Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Sins of Our Youth

In the US news there is a story about an autistic child, mainstreamed, who was voted out of his classroom by his first-grade classmates. Apparently they were definitely egged on by their teacher. I find it amazing that two children in the class voted to keep the kid in the class, considering that the teacher was basically giving them the message to "vote him out"!

But I want to touch on another point.
Dave Hingsburger, a person active in the disability community, writes in his bog:
"The kid who was shunned by 14 of his classmates when put to trial by a teacher trained under supervision of Adolph. Everyone waxed poetic about the behavior of this teacher - the damage to the self esteem of that kid - the failure of mainstream education. And they should. These are all huge issues. Issues I'd like to write about. But can't.

Because I don't know if I would have been one of the 14 or one of the 2 who voted for him. God knows I experienced bullying at school, shunned for a thousand reasons by my classmates, made to feel isolated and alone. I can IDENTIFY with the kid. That should guarantee that I would have stood with him, by him, for him. But it doesn't and I know it doesn't."

I think that many persons, when they suddenly enter the "disability world" (by having a special needs child or some other contact with disability), feel guilty about how they treated the disabled in the past. And we all have memories of things we did when we were kids/in high school, that we REALLY would like to do over again, handling it in a more mature way. (I still feel guilty for a nasty remark I made to a kid I disliked in high school.) (Gee, I just thought-- maybe I can look him up in the class listing on internet and apologize. Not a bad idea....)
But I think that as kids, most of our reactions to the disabled will have been due to the input we received from our parents, and to a lesser degree, our teachers.

I was lucky that my parents raised us not to be scared of people with disabilities. I remember that when I was very young, we had no TV at home, and my parents wanted to let us watch "The Nutcracker Suite" at their acquaintances' house. This family had a child with Down syndrome, and my mom mentioned the fact before we went to watch the program. She did not want me to have a negative reaction to the child. (In the end we never met this boy. I don't know if this is because the child was being hidden from us, his parents perhaps being scared of our reaction, or if he happened to be asleep.) I have also mentioned previously (December 3rd) how my parents reacted to my friendship with a mentally impaired neighbor. But even I can not say with complete certainty that as a KINDERGARDEN kid I would have bucked the teacher's encouragement to prejudice.
So I will say that the biggest crime that this teacher did was not to the autistic boy, but to the remaining classmates, in that she taught them to HATE.

1 comment:

Dave Hingsburger said...

Great blog, thanks for directing me to it ... I agree that incidents like this should serve to call us to account for who we were and what we did ... at the same time that we hold others - like the teacher - to account for what they do now. Growth only occurs when you are willing to look honestly at yourself.