Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Isolated Incident of Isolation?

Many of you will have seen the story about the young choir member who, as a wheelchair user, was left off to the sidelines during a performance. Jan, one of the readers here, left me a comment a few days ago with the link to the story. I saw the picture and listened to the news broadcast and was simply left drained by the experience. What's wrong is so obviously wrong that it's not possible to imagine it happening at all. At what point does this stop being about disability and start being about cruelty? At what point does this stop being about difference and become about indifference?

How could it be that the teacher didn't take notice and take action?

How could it be that those students, to a one, let this happen?

If you listen to the story the teacher says that the student who had been assigned the responsibility of assisting the kid in the wheelchair out had been absent that day. Oh, well - guess that explains it.

I wonder if one of the dangers of having 'care providers' is the idea that 'care' is 'provided' by someone other than me. That I don't have to do anything, I don't have any responsibility for others because all of the responsibility has been assigned to someone else. 'Not my job. Not my responsibility.' I'm not my brother's keeper - but let me check the shift rotation to see who's on.

There is going to be an investigation into what happened. The teacher will come under scrutiny. Action will be taken - token or real - and the incident will fade from memory.

But shouldn't there be an investigation into a world wherein thirty some kids can stand - irregardless of the action of their teacher - by and let another kid be so obviously left out? Shouldn't there be an investigation into the deterioration of the morals, the very sense of right and wrong, in a whole choir of kids? Shouldn't there be an investigation into how a kid whose voice is used for singing isn't also used for protest - 'Hey, I will NOT sing over here!!'?

Shouldn't every single parent of every single child standing, oblivious, to the purposeful isolation of another be concerned about their child's development?

Shouldn't we all be 'care providers' all the time?

Shouldn't we all ensure that when someone doesn't show up, we all step up?

I want to believe it's getting better. I want to believe that integrated classrooms lead to integrated lives. 

I want to believe that this is an isolated incident of isolation.

But I'm not sure that I do.


Shan said...

Why didn't the kids say something? I'll tell you why.

1) mob mentality ("I'M not going to be the one to say something and stand out - it's every man for himself.") and

2) the sanction of the authority figure ("Ms. So and So says this is the way we're doing it.")

It's a perfect formula for conformity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,
not every person or kid has the ability for empathy built into every cell of their body like for instance Ruby.

For me it is something that is taught (teached?) by living it as a parent. It is the balance between learning about when to listen to your own "egoisticall" wishes and the comfort of a social acceptable living.

It is indeed a lesson to be learned. But you can only learn it if you are safe and loved for yourself in a certain kind of way.

These are y personal thoughts to the "why?"..


nycivan said...

Dave.... In the after school movie version of this goes something like this in my head... [After the group starts singing, one brave kid comes to the awareness of the wrong and walks over to our friend in the wheelchair and another and another follows him over and over while the entire crowd goes wild with applause as the choir reforms around the wheelchair.]

so sad the reality is such a nightmare :(

Anonymous said...

I think it was interesting you said something about it not being my problem there is someone else providing the care. There is a growing mentality over here I think of "I've done my bit I now hand over the responsibility." Not an excuse but there is so much pressure of time and resources that you are only too glad to hand things over to get your job done. I caught myself recently being (inwardly - at least I hope inwardly) annoyed at a service user for taking up my time as I was under pressure of time to get tasks done before I gave myself a shake and remembered why I was there in the first place. Perhaps I have become too cynical but I don't expect any positive outcome of the investigation what is needed is a change of the attitude that it isn't my problem The whole concept of purchasing care while a good concept providing choice and involvement is also being used as an excuse to seperate service provision from actually giving a toss about people.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Shan and Julia, I get 'mob mentality' and I get that empathy has to be learned - I do. But EVERY kid? EVERY kid?

John R. said...

I also watched this report over and over....listened to the parent and teacher's "reasons" etc....I could not reconcile. I could not fathom. I could not understand.

This building probably had curb-cuts, elevators, ramps, accessibility, barrier freedom and so forth..None of that very important stuff can help exclusion and segregation. That must begin with human hearts.

This incident speaks volumes about how much farther we need to go to not only to celebrate differences and disabiliities but where we need to begin to be just, plain kinder with each other.

Kindness is completely missing in this story. Dave, yes, this is a story with cruelty in the spotlight.

Sorry, I have nothing real positive to add to this situation.

In fact, I am pissed and disappointed moreso in the children of the choir, none of whom SEE or HEAR a problem...

Tamara said...

I think you raise an excellent point, Dave. You would think that a few kids out of the 30 would have done something. I get the "mob mentality", etc.; I just think that it suggest that the "mob" isn't being taught the right values by the people with whom they spend their days.

Did you listen to the interview of the mom? The part that struck me was when she said that her son wasn't upset like she was. It was like it was his "normal" experience. She had thought that she had him in a school that was inclusive, but after seeing this and his reaction, she fears that he is treated like this routinely. I think that supports your perspective.

This school community has a wonderful opportunity to teach their students - every day - how to be supportive of each other - including their peers with disabilities. If they had done that, this wouldn't have happened. Someone would have made sure he was with the group. It would have just been a natural way for them to behave.

I also don't understand how he ended up on the opposite end of the risers. If he couldn't get himself to the choir, doesn't that mean that someone had to take him to that place? If the student who was supposed to assist him was absent, who took him that far and left him?

Doesn't really make sense to me.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right when you say that some people may have the attitude that the responsibility for inclusion belongs to "someone else"--they have a carer, they'll take care of this and I don't need to bother. Or in the case of ensuring that deaf people are included in communication, they assume that either "the interpreter" will "take care of" the communication ("interpreter" meaning a trained, experienced, certified translator) or else some random hearing person will "take care of" it who happens to know sign (parent, partner, friend, who can sign but isn't trained to the point where they can translate consistently and accurately for a whole conversation).

I have known quite a few hearing people who become nervous around me the minute the sign language interpreter, or other hearing signing (non-interpreter) companion disappears. Now, in the vast majority of these cases, all I need to do is explain the other communication strategies we can use and sort of ease them into the process. And in the vast majority of cases, they are visibly relieved to realize that direct communication with a deaf person (me), sans interpreting assistance actually is, not only possible, but not quite so difficult as they might have thought. It may be slower, it may involve more repetition, it may involve more gestures or more writing, but it can happen.

But then there are people who don't look relieved when I try to coax them into direct communication with me. Instead, they look hostile and offended that I'm even trying to communicate with them without waiting for the interpreter or signing companion to come back (if they're coming back). They simply freeze me out. If they say anything back to me, it is only to say, very coldly, that it can wait until the signing person comes back. (How do they know if it "can wait" if they haven't even bothered to actually listen to me yet. Fortunately, this extreme level of resistance is fairly rare. But can be quite frustrating when I encounter it.

And, I suspect that probably some of the people who DO respond quite well once I help them get past their nervousness, might have continued to not attempt direct (un-interpreted) conversation with me I hadn't taken the initiative to work with them on this. And if they had indeed continued this, then they might have become entrenched in the habit of being disengaged from me (in the absence of someone to facilitate communication).

I wonder if that might be part of the problem we are witnessing with this teacher and the other students: it has always been "someone else's" responsibility, and no one has ever modeled for them (including for the teacher) that, hey, ordinary people without any special training can actually interact directly with the disabled person.

Andrea S.

bevbct said...

Who thought enough to take the photo but not enough to intervene?

Rachel in Idaho said...

I am in two choirs! And in the past I was in a college choir! I have to sit for performances, I can't stand for long periods. The solution is that I get a chair or (preferably, if there's one around) a stool to sit on, right with my section. It gets put up there beforehand and we walk in and I sit.

Singing is the favorite thing I do. It feeds my soul. I hate to think what this sort of experience will do to that kid's.

No choir director worth the title would let this situation stand. SHAME ON THEM!

Ashley's Mom said...

Not an isolated incident unfortunately. Check out this post from 2006 on my blog.

It's long but try to read through to the end...

CapriUni said...

Oh, for crying out loud --

I couldn't see the photo in my RSS feed of this post. Now that I have, the solution to this problem seems so obvious: All they'd need to do is move the choir to the other end of the bleachers. Just take a few steps to the right.

What? is there some sort of magic, stay-in-tune force field on that left hand side that they don't dare leave?

*Facepalm*, as they say.

Ashley's Mom said...

Dave thanks for the comment on my blog. Soon after the incident I described happened, I sent the story to Jonathan Mooney, a young writer. He had published a book titled Learning Outside the Lines, and was working on another book titled Short Bus Stories. Mr. Mooney traveled the US in a modified short bus and visited 13 families - one of them mine - and included the stories in his book. If you can get your hands on a copy, my daughter's chapter is titled "How To Curse In Sign Language."

My daughter's story did eventually lead to a due process case against my school district, a case settled completely in her favor. Things are better now that my daughter is in high school, but it is a tentative better...

Louise said...

Having now read the story in more detail, the only thing I want to add is 'F*** Mr Grafstead'! No really, no excuses. The poor mother, who felt she couldn't do anything for fear of embarrassing her son further. Mr G did the embarrassing, and the only one he embarrassed was himself. My thoughts (and prayers) are with Alex tonight,

Anonymous said...

To Ashley's Mom--thank you for sharing that link--I did visit, and did read through to the end. They couldn't even have left her on the stage for the full performance? *sigh*

On one hand, I can think of times when I have been excluded from various things because of other people's reactions to my deafness. But I can also think of times when inclusion worked well for me when I was growing up--in the 1970s and 1980s. It is so sad and frustrating to realize how many children with disabilities growing up today STILL don't have some of the same kinds of positive experiences I've had. For example, there was one time in music class when I was in elementary school when the music teacher came up with the perfect solution for the fact that I could not match my music's rhythm to the rhythm of other students (due to difficulty hearing it): he assigned me to the drum and had me be the one to set the rhythm for everyone else. And we all loved it--students in the class (all hearing) asked if we could do it again sometimes, with me leading the rhythm. We didn't, but it still felt good that others wanted it.

Andrea S.

Tamara said...

bevbct - I believe the mother took the picture. She was afraid to intervene because she thought she would embarrass her son even more.

Anonymous said...

Hey all and Dave,

I'd like to believe that everyone there had thought of the boy at sometime within the whole event. But, if you look at group psychology, if one person takes notice and takes action, others will follow. But, no one had, and so, nothing was done.

For an integrated classroom, you;d think that the students or the teacher would be empathetic and stand up for the boy (I can't recall his name). I think that this story will be getting news coverage within the next little while, so we'll be hearing more about it. It will be good to have the story air, since, personally, I don't see a lot of coverage regarding individuals with abilities.

Dave: I admire your work and I LOVE reading your blog. Thank you for being so insightful.

mumz said...

When I read your blog, I was initially terribly saddened for the young man in the wheelchair; then I was angered that the teacher did nothing, and then that the students did nothing. This is so clearly not a model inclusive classroom (I don’t believe there is such a thing – not yet anyway). Then instead of thinking about what I would have done, I thought about what my children would have done. I like to think that they would have at the very least advocated for the young man to the teacher. They most likely would have waited for the teacher to take the lead, as they were raised to respect teachers. The young man in the wheelchair may have been thinking the same thing – waiting, rather than speaking up for himself.
The realization that I taught my children to follow an authority figure’s lead has made me realize that I have done them, and young people like those in the choir, a grave disservice. My daughter has often stood up to peers when a classmate has been bullied, but she has never stood up to authority figure (not including arguing with her mother!). She, like the students in the picture, would most likely stand by, feeling awful, waiting for the leader to be a leader.
I am to blame. I am her first and most influential teacher. I failed to teach her to be an advocate for others even if it means going up against authority. This story has shown that yes, the teacher has failed this young man, but so did the parents of the other students. We as parents have the responsibility to teach our children, by example, to not only stand up for themselves, but for others in a respectful way. I hope the young man and his peers learn that they matter – they have voices to sing, and voices to say “hey, we’re right here, and we deserve to be heard.”

Rekha.P.Kuriakose said...

Dave,..This post is a very informative one. No one especially the teacher doesn't show any kind of an empathy to that student. That we cannot teach anyone, it must be starts from the human hearts itself. Integration classrooms helps the students to a very extent,but still I think, there are many same incidents
are happening around us. We have to go forward and change our attitude towards them.