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Unable To Mathematically Compensate For Discrimination

, , , | Learning | December 18, 2018

(One of my students is in a wheelchair. Lately, he’s been struggling with math and failed a big test. His mother schedules a meeting with me.)

Me: “He’s been coming to afterschool tutoring, which is excellent, and…”

Student’s Mother: “He’s in a wheelchair!”

Me: “Uh… yes. So, despite failing the test, I realize he’s just mixing up these two equations, which should…”

Student’s Mother: “No! He’s in a wheelchair!”

Me: “Ma’am, I know your son is in a wheelchair. What does that have to do with anything?”

Student’s Mother: “He’s in a wheelchair! You shouldn’t have failed him!”

Me: “Ma’am, your son can’t walk. He needs help opening some doors, getting things off a high shelf, and picking up things that require too much bending over. He is perfectly capable of doing math. In this case, he’s just struggling with this one section, which is more advanced than last year, and he’s not the only student who is struggling.”

Student’s Mother: “But you shouldn’t fail students who are in wheelchairs! That’s wrong!”

Me: “Your student is on the debate team, plays the guitar, does sports, and won a school contest last year. He is perfectly capable of many things, including struggling with math. I am not going to grade him differently simply because he’s in a wheelchair.”

Student’s Mother: “This is discrimination!”

Me: “Right, please leave. I am going to schedule a conference with the principal and dean of students.”

(She left, still protesting I was discriminating against her son. We had the meeting a few days later and the principal and dean both agreed with me that just because someone’s legs, arms, or other body parts don’t function like the rest of us, it doesn’t mean they are incapable of failing math. Now, I personally do not drag students into such discussions, but the student did find out. He apologized profusely, saying his mother was always using his disability to get free food and services. He also said he works so hard because he wants to attend a college far away from her. I can understand why.)