Norman Kunc and Emma Van der Klift
“Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic”
10th Annual Summer Leadership Institute
Cal State San Marcos
My most personal connection during the Summer Institute was with Norm. He made clear that the last cob webs of my preconception concerning people with disabilities have cleared away. I will always remember that he was so joyful when he said that he as a person with a disability was in our (educators and others) lives to make it messy. That is something I have been experiencing personally with my husband, who is a person with a disability, and it has taken me a long time to appreciate it. For many years I was guilty of, on some level, trying to “fix” him. I now try to embrace that messiness and the manner in which it separates us from others is no longer worrisome.
Norm’s rebellion and in your face advocacy is inspiring. Political advocacy has always been a large part of my life and seeing him do so on behalf of people with disabilities makes real all that I have been processing over the last several years. In NYC, my certification did not include working with people such as Norm and I am very hopeful that I will be able to do so in future. In fact, it is one of the most exciting parts of the process of redoing my certification here in California.
Norm stated that the disabled often have to think like Houdini. Houdini created more and more difficult escapes for himself to perform. People said he couldn’t do it and time and again he proved them wrong. As educators we must believe that our students with disabilities can do ‘it’. We must believe in them. We must allow them to create their own lives because we cannot possibly understand their unique perspectives. Norm believes that if we simply untie the knots for ours students that the ropes which we perceive as binding them will untangle themselves.
Can I allow students who are disabled to untangle themselves?
I know that I have control issues, who doesn’t, but I also respect my students and I allow that respect to govern me when making decisions about who will decide - my students or me. I hope that I can continue to involve my students at every level of decision making about their educations and their transitions. I know that I learn from my students. I hope to learn even more now that I have processed Norm’s point of view.
Who will you feed the happy dog or the mean dog?
Norm summed up my leaving the practice of law and going into education brilliantly with this story: “there were two dogs ‘happy’ and ‘mean’ the leader of a tribe of Native Americans asked the young people to go contemplate who will win in a fight- the happy dog or the mean dog.
They came back with their answers and the reasons for them and the chief said that they were all wrong because they could not know who would win because- the one who wins is the dog you feed.” I knew I had to get out of law because it was feeding the mean dog. Can I feed the happy dog in education? Yes I Can!
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