It's a moment that teachers everywhere live for, learning becomes alive and vital and important. Because of that, it changes lives. I had one of those moments the other day. I was doing a workshop and during it we do a roll play where Joe walks by a 'gang' of self advocates who call him names. They all know it's a role play but even so they have difficulty calling names. Having experienced it so often it's hard for them to take the roll of bully or name-caller. But they do, and we laugh a lot.
After the first disastrous try where I just let them come up with names on their own and Joe was called a 'wanker' and a 'tosser' ... I restrict them to 'four eyes' or 'old man'. So this time he walked by and they all chose 'four eyes'. 'FOUR EYES, FOUR EYES, FOUR EYES' they called. Before I got to teach a strategy here, one of the audience members said, with great insistence that she could solve the problem of Joe's bullying instantly.
We all turned to her.
'He should not wear glasses when he goes out.'
I sat stunned at the implication of what she was saying.
The room was stunned too, for just a second and then it erupted. From all over the room, starting with a woman who had previously been very shy came protest. Shy woman said, 'He doesn't have to take his glasses off! He doesn't have to change for anyone, certainly not bullies!' They were off. The woman who had spoken, a woman with Down Syndrome was surrounded by protest. She looked shocked. Like it was the first time she was hearing that the bully was wrong, that it was OK to be different, to be tall, to be short, to be fat, to wear glasses, to learn differently.
I just looked at Joe and he at me. We both knew to be quiet. This was not our moment. It was theirs.
It took a second to sink in, the realization, maybe for the first time. That she need not be other than who she is. That her Down Syndrome was not the cause of her bullying. That the bullies were simply, completely, totally, wrong.
Finally they all quieted down and looked towards me.
The class continued.
But it was a different group of people.
They had been changed.
By the messages they gave each other.
This is, the very heart of, self advocacy.