Monday, October 3, 2011
“ELL, Special Ed, and an assortment of behavioral problems are mainstreamed on the backs of average students.”
This from the school board candidate I was supporting. I’d put up a yard sign and everything. Now it looks like I might have to go out there in the rain and rip that sign out with my bare hands because, excuse me, “mainstreamed on the backs of average students”?!
I mean…I get it. I do. Teachers are spread incredibly thin. The more variables you dump on them, the less time and energy they have to actually teach. And, for what it’s worth, I was that so-called average student back in the day, sitting stoically through the chaos, sometimes learning, sometimes not, counting the minutes until the dismissal bell. And now I’m an average mom with an exceptionally brilliant, anxious, super-charged, sensitive, anything-but-average little Aspergian.
I didn’t mainstream him on anybody’s back. I hadn’t intended to mainstream him at all. Believe it or not, we special ed parents are just as afraid of “average” students as you are of us. You think I want to expose my little boy-child to the teasing, the judgment, the scapegoating, the willful ignorance, the ostracism? I pulled him out of general ed last year, not even knowing where the hell the school district would reassign him and not caring, because I knew it had to be better than where we were. I had no idea he’d end up right back in another general ed classroom at a different school, mainstreamed before we’d even had a chance to de-mainstream.
But you know what? It’s working for him. With a supportive principal, a caring and dynamic classroom teacher, support from a well-equipped special ed staff, and one very, very engaged mother, inclusion is working for my son.
Is it working for his “average” classmates, upon whose backs he’s supposedly been mainstreamed? Hard to say. I’ll admit that sometimes The Boy can be a downright pain in the ass. But having spent a fair amount of time in that classroom, I’m quite confident that he’s not the only one. Kids bump up against each other in all kinds of ways in a school setting. They cry, they tattle, they tease, they shove, they make the most unpleasant sounds and smells.
It’s not so much that the “average” ones have to endure the different ones; it’s that they’re all enduring each other. For the most part, they really do adapt to each other’s quirks and differences. They adapt a whole lot better than the adults do, that’s for sure. And they adapt especially well when the adults set a tone for acceptance.
Inclusion doesn’t work when the teachers resent it, the principals don’t support it, and the special ed services are spread thin-to-nothing. It sure as hell doesn’t work when other parents regard our very presence in the classroom as a threat to their “average” students’ academic success.
But here’s the thing: Inclusion isn’t going away. The school district wants it, most of the special ed parents want it, and it’s on the right side of the law. You can complain about it, you can hightail it to private school, or you can get on board to help make it work. Advocate for better special ed services and support for classroom teachers. Educate yourself about your child’s classmates’ disabilities. Volunteer in your child’s classroom.
Or…just take a moment to smile and chat with the special ed mom on the playground, even if she doesn’t have a friendly look on her face. Chances are she’s too nervous to reach out to you. Let her know she’s welcome. Because she’s a lot like you. And there may come a time when your child finds herself on the wrong side of “average.” How will you want to be treated by other parents when that time comes? Will you want to be seen as a burden, a label, part of the problem? Or will you want acceptance and a sense of community? Might as well pay it forward.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a yard sign that needs removing.