A recent post showed up on BLOOM which is a great place to go as a parent of kids with special needs. The post was about the all-too-common practice of schools and special needs programs assigning janitorial work to kids with special needs based on the belief that learning these skills will help them better transition to life outside of school. They call these life skills.
I call bullshit.
First of all, I know masses of neurotypical high school graduates that don’t know how to use a washing machine, wipe off a table, mop a floor, change their sheets, pick up wet towels from their bedroom floors, and clean up after themselves. Do we worry about them not having necessary ‘life skills’ to the extent we make them practice these things during their school day?
No. We do not
Then why do we spend so much time trying to find contrived janitorial and menial jobs for ‘those’ kids to do at school? In broad daylight? In front of their peers? And don’t we just feel so good about ourselves when we do? Aren’t we just so smart to help ‘those’ kids develop a useful skill?
I call bullshit.
Secondly, we work very hard to afford our neurotypical students a well-rounded and balanced experience in school that enables them to understand the world from a broader perspective, to explore the arts, challenge themselves academically, experience the whole school experience. Do we exert the same level of effort about the exact same things for our students with special needs?
No. We do not.
And I call bullshit.
Let’s think about this whole concept of kids with special needs doing janitorial work during their school day. Many would say it’s a good thing because what else are ‘those’ kids going to do when they leave school and enter real life? How will they ever get a job if they can’t do janitorial work because, really, let’s face it, that’s all they could ever possibly do. Right? I mean, who else will do it? And won’t we feel great to see ‘those’ kids holding a job? Isn’t it cute? Isn’t it wonderful they have a purpose?
No, It’s not.
I call bullshit.
When we have Joey (one of ‘those’) kids wiping down the cafeteria tables after lunch, many things happen. Joey begins to define himself as one who cleans up after others. Joey begins to believe this is his destiny and eventually just accepts this is his life. He receives occasional patronizing, condescending, and overzealous high fives from neurotypical peers for doing an “awesome job!” cleaning up after everyone else.
When we have Joey mopping the cafeteria floor after lunch we are perpetuating all that is wrong with our society’s perception of the value, worth and ability of ‘those’ kids.
Do you see that? Do you see that the future business owners, managers, executives, teachers, supervisors, law enforcement officers, nurses and doctors, wait staff, cashiers, government officials, elected politicians, judges, policy makers will have developed a very limited view of the potential of ‘those’ kids once they are adults?
Sit in that a minute. The wasted potential is shameful.
The neurotypical peers who only see ‘those’ kids in ‘that’ classroom and doing janitorial work will develop a sense of entitlement, take less responsibility for cleaning up after themselves. They will develop a ‘better than’ attitude that will run deep and wide. They will use specific vocabulary about ‘those’ kids. They will practice as adults what they see in school as kids.
And so it will continue.
At this point I have to give due props to my own Drawman. As an 8th grader he became a champion for the kids in his school’s CD program. Reminder, Drawman is on the Autism spectrum but enjoys and benefits from attending academic classes with his neurotypical peers. He did well in school, still does. But socially he cannot keep up and has found his best friends in the CD program. He loves his pals and became increasingly incensed when his pals were not included in his lunch hour, in his academic classes with him, on field trips and end of the year activities. But what really got to him was that his pals were wiping tables, collecting trash, and mopping the cafeteria floor after lunch. Every single day. His 8th grade pals had to eat lunch during 7th grade lunch so they were available to clean the cafeteria once the 8th graders left to socialize for the remainder of their lunch period.
Drawman emailed the director of special education. He wrote letters and drew cartoons about the ‘cruelty’ of this practice. He nailed it.
He wanted access to his pals. He knew his pals were capable of so much more. He knew it was wrong to keep his pals segregated in so many ways. He knew his pals didn’t need to learn to clean up after others as a life skill. He knew every other kid in his school needed to learn to clean up after themselves. He knew his pals didn’t need to spend part of every day shredding paper, sweeping, learning how to do laundry. He knew they should be in art class and chorus with their neurotypical peers, with him. They should be doing cool hands on projects and celebrating accomplishments with the rest of the school. He knew they should participate in end of the year activities with the rest of their 8th grade class. He knew they should spend time with the rest of the school on yearbook signing day.
And while Drawman expresses his disgust and worry in ways that some may find offensive, he is right. When Drawman compared the segregation and isolation of the kids in the CD program to that of Nazi concentration camps, it shocked many. School reprimanded him for using that analogy. You cannot go around calling people Nazis. But if you take a minute and make a Venn Diagram comparing the two you will see what he was getting at. The results are sobering.
We explained to Drawman that school personnel were not intentionally being mean. They truly believe they are doing what is best for ‘those’ kids. I tried to explain that things are better now than ever before. We helped him come up with less offensive analogies.
Drawman responded by telling me that was old school, it’s the 21st century, for God’s sake!
He told me it’s wrong. Wrong is wrong.
He asked me what I was going to do to fix it.
I told him I had brought this concern to the administration for a few years and will continue to do so.
I promised him I would never stop.
He says I am not working hard enough, that his pals need to be free from this oppression.
He is right.