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Skool Daze

chicago dyke's picture

This conversation was started by those with whom I disgree, but respect. I hope I'm not pissing too many off.

I have had many jobs in my life, some of which I am proud, others that I am only glad to have passed on and left behind. One job I have nothing but pride about concerns the time I spent after taking my baccalaureate, when I was a recent Biology degree holder thinking about medical school. I was (Junior) Medical Director for an assisted living group home, and beneficiary of some very new Clinton administration regulations which helped to “mainstream” the developmentally disabled into “normal” communities, by funding residences for the former class, living in what as known as the “luxury” of the post-Ronnie horror of the only slightly mendaciously termed ‘group homes.’

“Group homes,” as I knew them then, were a simple and elegant idea. You took a small group of disabled people, of like degree and nature of disability, and put them in a house in a “regular” suburban neighborhood. They were then provided with state-sponsored “assistants” of all grades, who made sure that the residents living there had all the amenities, and none of the regulatory problems of institutions, that good and correct life could offer. The idea was something akin to what proponents of “mainstreaming” argue for today: “normal” people got to live with and see that the disabled were and could be good neighbors; the “disabled” got a chance to overcome their disabilities, and function like everyone else in a normalized society.

Our clients were the most severely disabled. They could not speak, clean or care for themselves, nor take their medications, or in any way function without assistance. And yet: we brought them to state-sponsored “jobs” (spending 8 hours in a workday to assemble a single bead necklace for charity sale, with assistance) and community functions with like oriented people, and in all ways treated them with respect and dignity. Because they were human beings, and that’s what human beings deserve, always. So I believed then, and so I do now.

I have a friend, a woman for whom I hold great respect, who is an elementary school math teacher. She spent six, long, tortuous years, against every challenge and every disadvantage, to become a teacher. To support her daughter, while her ex-husband vacationed in the Caribbean with his younger wife and took cash payments for his work to avoid paying child support for the offspring of his previous marriage. A woman who virtually prostituted herself in the waning years of her beauty as a bartender in a brutally visually oriented college town, all because she didn’t want her daughter to know want, or hunger. She succeeded. She also had the privilege of being able to “hold out” for a “good school,” as she looked at jobs after graduation from her Masters program; that is, one with funding and a solid tax base in the suburbs, in a nearly all-White neighborhood. My friend makes a good living teaching nice kids math now, and is happily married to a good man. She has only told me of one complaint. In one of her classrooms, there is a situation in which she feels she accomplishes nothing, at the expense of almost 35 of her students. In that classroom, she must cater, by law, to the needs of one child, above all others. That child has a “teaching assistant,” a social worker, and the full support of the school in terms of financial resources. That child also has developmental disabilities, thanks to a drug using mother, whose habits have caused that child to be incapable of sitting still for more than 30 minutes at a time. Think of your own experiences learning math, and wonder at how it would be for you, and your math teacher, to have to endure a child who was incapable of keeping silent the desire to burst forth, vocally and violently, in regular eruptions, as you tried to learn that difficult subject.

I have almost a decade in selective (private, Ivy grade) college admissions. I know a great deal about how that game works. And it is a game; Chimpy went to Yale and other fine schools, so let’s not ever forget that. Still, it’s mostly true that “better,” more expensive schools attract “better” more intellectually inclined students, and even if that’s too much a generalization, it’s still true that going to a selective school means meeting people who will be able to help you more later in your career and employment reality. Networking isn’t a silly idea, it’s a fact of life. Expensive, selective schools mean better networking opportunities, and more intellectual challenges. I hate writing that, but it’s true.

Do you think for a moment that such environments compromise the elements which make them “selective” by allowing poor idiots into their ranks, for the sake of correctness or diversity? Rich idiots, yes, of course- they pay for scholarships for the truly gifted. Or rather, their parents do. But “dumbing down” the overall pool? Reducing standards, making it easier for all to pass at the expense of the most idiotic but financially forward? Fuck no. Look at the numbers, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Those with the greatest GPAs, test scores (incomes, zip codes) attend schools with those of a like profile; those with marginal or “abnormal but mainstreamed” profiles are shunted off into intellectual dustbins.

Being even more cold, let me remind everyone: it’s not like the disabled care so much. Or put another way: can we please all agree that there is a difference between “Forrest Gump” disabled and those with whom I have the most experience, who spent 23 hours a day sucking on their fingers and wearing diapers? And that lo and behold, there is a myriad, a rainbow, a wonder of diversity, in between? Rain Man isn’t the same as Algernon at the end of his slide, just as Grandma Moses isn’t the same as Michelangelo. As complex human beings, we can articulate, define, create and sustain environments, educational and societal, for people in all those categories. One size fits all works very poorly, most of the time.

Here is the legacy my experience mandates. When I was in elementary school, I attended the local public school; my parents saw little need to expend the big resources on the private option. One year, the school budget dispensed discretionary funds in the following way: 90% for the developmentally disabled, 10% for the “gifted.” In my case, that meant we got one computer, while the “retards” got the other nine. Thinking about things like which group is more likely to become innovators and taxpayers, it makes little sense to me now, or to my parents then. Add to that that our neighbors, parents of a severely disabled child, had a cadre of social workers and educational specialists beating down their door, offering special programs to assist their child. For my paraents, with two children scoring in the high 90s on all standardized tests, there were pamphlets and 1-800 numbers, and little else. I also recall how my classmates were freely allowed to call me “nigger” to my face, while Reba, my most developmentally challenged classmate, could command that a teacher whip a naughty classmate in front of the whole class , for the sin of calling her ‘retard,’ after some particularly obvious demonstration on the playground, of her disabilities. Our teacher was only following protocol, I have been assured.

Let me state that I see no reason, in the age of lost contractor millions and trillions spent on a futile war to empower fundamentalists who hate us, that we cannot fully fund “special” needs education and at the same time programs for the “gifted.” I wonder what our nation would be like, should we do both. Just as I think it should be a part of everyone’s education to spend time in gym class, homeroom, school dances and bake sales, with those who are of “different ability.” Indeed, as I was taught, those who have “gifts” owe society a special debt to the “special,” and those who are “slow” deserve every right to remind the “normal” that genetics and Divinity are fickle creatures to be feared and respected. As we want to believe in angels, we need only look to the “retarded,” for there are no others who are as pure, or beautiful, by the standards we proclaim define those qualities.

And yet: I’m always puzzled, and upset, by what I perceive in education. Is there a benefit in placing a person with 99th percentile scores in math in a classroom with a student who cannot spell her own name, or sit still without restraint for more than ten minutes? More importantly, how can it serve 34 students out of 35, to have a barking, behaviorally unstable student in their midst, who can neither benefit nor contribute to the atmosphere of learning? Or one so sarcastic, so caustic, as to disrupt the teacher’s ability to teach because of the misfit of their selves in a cynically created environment in which everyone “should function” along a clearly defined curve?

Some say the family is the basis of society, as with starts with the mother, as the first teacher and giver of values. I won’t argue that here. But I will say, having known many people of great potential who were lost or forgotten because of their lack of fit, that we sacrifice trillions every year, in our inability to properly educate, and more importantly properly fund and program. There are many ways to be gifted. There are many gifts a person can contribute in her society. The cynic in me believes our educational system is so fucked exactly to kill and suppress those who exist at the margins, which are not merely bipolar, but like a rainbow colored sphere, and who have advantages and genius of all stripes and color, crushed into an unthinking maw simply because of the nature of their difference.

But more than anything else: I understand the root of power. It’s simple: keep your serfs stupid. Keep the bright ones high on dope and low in their cynicism, keep the motivated ones focused on issues that don’t matter, and keep both groups too worried over the plight of the weak (which the powers of course are keeping plight in troth) so that they argue more among themselves, rather than how they apply their gifts for the advancement of all. That seems to me to be where we’re at in (public) education, and I’m really tired of it. I’m so glad this blog has a “dem on dem” violence category, for I can think of no other place in which it is more deserved. While you hate me for hating on your low-IQ daughter, we both are fucked over by a the C student in the White House, and all his ignorant, good ol boy’s club friends who scoff at both classes, ringing him on the one side with divine ability and the other angelic simplicity. Let’s not fall into the trap of “socially inept geek” and “dumb retard” stereotype. For it is this they want and count upon, and the only way in which they win.

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