Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ridiculing Children With Special Needs...

School starts a week from Monday around here. It is a monumental year for the Knox family. Randall begins his senior year in college. Where did that go? Daniel begins his freshman year in college. Another child leaves home…And then Mitchell will begin his freshman year in high school. Crossland 9th Grade Center is not ready for him. I know that for a fact.
Academic pursuits have been emphasized around the Knox household long before Randall started Kindergarten. Jan started reading to that boy when he was only a few months old. None of the boys had a chance. Their mother is an educator at heart. And their father spent half his life working on advanced degrees. We are a family of bookworms. But all of us have learned over the years that academia should not be allowed to have an unlimited and even unnecessary reign in our lives.

This week I had the opportunity to catch up with a longtime friend from high school. She mentioned that her daughter planned to transfer from one high school in the city where they live to another one across town. The school she attended last year is highly rated in academics. Parents are drawn to buy homes in that particular school’s area, so their kids can benefit from all it has to offer.

Sheryl’s daughter has a divergent view of the above mentioned school. Audrey would tell you that the students attending there, who come from very affluent backgrounds, are intolerant. They ridicule students with special needs at a level that goes beyond what is typical in a high school setting. There is a lack of empathy. Those students have known nothing but affluence. They most likely have never been around other kids who did not have as much as them. Delayed gratification is not a common experience.  Other students with emotional difficulities or physical limitations are a constant target.

Quite naturally Sheryl is second guessing her choice to allow her sweet daughter to transfer to a school that most likely will not offer all of the bells and whistles that the previous school did. She wonders if she is shortchanging Audrey’s academic opportunities. I reacted rather strongly to her concerns this week.

I told her that she has obviously raised a daughter who possesses empathy. Audrey is both perceptive and compassionate. She is wise beyond her years. She sees the damage that is done by insensitive kids who live in a small world.  It was actually difficult for her to thrive academically in such an environment. Audrey will finish her high school years at a campus that is diverse racially and socially. There will be a good number of students coming from impoverished homes.  And there will be a number of special needs kids too. I have a hunch that she will thrive in that environment. And I think she will receive an education in life that she would have missed in the affluent school.

My message to parents as school begins this year is simple. Let us think in terms of character development in as much as we emphasize academic growth. Qualities such as compassion and empathy are of utmost importance. Our children need to learn in a school environment to embrace kids from all kinds of backgrounds. They need to learn that children with special needs don’t have an illness. They simply want to be accepted like everyone else. If we have raised children who are intolerant and mean toward others who are not like them, then we have failed miserably as parents. Cultivating compassion and an accepting spirit is part of a rich and diverse educational experience.

Audrey’s mother and I also benefited from a rich and diverse educational experience. We were charter members of the In School Suspension Program initiated in the late ’70’s. We found ourselves well acquainted with school administrators. It must have done some good. Both of us are blessed with wonderful children. Children who do not need to hear any more details regarding our rich and diverse educational experience….

Children with special needs don't have an illness, so there is no cure and it's not contagious. They want what we all want - to be accepted.

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