How Do We Turn This #UnacceptableExample Around?

As a parent advocate, I believe strongly in the adage, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. That’s why I started The Road We’ve Shared. I saw that there was no “space” for parents of adults who have Down syndrome, so I made one.

I never expected that my blog post on Lily Eskelsen García would get so much attention. Now that it has, and more importantly, now that Mrs. Garcia has posted a public response, I’d like to take a moment and explain my views on what has happened.

When my son became a teenager, I went back to college to find a way to help other parents who had experiences similar to mine within the public school system. I had learned that the system was not designed to meet the needs of my son. I wanted to be part of the change that I thought needed to happen. I thought the way to do that was to become a special education teacher. I took all of the courses required, but changed my mind just before I was to become a student-teacher. Why? Because I realized that the system would not be changed from within.

I conducted an extensive research project as a McNair scholar that looked at how teachers are trained. There are two separate tracks of teacher education – special and regular ed. For most students in regular ed. teacher training, the only course in special education that they are required to take is something like Special Ed 101. More often than not – this course is designed like a dictionary of impairments. This is autism, this is Down syndrome, etc. There is no mention of how to accommodate those students.

During my own “Special Ed 101” course, a fellow student stood up and declared “If I wanted to teach THOSE students, I would have majored in special ed. I want to teach English. Not these kids.”

To me, this is the crux of the problem. To many teachers – who DO complete all of those things Ms. Garcia addressed in the rest of her speech – feel like they didn’t sign up to be special educators. For them, parents who insist on inclusion are adding to their already overloaded day by making unreasonable demands on their time. Worse yet, we’re seen as advocating for our own children at the expense of other students.

The only place that confronts this dichotomy head on is Syracuse University. Elementary education majors there must double-major as special education teachers. They learn both. They learn about real inclusion and the benefits for all. (*Which is why I enrolled there for my PhD courses in Disability Studies)

The other problem, as I see it, is addressed in the NEA official statement about IDEA (found on their website.)

For too long, Congress has failed to live up to its commitment to fund special education.  This continued underfunding — in combination with current state fiscal crises — forces school districts to either raise taxes or dip into general education budgets to make up for the shortfall, thereby cutting other critical services.

Teachers believe we’re not only diverting precious teacher time, we’re stealing their resources as well. All in the name of what is best for one child – our child.

If we’re not teachers by profession, we can’t possibly understand – or so they believe.

By official policy, NEA supports “appropriate” inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms.

Parents can not be trusted to know what is “appropriate.” For that, we need the help of the experts……

While I do think Mrs. Garcia is sorry that she caused such an uproar within the disabilities community, I don’t think she expected us to understand the inside joke. It’s not as simple as “she used the word (re)tarded” or she insulted medically fragile students.

Her apology indicates that she doesn’t think we understand. She doesn’t think we know what the categories outlined in the IDEA regulations are. She thinks that we’ll accept that she was trying to be funny and instead of listing students with intellectual disabilities and students who are medically fragile, she inserted two completely different groups: those who are late and annoying.

I’m sorry Lily, I don’t buy it. I do however hope that you’ll use this “teachable moment” to re-think your position on inclusion. Realize that most of us parents do want to help the teachers who are overworked and expected to include our children – based on a federal law that has been in place for over a generation I might add.

I hope that at some point you can address the difference in teacher education in addition to asking for the federal government to fully fund IDEA.

One of my favorite tweets this week came from David Perry (@Lollardfish) –

Too often, “inclusion” means letting kids with disabilities into the typical kids’ class. The classroom belongs equally to all –

Please take this opportunity reach out to the disability organizations, including the National Down Syndrome Society, and create some real dialog. Enough with the spin – let’s get to work creating change.



3 thoughts on “How Do We Turn This #UnacceptableExample Around?

  1. Her apology started out strong then she drifted back to the same lame excuse of meaning “chronically tardy” not “chronically ‘tarded.” Tardy is not part of the exceptionalities of which she was speaking and I’m tired of her excuses. She then added a new lame excuse for “medically annoying” by telling a story about a teenager breaking up with a girlfriend and somehow that is medical … Uh huh. Right. I’m not buying it ether. it’s beautifully ironic that in this speech she says “We teach kids to say I’m sorry and mean it.”


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