For today's blog we are back in the theatre in Simcoe, where we were yesterday, for the second of three posts from that experience. As you remember the day was on teasing and bullying and the group had an amazing experience together. There were around 60 there and as a teacher I try to watch everyone, try to ensure that every person gets a chance to come up to read from the flip chart, to do a role play, to answer a question in a quiz.
There are those who are eager to participate and would be up every time if they could. There are those who are a bit shy but who push away personal anxiety in order to get their time in the sun. Then there are those who need active encouragement. These are the most difficult. The workshop is on saying no, so when they say 'no' it should stand. But I always wonder if they just need encouragement but worry if they see encouragement as coercion, so I simply ask twice and take two 'nos' as 'no' and leave them alone.
One of the youngest boys in the room seemed just plain awestruck by the experience of being there. It wasn't the speed and the flash or my teaching that caught him, it was just being in the room with all these other ... um ... different people. As I wrote yestereday there were a mixture of school kids and adults from the local agencies. His eyes would fix on one guy, watch him intently, then switch to another.
I wondered how often he had opportunities like this, to be amongst his home community. Our present philosophy of not allowing contact, social or otherwise, with others with disabilities has always seemed cruel to me (not to mention a mammoth violation of civil liberties). Many have expressed that this class was the first time they were ever allowed to be together with others with disabilities in a valued kind of way. Sure, this kid knew peers with disabilities, but probably no adults. Probably none who had trod the path from school to real world.
In the end the kid refused to come up twice and I let it go. I figured that he was too interested in the 'idea' of others with disabilities to learn much from me, and besides, what he was learning by watching everyone else have fun and participate is enough. Or so I thought.
When it was all over there was a buzz in the room and people were filing out. We were in Simcoe's downtown movie theatre in the large salon. The floor was sloped all the way to the front so I had been presenting on an angle. Not a comfortable way to sit and I was terrified to take my brakes off as I'd plummit backwards into the wall. So I had to wait. I saw this young man leave his seat and approach another man, of about 40. His small white hand reached out slowly and tentatively and took the sleeve of the other guy who was excitedly talking to friends.
Noticing the touch he turned and smiled at the kid holding his sleeve. He waited to hear what the boy had to say, he spoke ... but so softly I couldn't hear. Neither could the other fellow who said, "You are going to have to talk louder." "Loud enough for me to hear too, please," I thought.
"Are you happy?" the boy asked.
There was a shocked pause. He didn't expect that. "Um, I have a girlfriend," he pauses and calls over a woman of his age, "and I have a job."
The boy was not satisfied, "But are you happy?"
The man now seemed to understand the gravity of the question. "Is there any chance that I will be happy when I grow up?"
He answered that question, "When I was young in school like you, I was unhappy. People were mean to me all the time. But now, I'm a man. I live my own life. My girlfriend loves me, I like my job and I have friends. I'm really happy. They should have told me it got better."
The boy grabbed him in a big hug, then ran from the room to join his friends. I saw him on the way out, he was animated and talking a mile a minute. I don't know what he was saying.
But I can guess.