Teacher Professor

January 19, 2010

What Would Martin Say?

Filed under: Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 2:24 pm

Kristina Chew (click here) has a wonderful blog about how Martin Luther King Jr. opened the door for public schooling and awareness of children’ differences- how not only did his dream pave the way to better access for African-Americans, but also for people with disabilites.   And I CERTAINLY agree…

Kindof.  Certainly, disabilities rights have come right along with racial and women’s rights.  The idea of separate schools and water fountains are completely foreign to my children and I celebrate that.  I fight very hard every day to include students and teach teachers how to work in “inclusive” classrooms.  But I worry about a culture in which an increasing number of differences have to have a “label”.  If children do not fit within a very small band of “acceptable” differences, then there must be something wrong with them and we must seek to “fix” them.  The Neurodiversity movement, captured by Amanda of Ballastexistz and Joel Smith of NTs are Weird, and on neurodiversity.com certainly capture this better than I can.  They wonder why there is such a rejection of the notion that people are diverse- not racially, not culturally, but neurologically.  In the great rainbow of abilities and ways of being, only a small group are “normal”- and yet, they dictate to the rest of society what is the expected way of being.  Are YOU normal?  Is your family?  Your friends?  Completely “normal”?  Most people would answer “no”. 

I blame television.  The other day, my 7-year old son said, “I can hardly wait until high school.  It’s when you’re the prettiest and the funniest!”  No insult to my high school buddies, but my high school days were NOT when I was at my prettiest and my funniest.  Prettiest- probably around age 5 and funniest- still not there!  High school was when I was at my 2nd most awkward phase (7th grade gets that dubious honor).  But in his world of parent-approved Disney shows, high school IS when people are pretty and funny and carefree.  And if you’re not “that”- smart, funny, pretty, organized, with a great group of friends, there must be something wrong with you.  And being a culture of “helpers”, we rush in, label, and help the person “fit in”. 

Matthew Smith, in a presentation to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, noted last year that ADD was an idea further developed by schools when the need for students to do well on tests began to increase.  In the 1950s, we needed students who sat and tested well, in order to compete with the Russians.  Kids who wanted to move and be active had to be constrained so that we can “compete”.  If a student couldn’t do that, there was something wrong with them, and we had to help them be “better”.  Rather than conforming schools to the characteristics of students, we had to change the students.   Even in the case of gifted kids, whose actions really DID win the Cold War, schools don’t want “too much”.  Radical ideas- they’re too different…

Now, I’m in a profession of helping children learn to “succeed”.  And I certainly fight very hard for my own children to get good grades, have good friends, and express themselves, so that they can be “successful”.  But I hate that success is often measured by easily they  blend in.  I’m not so sure that Martin Luther King Jr. had that in mind, either.


  1. […] year, I commented on what I thought Martin Luther King would say about children with disabilities.  I still think he would have something to […]

    Pingback by Martin Still Has a Lot to Say… « Professor Mother Blog — January 17, 2011 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  2. It would be wonderful to abolish “normal” from our vocabulary (along with the “r” word as well), wouldn’t it? Wonderful post!

    Comment by autismmommytherapist — January 18, 2011 @ 11:05 am | Reply

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