Monday, July 17, 2006

you were warned

When I was in grade school I had one good friend, T. She was the only normal kid of a family of four daughters...morbidly obese, allergic to sunlight youngest, ear tubes, rat teeth and hives at the drop of a hat middle sister and profound Downs' Syndrome oldest sister.
Now I was a member of the inagural class year when the 'mainstreaming' movement was all the rage in the public school system. That means that all the 'special' classes were dumped out and everyone got all heaped together in a big pile of brotherly love and understanding.


Anyway, C, the older sister, wasn't a revelation to me. In her own goofy way she was charming, in fact, but I did my best to avoid her. And this reaction is key, here...I was a pretty nice kid. I didn't get rotten until Jr. High. And I am proud to say that I was not one of those weasels who tormented other kids, ever. But C aroused a type of contempt and ire in me, just by her presence, that seemed to be waiting there fully formed for a chance to deploy. I spent a lot of time crying about that. It felt ugly. It didn't make me like her any more, though, or make her my best buddy or include her in my games. I wanted her the fuck off me.

I had plenty of opportunity to see this same reaction played out as a member of the class of 1978. The hippy dippy motives of the mainstreaming movement failed to take into account that 1. children are primitive little beasts who are not fully formed socially or morally, and that 2. children are ferociously heirarchal, and very brutal about establishing that heirarchy, also 3. the teachers already had more than enough on their plates.

So here all these utterly disadvantaged children were, dumped into the dog pit, and they never had a fucking chance. The most unpopular of the unpopular normals now had an underclass to feel superior to at whim. It was beyond brutal, and it went on daily, AND THE TEACHERS SAW NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING. The beatings, the mocking, all the cruelties that kids can heap on each other were heaped doubly on these kids, at whim, universally, and the teachers did nothing. They saw it. It happened right in front of them. I remember this clearly.

Now what kind of a chance does a special ed kid have anyway, dumped into a world that they are not and never will be equipped to participate in? Realistically? None at all. And I stand by that. What kind of a chance does this same kid have when the parents wont even throw them in the bathtub occasionally? Or when they dress them in whatever crap comes to hand because 'they're retarded anyway so they don't care?' And that last really burned me up. It revealed a lot about these parents state of mind when they denied their kids even that amount of humanity. Not to mention camoflage.

Eveyone was going about in this fog of idealism and it ended up being horrific. On the level of Bosch, horrific. Every single day. I don't know whose wonderful idea this was but I'd like to find them and introduce them to the crowbar I carry in my truck.

This is why, when I was pregnant, I gladly submitted to amnioscentesis. And if the result had been positive, I would have terminated.

I wonder how many of the children I went to school with even remember those mainstream kids? Or if they ever think about the shit they did to them? One kid was almost blinded by a huge crowd of boys who took lime off the playing field lines and rubbed it into his eyes. The teachers watched. The playground attendants watched. After the kids were done and had left this boy there on the ground, did they come haul him off to the nurse. Nobody got in trouble for it. I still remember the perpetrators names to this day. But of course they were only kids, right? And they probably have kids of their own now.

When my daughter was still in high school, another special ed kid was ratpacked and nearly choked to death up in Ferndale, near here. These were Jr. High age kids. I asked a girl who witnessed it and she told me calmly that everyone wanted to; so they all waited until after school when everyone was getting off the bus near a secluded area and lured this kid down into it like a dog, with treats. That everyone had hated this girl anyway, because she was gross and inappropriate.

Then there were the daily indignities and torment these kids suffered. I challenge a normal person to put up with that kind of treatment and not come away worse for the experience. But to put someone who never had a chance into that circus? No. They could not keep up in class and so every assignment they were given they failed. They couldn't fathom social things so they had no friends. They never got a joke, never knew the answer, always got the worst playground equipment-if any, and always got ridiculed and physically abused behind closed doors at every opportunity. It was as though the normal kids were in the grip of an uncontrollable compulsion.
I honestly think that they were.

I say that the adults involved felt the same revulsion as the kids did. I say they took a secret schoolyard satisfaction in seeing the gross retard get the shit kicked out of him. There is a part of human nature at work here that needs to be addressed a lot more openly than it has been. Humans shouldn't act like chickens attacking a speck of blood, like pirrahna, like sharks. I say you carry this impulse too far and institutionalize it, and what you end up with is Columbine.


  1. hmm, no comments yet on this one.

    I think the comment about hierarchies is very true and it's an extreme version of not hanging out with the ugly kids if you feel insecure about your own looks.

    I went to boarding school but there was one family there of 4 sisters where every girl had a physical disability - one's knees bent backwards not forwards, one had eyes like a cat and I can't remember the others. I was scared sick of them and wouldn't go anywhere near them which I am now deeply ashamed of. But at the same time I was vaguely aware that there might be something wrong with me too.

  2. it makes people feel uncomfortable to read this sort of thing because it reminds us of how we were as kids and maybe of how we might still have those fears now (because i think that's all it is - fear).

    one of small person's friends at school has a younger sister with down's. her mother is taking her out of mainstream and putting her back into special ed, because she wants to give her a chance to learn life skills that might one day help her live even slightly independently - never mind getting a half-arsed, watered-down version of the national curriculum thrown at her which she will never benefit from (for fuck's sake - i've never had to use my knowledge of oxbow lakes in every day life, so why should someone with much other stuff to think about be clogging up their head with it?!).

    the mother is also heartily sick of people fawning all over elise, talking about how "blessed" she is and how "happy and loving" people with down's are. it seems to be one way or the other - either fear and contempt, or overbearing "sympathy".

    and i don't know, if i was either the parent of a disabled kid, or a disabled kid myself, which would be worse.

    you rock, fn. truly.

  3. You've hit the nail on the head (as always) when you talk about children being primitive beasts and ferociously hierachial - they are. And there's a certain amount of so long as they're picking on x they won't pick on me" involved as well and we all do that - as children and as adults - if there wasn't then we wouldn't all join in with bitchy gossip and character assasinations of others- but I think that there's a bit more to it than that as well. You touched on it when you mentioned the normal kids who seemd to be in the grip of an "uncontrollable compulsion". If you look at this reaction from a purely animal point of view then the kids are obeying a primitve instinct to get rid of the weak. I'm not saying it's the right way to behave but if you think of that reasoning then it makes a kind of (nasty) sense.

    Surly girl is right - our behaviour towards the handicapped is characterised either by fear and contempt or "overbearing" sympathy which is usually characterised by our "does he take sugar?" behaviour towards them.

    For all we champion equality of treatment for all - there are few of us who would class a severely disabled person as a friend, we can be pleasant should we need to be but deep down most of us feel uncomfortable and ill at ease when talking to (for example) someone with Downs Syndrome.

    My cousin's disabled. It's a very rare syndrome - so rare in fact they didn't have a name for it until he was about 6. He came up through the school system until he got to high school (12) when he went into special ed. I don't think of him as disabled because I grew up with him. To me and the rest of my family he's just A. I reckon the mainstream education system can work but it depends on the school and the ethos of the school - the infant and junior schools he attended were quite small and although he probably was picked on, there were also a number of kids who looked after him. When the time came for him to go to a school where, despite the good efforts of the teachers, he ran the risk of being lost in the crowd, his parents moved him. This seems like a sensible solution - very young kids will be protective towards those who have disabilities, older kids seem to have the pack instinct ingrained in them.

    very quickly too (because this comment has gone on too long) which would be worse - to be the parent or the child? The parent. No doubt. My cousin knows that he has something that makes him different from his brothers and cousins, every so often he'll get angry about it. But he has a better social life than I do, more friends, more nights out, more fun. It's not there in the back of his head like a neon sign any more than we have our perceived failings there in our heads all the time. His parents have to see him grow up, wonder what will happen to him when they are no longer around to keep an eye on him, wonder what they did wrong, that he wasn't perfectly healthy and watch the reactions of others towards him. Quite frankly that would be my definition of hell.

  4. Well what a meaty subject to get me teeth into first thing in the morning.
    I think we can spend a lot of time beating ourselves up over feelings that altho innapropriate to our current civilised state make good evolutionary sense.

    Equally the hippy dippy reaction to this is equally ridiculous , and unfortunatly as you clearly state many children have suffered because of it.
    I dont have any trite answers to any of these problems , and I cant claim to be a shining example of humanity when it comes to helping or improving the lot of disabled/damaged people.
    Basically I wouldnt know where to start

  5. Years ago, when I use to imagine having a child, the fantasy would be all fluffy until it came time to send the mite to school.
    Couldn't do it without trepanning myself. And the alternative seemed to be reading books together in a cave, hiding from social workers.

  6. I was bullied for a few weeks and in turn ended up bullying a girl because she was a bit slow on the uptake and had a speech impediment. Not something I'm proud of, but, y'know, what monkey see monkey do.

    The situation in schools seems a hundred times worse these days. Perhaps I'm being really cynical and am way off the mark but I think there are some teachers who don't want to get involved because they prefer to identify with the bullies themselves (perhaps to overcompensate for being bullied themselves as children) ... still, better shut up as I'm digging myself into a hole here.

  7. how interesting that you get so many more comments on racism than on this subject. Clearly you've touched a nerve here FN

  8. First rule of the schoolyard is always pick on those different from you. Second is never say anything to stand out from the crowd. Some people don't stand a chance.

    It's the pecking order thing. Chickens will always pick on one hen. Remove that hen and they will find another one, and so it goes on.

  9. Having worked with kids (and their parents) and "adults for the past many years and being a keen observer of humanity, I have come to the conclusion that 60% of the population never matures beyond the mental, intellectual, or moral age of 13, and 20% never mature beyond 18. As for the rest, some act like maturing is a life-long process and the others chase social status.

    "Special Ed"? It's what everybody gets nowdays. Exhibit A: The President of the USA. (efhmcpof)

  10. EVERYBODY: i'm just throwing this one open. i am reading them but y'all get to speak for yourselves here.

  11. FN: You have touched a nerve here. And I'll just comment straight from my own experiences without touching upon other's comments (tempting as that may be).

    I have 2 children - one a typically developing child (well, she's a bit more than typical, she's off the charts in terms of - everything) just won a scholarship to a private school in Manhattan for the coming year.

    Second child has undiagnosed developmental delays. To the unknowing, he is a typical child which in many ways, he is. In some ways, he is quite above typical as well. But his brain is wired a little differently. He too will learn, but it will have to be in a specific setting - one that we have been lucky to have had the best of for him in pre-school. He will enter Kindergarten in September and we have advocated and gotten him into the best setting for him in our area (we live in one of the boros of NYC).

    The notion that children are still lumped in together without any special attention given to learning difficulties (and teachers looking the other way) is well, quaint. But unless you have had to advocate on behalf of your child, you would not know the various services, laws, and educational tools that are available to make those who do not process information in a typical way still able to achieve.

    Do I worry about my child? Yes - I worry about both of them. The fears that a parent lays down with each night. Life gives all of us challenges - that is the true metal of the person, how we deal with them. Please tell me where in the guarantee that comes with kids is the one which puts forth the happiness and success of all children. I dare anyone to look at the other side - how the idiots who bulleyed those lower on the pecking order than themselves turned out. Now that would be interesting.

    Truth is the bullying starts long before your child steps into any playground and it is done at the hands of adults with said fixed ideas of what "normal" is. That will never happen to either of mine as my husband and I are not the type to lay down and roll over when it comes to advocating for either of our children.

    That's just a little hint at how I feel on this topic. Glad you asked.

  12. That sounds medieval. My God. I went to a Catholic boys school run by the Christian Brothers, mainly the sons the family wanted to give to the church but they couldn't pass the priest exam. Most of them beat kids routinely. The strap or strop was the weapon of choice for most. Usually brought down with extreme force on the extended palm. And double if you snatched your hand away. You couldn't use it for a while after a few of those.

    There were a couple who were more explosive. I recall one day a kid bursting into our class pursued by a Brother with a cane, who lashed him to his knees as our mild English teacher watched in horror. A lot of my class enjoyed it though. The kid was terrified and probably scarred for life.

    The senile Brother Doyle was so out of it that he didn't know the bad boys were passing a vodka bottle round the back of the class as he made us all pray. However, during one lesson, when the unfortunate Michael Kelly behind me apparently smiled at him, he behaved like a man possessed (maybe he was). He belaboured the hapless Kelly's head with his fists, screaming: "Do you surrender Mr Kelly? Do you surrender?" "Yes, I surrender, Brother Doyle," moaned Kelly.

    I also remember being forced to fight pretty well every day because
    I was considered unacceptably different (I read books and wrote poetry and stuff). It had the advantage of teaching me how to handle myself though.

    I hated my schooldays and never gave my class reunions a backward glance.

  13. It is depressingly amazing at how cruel children can be. Not only are the weak, gifted, and mentally challenged children targeted, many of the so called popular ones later themselves become targets. I am a firm believer in you reap what you sow. You sow bad seeds, you reap a bad harvest. What is it about the mentality of a child who has the sense to know that he himself would not like to be treated that way, yet, they focus all cruel intentions on another.

    It works in all aspects of life, adults with seemingly high morals and values belittle and attack other adults for their beliefs, personalities, sexual orientation, race, religion, sex, etc. It is about the mindset that we are all human...we are all people with feeling and souls. We think, we laugh, we cry, we bleed...we are all one in the same, with just a minor difference that may divide us.

    Great post, btw. I enjoyed reading it.

  14. Bringing mentally or physically disabled children into mainstream schools was done with the best of intentions.

    The term 'Special School' was seen as derogatory.

    The road to hell....

    I've always felt uncomfortable in the company of these people. They are devoid of malice or side. They make me feel ashamed of my humanity, or lack of it.

  15. everyone, well put. im closing this now and returning to the regularly scheduled rash, itching and flaking.

  16. Anonymous7:39 PM

    i'm sorry i didn't get back to weigh in this time...but i suspect i'll have a chance to do so at a later date. because i have opinions on this. strong opinions. and 2 sons with a variety of issues that made their lives somewhat hellish when they were growing up. (their issues are things like ADD. OCD, anxiety disorder, for starters)

    we've banged our heads against this wall of ingnorance so many times i've kind of lost count. and in more than one state. anyway, BRAVO for bringing it up and for the opportunity for this discussion. short as it was, (what with you closing up this topic shop already, and all)! xoxo

  17. Anonymous3:18 AM

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