Inclusion of physical and cognitively challenged individuals is good for everyone. This is my premise and it should be yours.
How many parents have had the following experience? If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky, but try and understand, if you will, why this is infuriating. When I get upset about something at my son’s school I get a lot of: “oh, but isn’t it great how they accommodate him usually?” or “really, something’s wrong? Maybe the challenge is just too much for a regular school.” or how about “but, it’s so wonderful that they took him at all.”
The last one is my favorite. Of course it’s amazing how he is entitled to attend school, like every other child is entitled to do. Everyone is so fantastic for not leaving him outside standing in the cold, or not letting him stand at our door crying, begging to go to school, but not being allowed to, which is what actually happened last year.
Oh, and by the way, my son is a person, not a challenge to be handled.
Listen, I am very happy with his school, but just like any other parent who experiences difficulty at their child’s school, I am allowed to get upset about it. I am allowed to complain about it. I am allowed to, and entitled to, have it fixed.
The point is, the school is not doing us a favor having him attend their institution. Just like they are not doing my neighbor’s kid a favor. These children are entitled to attend school, so they do. And the school is supposed to educate them, so it does. There’s more to it than that, but first, let me tell you a story.
I recently was sitting with a group of women who I would consider educated and mostly intelligent. The subject of a girl with a physical challenge, I won’t get into too many details, was brought up. These women began to praise girls who would sometimes slow down and wait for the girl. These girls were praised as tzadikot, righteous girls, for sometimes, not always, slowing down so she would not be left behind all alone. One of the women chimed in stating that she had been on the train with the girl, and others, and it was really hard to be with her, and that any girl who helped her deserved to be rewarded.
Now, while I agree, that helping someone is praiseworthy, I was somewhat shocked by the extremeness of their praises? Tzadikot? Rewarded? I had to speak up.
“Ladies,” I began, “this person is part of the community just like everyone else. The time has ended where we put people with special needs behind some door in an institution or school, or anywhere, close it, and remand them to a seldom visited corner of our mind. Those times are gone. Calling girls tzadikot for doing something normal, being considerate of a member of their community, is a little much.”
It’s hard to go slower? So what? It’s hard getting onto a train with someone with a physical challenge? Suck it up.
Slowing down so someone else is not left completely alone is a normal and right thing to do. Helping a physically handicapped person get onto a train, is the considerate and right thing to do. Not doing these things would be wrong, and just plain not nice.
Back to the school.
Of course, this new era of inclusion is a challenge. (Please note the differentiation between labelling a person a challenge, and an era.) Any school that happily takes on inclusion of people who are differently abled, in a society that has not had it in a meaningful way (I’m referring to Israel here), should be commended, for they are leading the way to a new era and the path is not always smooth.
However, this change in the status of inclusiveness in our schools, and hopefully on a larger social scale, is not a favor to children with special needs, or their parents. It is a benefit to all society. I have had friends tell me from the beginning of our inclusion journey, that our son’s inclusion program in school is beneficial to all children.
It’s true that the kids in my son’s class have had their horizons opened, just as my son’s horizon has been opened, by greatly expanding his exposure to the world. And his class is very good to him. But why shouldn’t they be? He is an awesome kid! He’s really fun! He loves playing games, he plays sports. His mom throws the best birthday parties. He’s a loyal and giving friend. He occasionally acts in a way that might not be fun to them, but don’t all 4th grade boys?
While I hear what my friends saying, we did not do this to better their children. Our son’s educational needs had to be met. This was the best way to do it. Period. The fact that all these other benefits, for everyone, came along with it is icing. The main point is that it is the government’s responsibility to provide education for all. It is schools’ responsibility to educate those within its walls.
When they do just that, it’s not a favor.
We should as a society act with consideration toward all members of our community. When we do, and when we give people what they are entitled to, this is just and moral. It is not a favor.
When our children play with all children because they like them, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, this is normal, healthy and good. It is not a favor.
When we slow down to wait for someone who has fallen behind this is kind, moral and normal. It is not a favor.
These are ways we should behave. This is how we should want our children to behave. When they do, and we do, of course we can feel pride at doing the right thing, and raising our children to do so, but the excessive back patting and self-congratulations is over the line. You are not a tzaddik for not being an a-, not nice person.
We have to drop this idea that when we are kind to people with special needs we are doing them a favor. People come in all differently abled packages. They are no less community members than anyone else, no less a student, no less a child. How we interact with people, all people, is a gauge for the morality of our community.
When we drop the idea that inclusion is a favor to anyone, we can know that we are heading in the right moral direction.