To Train or Not To Train? – #JusticeForEthan

From the archive: Originally published 4/21/13


Full disclosure first – in my previous life (my career for 15 years or so before I went back to college full time) I was a trainer.  That’s what I did for a living.

I was the one who had to convince the “powers that be” that we needed a training program.  The working environment changed, and the employees, some of whom had been there for many years and were very good at their jobs, had to start over.  The bosses expected them to continue to perform at the same level, with no training to do so.  Needless to say, that was unrealistic.

So, I wonder, can we realistically believe that we can say, “We want you to change generations of thinking and accept our kids for the individuals that they are, with no help.” ??

Yet more confessions

My initial reaction to the idea of training, as the immediate response to the events of January 12th was – “Great, they want to help.  Take it and be thankful.”  You see, after 26 years of dealing with the not so friendly public – I’ve become jaded.

The next stage of thinking that I entered centered around – and who’s making money off of this?  I know the intentions are all good.  I have no doubt that any and everyone who is suggesting training wants to help.  I just know from experience what’s involved with designing and implementing a new training program on a relatively small scale…

Then, as the public began to respond and become interested, I thought, maybe, just maybe, the tide IS changing.  Maybe we need to take advantage of this opportunity and make sure it works!

What I DON’T Want To See

When I first went back to school full time (when Josh was in middle school) I thought I wanted to be a special education teacher.  It only took one year – less than that really – for me to realize that change can not happen from within.  The ‘radical’ ideas that I had about individual intelligences and teaching techniques just didn’t jive with what is expected from teachers (thank you Dr. Craig for opening my eyes!).  I changed my major to general studies so I could load up all the classes I’d need to advocate properly (political science, sociology psychology, media, and education).  In that first year though, I took the one special education class that was required of all teachers.  It was an intro course.  Basically it gave students a grocery list of labels and what the ‘typical’ affects were of each.  I’ll never forget one day a girl (they were all younger than me) stood up and said, “You know, I want to be an English teacher.  If I wanted to teach THESE kids, I would have majored in special ed.”   That was enough for me.

It’s that experience that tells me that you can’t really teach inclusion to regular ed. teachers in one semester any more than you can teach acceptance to the general public (or law enforcement officers) in a one time in-service.

BUT… Yes, there’s always a but!

Since I’m relating this to my own experience, I’ll continue with my story.  Jump ahead a few years to grad school.  I got my M.A. in Critical Disability Studies from York University in Toronto, and finished my course work towards a PhD in Disability Studies at Syracuse.   Both experiences were phenomenal!  Finally I was among like-minded people (well, to an extent.)

What I learned there, along with some really invaluable academic stuff, was that there is a place where theory meets reality.  It’s that place where a student of social/disability theory, and a mom has trouble.  I wanted to be able to say that that yes, I believed in inclusion, 100% of the time.  Trouble is, when you’re faced with a choice between your child being hurt, ridiculed, or ignored vs. having him in a safe, supportive environment with teachers who actually care about him and see his potential….  the theory takes a step back.   We’re not at a place where reality has caught up with the theory.  It doesn’t work yet, at least not everywhere for everybody.

You try telling a pre-teen who isn’t completely potty trained that he has to go in the boy’s room alone and be laughed at because you believe in full inclusion.  You try picking up your child and finding out that he needs 8 stitches in his chin because you ‘forced’ a day care to take him, even though they claimed not be ‘trained’ to handle kids like him.

So Where Am I Going With This?

Bottom line is – in my humble opinion – we need to do ALL that we can to keep the kids/adults safe and happy WHILE we are busy building a better future.   Change does not happen overnight.  Sometimes it doesn’t even happen within a generation.   When Josh and Ethan were small, we knew that they would be accepted and valued because we were going to work hard and DEMAND it!


While I understand and respect the opinion that training may further serve to make people with Ds appear different, I hold out faith that it doesn’t necessarily have to – if it’s done right.

If the right approaches are used, training can start to make a difference. I think the NDSC nailed it when they said:  “We can’t help but wonder how this outcome could have changed if one of the police officers or another patron in the theater had a personal relationship with someone with Down syndrome.

Here’s a thought – how about having a self-advocate do the training???

Nothing About Us Without Us!!

So, put me on the side FOR training – properly done, by the right people, and not for profit.  Not for any of the legal, or theoretical reasons that have been eloquently stated by others.  Simply because I think that something proactive needs to be done – and soon!  After that, let’s consider the defensive move that the Global Down Syndrome Foundation suggested, “a human rights watchdog specifically for people with Down syndrome.”


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