This article was originally published at Our Girl Gwyneth.
For those of you who are parents, I ask you to follow along with a thought exercise. Think of the time when you registered your child for Kindergarten (or imagine doing so if they are still little). Think about the feeling of finding out who their teacher would be and who their classmates would be. Remember how it felt to prepare them for the first day of school; purchasing a backpack or lunch box, finding all of the supplies, and planning how they would be transported to school. You possibly imagined the scene of your child walking into their Kindergarten classroom for the first time and finding their name on a cubby or assigned to a desk. And they would be surrounded by other kids experiencing the same thing. I’m sure many of you worried about certain things, but mostly I believe you were excited for them to accomplish this milestone; this rite of passage from preschooler to Big Kid.
Now imagine someone telling you that your child was not allowed to have this experience. They tell you that your child cannot go to that classroom on that first day of Kindergarten. They don’t tell you this to be mean – oh no – this denial of a basic childhood rite of passage is “for their own good.” It is “what is best.” Your child needs to be in a separate classroom. Your child is different. Your child is special. Your child does not belong with the other children.
I’ve been doing a thought exercise of my own lately. What would happen if I just registered my daughter in our new school district as a typical kid, and didn’t mention a thing about Down syndrome, IEPs, or Special Education? What if she showed up on the first day of school in a typical classroom? Honestly, I imagine that all hell would break loose. They would take one look at her, label her, and freak out. Because she would NOT belong there.
I am tired of thinking about this. I’m tired of society and biases and prejudice and all of the damned “good intentions” that really only add up to segregation. And I’m especially exhausted by all of the people who will judge me as being melodramatic. Because I truly believe school inclusion for my daughter is a civil rights issue.
Discrimination against people with disabilities is so ingrained in all of us (even myself) that we can, at times, think of them as second-class citizens. The best of us will want to help them, but will also pity them. And in the worst minds, they are thought of as burdens to society or even, less than human. Why are medical companies producing multiple prenatal screening tests to detect Down syndrome and other genetic abnormalities? They don’t make money on products that society doesn’t have a need for, and they are making plenty of money on prenatal screening.
Back to the issue at hand…I don’t want to give the impression that I am in denial of my daughter’s ability to perform in a classroom setting with typical children. I know that she won’t be raising her hand to answer every question. I know that her speech pattern will be difficult for most people to understand when they first meet her. I know that she will always need extra tutoring and might not ever catch up to the intellectual level of her classmates. But I also know that she will learn faster – and be a happier person – if she is experiencing school alongside typical kids. I know that she will have friends. I know that she will be proud of herself for the grades that she tries her hardest to earn. I know that if she is segregated into a Special Education classroom with the opportunity to visit a typical classroom at select times, that she is NOT a real member of that class. She is a visitor. She is an outsider. I know that a lot of parents of typical children take for granted the access they have to public education. I have to fight for access for my daughter. And I might not win.
So please: take back your ‘special’ labels. Reevaluate your good intentions. Think about a child being denied a full-time place in a Kindergarten classroom before they are ever given a chance.
Photo Credit: Wokandapix/Pixabay
Megan is mother to three, a writer of speculative fiction, Colorado native transplanted in Georgia and writes for her blog, Our Girl Gwyneth.