Monday, March 31, 2008

"No reason to treat him different"

One of the elementary schools in our district recently held a disability awareness week. My sister, who works to educate children and youth about people with differences, was asked to do a short presentation at the end of their disability week. After the assembly, my sister found out that the PTA had sponsored an “Everyone Can” essay contest where she was able to judge the 4th and 5th grade essays. “Everyone Can” is a program geared towards teaching children that EVERYONE is good at something.
Together, sister and I, spent several hours reading hundreds of essays. We were asked to pick 10 winners from each grade. As we began reading, it was very disheartening to discover that these children had been given the message that:
1) Everyone has a disability. Teachers equate disability to, “broken arm, forgetting peoples names, wearing glasses”.
2) You can do anything you want to if you just try hard enough.
3) Disabilities can be overcome with effort.
4) Disabilities were equated with “challenges”.
We reviewed 50-60 fifth grade essays and could only find 7 that did not state this.
Really, I was just sick as I thought about the message that these children had received. My child, who spends more time with doctors and therapists in a week than most kids do all year, will be viewed as someone who isn’t “trying hard enough” to overcome his disabilities. In an effort to educate these children, the teachers and PTA instead instilled false ideas.

Here are some of the things we found throughout the essays:
  • Many kids when spelling “deaf”, spelled it D-E-A-T-H
  • Apparently, disability is like a convenient hat… hence the word, “handy cap”.
  • Another class wrote a lot about Helen Keller. One child wrote, “Helen Keller was blind and death, She didn’t learn and always got her way until one day her teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, locked her in a closet.”
  • Reference to people with disabilities was always in the “they” form. It was clearly a “them” and “us” attitude.

Ironically, my favorite essay was written by a boy who clearly struggled with his reading and writing skills. The spelling was horrible and his sentence structure was lacking but the message so sweet. He told about a neighbor boy with autism. He said that this boy is “ten years old and still watches Elmo… but that is no reason to treat him different”.

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