Extended Comments from Chelsea’s Post on Christopher Kliewer’s Citizenship in School: Reconceptualising Down Syndrome article
As Chelsea pointed out in her post, this article was difficult to get through. I think this is because we now can read article like this with new lens. Lens we have honed with the tools we have gathered in reading other pieces that focused on aspects like the rules and culture of power, safe spaces and privilege. We will never see the world the same ever again. As we have found out in reading this article, that is both a blessing and a curse. A curse because our antennas are now up and receptive much more clearly to what is really going on around us and so we can no longer ignore it without feeling something about it first. A blessing for the same reason because now we can do something about it! In this article we learn about teachers who have done just that in their classrooms with children who have Down syndrome. Chelsea talks about three such students; Lee, Isaac and John. I will take it a step farther by comparing these stories to the theories of Bilken, my man Vygotsky and the super cool Dewey.
The story of Lee illustrates how we automatically stereotype those students who simply look different. Lee’s teacher points this out when he is singled out saying “anybody who knows Lee knows he’s gifted in how he solves problems, cares about others, reads, loves math. So I guess what I’m arguing is that if you did pick Lee out, you wouldn’t be seeing Lee. It’s not Lee you are picking out. It’s your stereotype, your mind-set. It’s you and it has nothing to do with Lee” (pg. 84). “The challenge is to erase negative attitudes about people with developmental disabilities, get rid of the stereotypes and break the barriers for people with disabilities” (pg. 73) says Kingsley.
We can do this by changing the rules and codes of power that Delpit speaks of and Bilken points out because it is they that sort everyone out into compartments they can label and it is they who controls where they are all placed. I agree with Kozol when he says that if we don’t, we end up paying a tremendous intellectual, emotional, spiritual and economic cost” (pg. 73). “Society is hurt when schools act as cultural sorting machines justifying a competitive ethic that marginalizes certain students that legitimize discrimination and devaluation on the basis of the dominant society’s preferences in matters of ability, gender, ethnicity and race and that endorse an elaborate process of sorting by perceived ability and behaviour” (pg. 73).
This perceived ability and behaviour can also be seen in Isaac’s story. Isaac’s teacher Shayne saw early on how he understood lessons in his own way. She didn’t see his movements and outbursts as behavioural disobedience but instead saw it as his flair for the dramatic because he enjoyed the “drama of life.” As Chelsea also points out “the presumed defectiveness exists not as an intrinsic commodity of the child who thoughts fail to fit within the perceived static border of normality. Rather the idea of defect emerges from culturally devalued sets of relationships that that child has with his or her surroundings” (pg. 82). Vygotsky would agree as he believed that children constructed their knowledge by having relationships with others and then learning to understand them through their engagements.
When Isaac is tested with blocks and spoons and doesn’t follow directions to a tee, the evaluator, who doesn’t know him at all, misreads his actions. “He separated the blocks from the spoons and tasted each spoon before throwing it aside. He was not even given credit by the psychologist, who noted that Isaac had not conformed to the specific directions of the test item and so he didn’t even get credit for it because he didn’t do it right but he clearly knew which was the block, which was the spoon and he followed directions in an organizing sense” (pg. 84). Shayne saw this incompetence as a perception ascribed to a child by others who misunderstood the meaning of the child’s performance” (pg. 83). As Kohn points out, the student isn’t going to learn from you if you don’t respect what they have to say or how they handle learning themselves.
As Shayne points out “the notion of Down syndrome often obscures out ability to recognize the child as a child”. John Mcgough knew this first hand when he lived in North Hollywood where he did not know what it was like to be “accepted for what he is, not what he isn’t”. When he moved with his family to Mendocino, John was able to really throw himself into the community because they welcomed him with open arms and didn’t treat him as someone who was lacking abilities of any kind and instead were able to “see past his chromosomal anomaly to his humanity”. As one of his siblings pointed out “here he is safe-what he calls a safe space and he can concentrate on what he can do instead of being shown or being told what he can’t do” (all pg. 86) August touches upon this as well, cited how in created a safe space for students, they are able to feel more comfortable in their skin so that they can focus on learning.
Dewey too mentions a safe space in the way of a community, which is what Mendocino is to John. Most importantly how a democratic community can help value individuality. In the realization of human reciprocity we can see democracy as “more than a form of government it is primarily a mode of associate living, of conjoint communicated experience”, which can also be seen in Shayne teaching in an inclusive classroom with Isaac and other Down syndrome students. Just as Shayne too points out how the students learn from one another, Dewey took notices “democracy as a way of life in which community both establishes and is derived from each individual’s recognition of the value of every other individual.” This is the most important part to remember because “democracy can only occur when no person’s voice is deterministically silenced” (pg. 72).
In Chelsea’s blog, she address key points in this article including why students with down syndrome should be place in inclusive classes because they learn from one another, what it means when we accept people for who they are instead of who they aren't and how common traits in all of us help us to relate to other's who are different than us. I posted a YouTube video below called We’re More Alike Than Different. I think it shows that is certainly true of people with Down syndrome, other learning disabilities, ablebodyiness and any other aspect that makes them different that the so called “norm” (up, there’s that word I so despise again). Shanye has been teaching that way for years. Kliewer is bringing it to our attention here. Now it’s our job to take our lens out and go make the necessary changes to show why schools should constitute inclusive classrooms because the “dialogic of democracy is ultimately a set of values based upon respect, humility and creative listening” (pg. 73).
Question For Class:
- I really appreciated how this article compared the inclusive classroom to the fundamental framework of a democracy. The question left is how a democratic country, which is based on accepting one and all and treating everyone the same has turned into a place of segregation, privilege, labels and opportunities to point out what is different. How can we fix this and make America what is was intended to be all along-a place for all?