Saturday, November 19, 2011

Continuing Inclusiveness 101


If we are to consider society as made up of all sorts of people with differing abilities and talents; we understand that for a good and healthy society to function well and in a cohesive manner, we must include every member of society as a vital contributor to it.  We must think of the individual as part of the whole and as valuable members of it, we have to include to include each individual mentally, spiritually and physically as an important element.

A school society or community mirrors on a smaller scale a general society or community and what we create in our schools is recreated in part from the education that the students have had. They learn values and how to treat others from how they are treated in the family and in the school environment.

   Therefore, we we create special schools for students that have sometimes borderline learning difficulties or even students with greater difficulties, instead of integrating them into our mainstream school system, we are saying to society at large and the students themselves, you are different, you are not a part of us, therefore we have to create schools especially for you. You are not a part of us.

   Humans are very social creatures and in some respects often mimic the behaviour of animals. For example, horses are herd creatures and to be included in the herd is all important to them. These animals become remarkably distressed and even panicked when they are excluded by other animals in the herd. It is also a form of disciplining to push a herd member out of the herd if they have behaved badly.
   In effect what we are doing is punishing these children for being different or not the norm.It is for the teachers to model acceptance behaviour to the students and for the students and teachers alike to accept a student who is different and to make them feel a part of the crowd. It is saying you may be different by you are ok because you too are a human being with feelings and a set of values and beliefs similar to ours. When we look only on the exterior or the surface, when we decide because someone is white, black, yellow, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian or Muslim or disadvantaged in some way through a medical condition or by accident of birth, Downs syndrome, autism or mental condition, that they are no longer acceptable, we are doing a disservice to ourselves, smacking G-D in the face for having created that person as different to our perceived version of 'normal'.

   If for example, a Down's Syndrome boy of say fourteen or fifteen decides that he wants to go to a school 'where everyone is like him,' that means that there is something wrong with the acceptance as a human being that he is receiving at the mainstream school where he is.  It means that the acceptance of students and teachers at the school is only token and that something must be changed in the way that they operate and the way that they deal with and respect this boy. If he was treated with respect as a human being, he would be thriving and he would be strong in his resolve as a human being and not alienated. I lay the blame squarely on the school and perhaps the parents for not understanding that this kid is distressed and that somehow he is not accepted in part.
I have a child who went to the same school and he is part African as his father is Nigerian. Now he was the only half African child at the school and older boys came up to the kindergarten fence and talked swear words to him and he was bullied and treated as an idiot. My son is an only child and like  many children of single parent families, he looks up to his peers more than the single parent he lives with for behaviour models. What he got from these peers was racism, contempt and a devaluing of self. He also had a South African kindergarten teacher whose son was at a mainstream school, not the school she was teaching at. Now her values of ingrained racism, probably from living in South Africa under apartheid formed her perceptions of anyone who was either African, or part African or Coloured in other words. She decided that my son had 'problems' and was a sore thumb.
Let me give you the one glaring example of what she did. After being most difficult to deal with and even quite derogatory towards me and superior (because after all I had been married to a 'black man' and was somehow not quite right in the head or terribly flawed as a Caucasian who intermarried or married out of my race) to the extent I felt she did not even listen to me because what ever I had to say was of no import and who was I at any rate?
  She stopped me one day in the school yard and this is after my son had been subjected to psychological testing by some woman in the school on advice and I was told he had an IQ of 47. She trumpeted to me,'Oh Ilana I have to tell you this. I tested your son the other day. I read the class a story and I asked him several questions. He was clueless. Totally clueless.' I looked at her astounded both by her insensitivity to my child and her brazen declaration about a child to a mother in a public place. 'Oh', I replied, 'Did you ask any other child the same questions?' She gulped and was taken aback for a few seconds, probably at my audacity for asking the question. Then, she stated again. 'No but he is totally clueless.' 'So', I said, 'You did not ask any other child the questions you asked my son and on the basis of those questions, you decided he was clueless.' Then she started to waffle on about how a friend of hers who was a kindergarten head at another school had told her this and this about my son and from her observations which I consider flawed, my son is mentally incapable.

   It was at that point I began to have real fears about my son's future in the school and I realised that when he entered prep and was totally unprepared, I realised what had been done to him. He had been excluded and ignored. He had not been made to feel a part of the whole school in the eyes of those around him. His acceptance was only token. don't think kids don't pick it up. They do, just as we adults  can walk into a room and either feel accepted and one with the group in the room or uncomfortable as a stranger or newcomer. Now newcomers are integrated into a group fairly rapidly if they show signs of sharing certain characteristics and know the right social graces or foibles common to the group. However if they are not accepted or made to feel that they are too different in belief structure or appearance, their mental state can deteriorate to the extent that they do develop mental conditions that are either long standing or temporary.
I was a first time parent who respected the expertise of some so called 'experts' and I was let down. On the advice of these 'experts' I was bullied and bullied my child. I actually believed that there was something wrong with him and that he was somehow deficient mentally. I actually enrolled him in a special school and that would have been the worst thing that I could have ever done to my son. It was when he was in the car one Friday coming back from that school mimicking the behaviour of a severely autistic child, that I realised how foolish and wrong I was and how I had been led astray into destroying the mental state of my child. If I had left my child in this 'special school' on the advice of these so called 'experts' he would have ended up in jail or worst and been mentally and emotionally destroyed. It was in a meeting to discuss my son's 'progress' and their hideous recommendations that I put him full time in this school and I was told I could bring him back to the other school where he did kindergarten for 'cultural events' that I really woke up to what was happening and I resolved to look at another school. I had had my heart sent on an education for him in this school so it was hard.  I still believe that this school can give an education but I do have my doubts as to whether it can accept that not everyone is cauasian and I believe that it has problems with kids who are of mixed or interracial background of any type. That is sad, but the fact that my son left was the school's loss. But in order to prove themselves correct they have gone on to try and perpetuate the myth that my son is somehow deficient mentally. He is not.
He is a highly sensitive kid who picks up the attitudes and prejudices around him and acts accordingly. He is actually a very smart boy. His expressive language is not so good and we are working on that with speech therapy. He is also left handed and he was 'guided into using his right hand' in that kindergarten and the school he went to afterwards. As someone who had their left hand tied behind her back in grade two after a year of using it to write, I should have known better. But his teachers told me that 'he is using both hands equally' and they convinced me that he is better being trained to use his right hand. I should have resisted. At the time, I was tired and fighting a battle on several fronts and did not. I was maybe not as aware as I might have been. Some of the blame has to rest on me for not fighting harder. He kicks a foot ball off the left foot and is a good little player, learning both soccer and AFL.  He does many things left handed. My father was left handed and also my grandmother refused to allow him to be changed. She was horrified when she learnt what had been done to me but she could do little as she was only the grandmother and not the parent.
We need to accept that often people are not the same. Ludwig Beethoven was deaf. Stephen Hawkings has multiple disabilities and has overcome them to contribute greatly to society. It was Hawkings who said that people who boast about their IQ are losers. True.
We must only estimate worth of a person relative to the value of a human being's worth which is in effect priceless as we were all created as valuable masterpieces. Thanks to G-D who is our Master and Creator divine.

Inclusiveness 201 coming up. Soon.

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