sensory input, stress, emotions, etc.
    I think about this topic in a very similar way to dealing with one of the other realities of my students’ lives – if they have not eaten, they will not learn. We must first feed them, and make them feel safe, and nurture the child, and then they can learn. For my kiddos with significant emotional and behavioral needs, we must make them feel safe, and nurture the child, and teach them how to access academic learning, and then they can learn. I think you’re totally right in focusing on teaching Hope how to develop self-management skills and the skills she needs to function in the world first. Happiness and academic learning will come much more successfully as those skills develop. Best of luck in that journey.

    • Abby nailed it. A child cannot take in learning when they can’t self regulate or are stressed, anxious, hyper vigilant, or worried about any number of things kids from hard places have to deal with every moment of their existence. It’s not a choice a person has to make.

  8. My kid had OCD with panic attacks and selective mutism. She could read fluently at 3 and do math with place value at 4. She could play the solos at her piano recital at 4 1/2. However, I chose to keep her back in pre-K due to her social problems. The relatives were outraged; how could I “fail” such a bright child?
    I just didn’t want her to go on, silent and scared. I hoped the extra year with no pressure would help her relax and talk to people. My friends who were speech therapists worked with her without her knowing it, and the school sneaked people in who were familiar and could draw her out.
    Now she is grown, she feels I made the right decision. Children have to succeed in connecting before the academics can have meaning.

  9. Lazlo’s hierarchy of needs is debatable, but I’ve always gone with the general plan that anyone who’s hungry, tired or ill isn’t likely to concentrate much on anything, and that’s why breakfast clubs in schools have good effect. So it seems logical that kids who are scared, stuck in angry and negative emotions they find hard to switch out of, are easily triggered into strong emotion and paddies which take a long time to come out, and have problems making good relationships with people around them, are going to burn a lot of brain time handling all of that and not have a lot of availability left over for the learning. I’ve had some involvement with nurture groups in the UK which address the children’s emotional needs and behaviour needs first (curriculum and learning still delivered) and the research at the moment shows better academic progress than children with similar needs who stayed in fully academic classes.

    I’ve always been interested in your posts about your reflection on academic and emotional balance in your experience of your older and your younger children. I certainly would want my children to have the full and meaningful education they’re entitled to, but I worked for a while in a college with a group of young adults with severe learning difficulties and it was interesting that the ones that had good social skills, relationships with their peers, could manage their emotions and behaviour and had a range of interests and independence skills were the ones who enjoyed the courses most, and they were the ones that had the most opportunities of what to do next because they had the skills to access pretty much any experience offered to them. They weren’t always the most academically able ones, but we had a few academically able students who could read and write well but whose opportunities were severely limited because of their high need for supervision, more or less the emotional and social ‘high maintenance’ students. The ones with the good social skills, language skills and social confidence were also the ones who could handle the work experience placements and enjoy them and had employability. I always thought that their long term opportunities to go on experiencing and learning and enjoying learning were greater.

  10. I have 3 adopted children with RAD symptoms and confirmed psychosis
    They were just not happy in school and tracher’s had a quota they had to deliver
    It was all very difficult the children manipulated all of us and turned us against eachother

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