Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The New Darkies

When people say, look how joyful or she will have a good, happy life, it may be well intentioned in desire to comfort, but, more likely than not, if it comes from an authority figure, it's meant to put the kibosh on questioning their authority. My reaction to these authority figures has been to wonder if they think I am some kind of dummy. Comments like that are only said for one reason: to shut someone like me up. The metamessage is quite clear: your kid is as dumb as a post. Now go and play on the freeway.

Mentally and physically handicapped children are the new darkies. If these kids are joyful and will have a good life, might as well sit on the plantation steps with banjo in hand and have done with it. Yes sir. We may as well just pick and grin. Beats trying to be taken seriously by those in charge. Less wear and tear on the walls. But not less wear and tear on the heart as one watches one's child slowly slip between the cracks. Even those who are paid to help don't really. The man explained to me that his organization couldn't make many waves because they couldn't alienate the Chicago Public School system. The woman who had argued the landmark Corey H case, I was told, "she will not speak to you," and then I discovered why not. In reality she didn't have anything to offer.

As I understand it, Gorey H was more about establishing quotas than helping out anybody. The change in the law gave the Chicago Public Schools broad language to work around. All they had to do was what was most "appropriate," and that is a huge loophole. There is no real objective criteria. Quotas may help for inclusion for kids like our younger daughter, Kid Q, but do nothing for kids like Kid O except help sweep them further under the rug, or, if you will, throw them deeper into the br'er patch. And once a kid is thrown into the br'er patch, they are just about irretrievable.

There is a way out, but it's an unchartered path. Form a new school. That's what this Little Red Hen intends to do. If the system refuses to integrate these kids, then I will find a way to do so. Form an underground railroad if it comes down to that. Leading these children to educational freedom will not be easy. But it's necessary. The far greater risk is to see more and more of these kids fall through the bureaucratic cracks, and that is unacceptable to me. If I have what it takes, then no child need ever be a second class citizen because they have mental or physical handicaps. This cannot be done in isolation. This requires the consent of community. It's going to require many courageous people who would be willing to have their ablebodied and perhaps even gifted children exposed to those who are typically considered less desirable. Who will join this Little Red Hen in forming a new school where community matters more than who is in what grade or at what level? I need courageous, compassionate people who are willing to truly look beyond what they see right in front of them and see, instead, content of character, as Dr. King so eloquently phrased it. Only then will we have equality of education and a chance for these typically forgotten and ignored children to rise to their potentials and to be loved and accepted for who they are. Maybe then we will be able to stand up from the plantation steps and toss those banjos aside.


  1. This post has really touched me deeply. My sister was born with severe physical handicaps but was fortunate enough to attend the Henry Viscardi School in New York. The school was in its infancy at the time but succeeded in providing my sister a solid education within a community of acceptance. I whole-heartedly support your vision of a more integrated community and will help in any way that I can.

    From my own experience, it seems that the hardest time for these students may come long after school has ended. Transitioning into the workplace is difficult both in terms of finding a job and finding acceptance within that community. Second class citizenship is alive and well and, therefore, schools that bring all students together are absolutely vital.

    I teach math but I also develop online tools and activities for students. I have an idea for a story-based math program whose main character is a very capable but physically challenged student. Do you know of any research in the area of role models for handicapped students? Would students, in general, benefit from interacting with a positive character who has physical handicaps? I have three goals for this program: to empower pysically handicapped students, to make these students more visible in mainstream classrooms, and to teach mathematics to all. Anything you could share would be greatly appreciated.

    If you're not familiar with the Henry Viscardi School, you may read about it here:

    Thank you for taking these first steps. I wish you much success!

  2. Thank you very much Colleen. No, I hadn't heard of this school. It gives me a jump off point.

    I don't know who you follow on Twitter, but perhaps they can point you to some references.

    I would be very interested in any story involving a handicapped child, so i would think that others would. If I can think of anything I'll let you know.

  3. I mainly follow educators but I haven't seen much related to severe physical disabilities. There's a tremendous amount of information about students with LDs and the benefits of technology. However, while these students certainly have significant struggles, it just doesn't compare to the difficulties students with CP, MD, and other physical issues face.

    I'm game to create something for this population of students. I can contribute programming skills and subject expertise. I also have the beginnings of a story. I could use a writer and an artist. Do you have any connections?