Things Fall Apart

The center cannot hold.

Well, actually it can, but like liberty, the price is constant vigilance. 

I was reminded of this while reading a piece in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal (September 23) —A Teacher Quality Manifesto, by Deborah Kenny, the founder and CEO of Harlem Village Academies.

Like Down Home Ranch, the Academies were founded with the specific goal of bringing to full flower the gifts of a population most of society has written off.  In the Academies' case that would be the schoolchildren of Harlem, and in the Ranch's case that would be  adults with intellectual disabilities.

It's an inspiring piece.  It shows that society knows perfectly well how to overcome the bane of underperforming schools but simply lacks the will to do it. 

Society also knows perfectly well how best to provide for the needs of adults with intellectual disabilities, but lacks the will to do it.

What it comes down to is this: it requires people who a) are competent to perform the particular duties with which they have been entrusted, b) who have received sufficient training to perform these duties, c) who understand the ultimate goals of performing those duties, d) who support those goals without reservation. e) who have the  integrity to consistently carry out these duties, f) who are eager to support a culture based on mutual trust and deep respect, and g) who love the people on whose behalf they work.

(I never said it was easy.)

My mantra concerning direct-care workers in the disability field is this:  It's the easiest job in the world to do poorly.  It's one of the hardest jobs in the world to do well.

Years ago a young man–I'll call him Thomas–came to work for us during Ranch Camp.  He was a real charmer–funny, bright, engaging.  The campers loved him.  He was the first they asked about when they returned and always the one the girls fell head over heels in love with.  All the girls.

At first he did a good job, but pretty soon began slacking off.  I knew he'd been in a bit of trouble as a teen, and I had the sense he was trying to decide which way he would go for the rest of his life–to bs and charm his way through, or to buckle down and use his many gifts to make a go of things.  I thought I saw signs of the former, but still, it was so hard not to love this guy.

Then came the last full day of camp.

Thomas and the other counselors were taking the campers into Taylor for the Fourth of July festivities in the park.  As I was issuing last-minute instructions about how careful they were to be at a particular highway intersection (which had seen two fatalities in the past month) I saw the drivers I was talking to looking a bit distracted.  I whipped my head around, and there was Thomas, doing a Chevy Chase impression of me, his hand miming a “yak yak yak,” a big smile on his face.

I quickly got a grip on my first inclination, which was to pop him right in the kisser, but simply said, “I do hope you all understand the importance of what I'm saying here.  I love the people you are driving off with tonight.”

All went well, but Thomas left the next day, and I made sure I never saw him again. 

A mutual acquaintance later told me that she'd run into him, that he was working in direct care in an HCS home for three men, and he'd laughed as he told her about all the stuff he made up about what he and the guys “did” when filling out his documentation. 

It figured, and it fit, yet it still made me sad to hear it.

When the front door of the house closes, and you're alone in the house with your Ranchers, or when you're head of a work team and you and your Ranchers are cleaning out the kitchen coop, there's not going to be anybody around to witness whether or not you treat them as you'd like to be treated yourself.

But after a while you  see the fruit of their work, and you can tell.