The teacher admits that it was his mistake--misreading the math problem and confusing the class. But soon it is straightened out, and a young boy struggles with the problem for several minutes. "It's all right" the teacher tells him gently, "we all make mistakes like that." The teacher is blind, and he is teaching blind students.
Public Law 94142 mandates that students be educated in the least restrictive environment possible, and that, where feasible, handicapped children should be educated with their normal peers. But for many handicapped children their public school systems are inadequate, and an alternative for many is the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Ma. The goal of Perkins is to teach its students not only academics, but the skills of daily and independent living as well.
As I waited for my guide in the lobby of the Lower School, children ran past, negotiating their routes with the case of children not visually handicapped. Students in the Upper School operate and stock a snack bar under supervision, an endeavor for which they receive credit towards graduation in sales management.
The students at Perkins were acutely aware not of my movements but of the sound of the camera shutter release. Despite other subtle adjustments to living without sight--placing a finger inside a cup to tell when to stop pouring or using an abacus for computation--Perkins resembles any other school. The cafeteria is crowded with students welcoming the temporary break from classes. They are joking, laughing, complaining, and the seniors are worrying about their upcoming SAT's.