I’ve seen a few stories around, heartwarming of course, about either groups of kids or an individual child taking a protective role for a kid with a disability in a school or classroom who is being bullied. I’m not going to highlight any particular story because I don’t want to be seen as critical of those kids doing those things in those places.
But the stories bother me.
Well several reasons.
1) If these children are taking responsibility for dealing with, and protecting a disabled kid from, bullying … that means that adults aren’t doing the same. It infuriates me that schools aren’t safe places for all kids, and that the primary reason for that is that teachers and administrators aren’t addressing the issue in an effective way, or even in an ineffectual way that demonstrates that at least they care. Most often parents get the ‘what do you expect us to do about it?’ response. Well, if these kids in these stories can come up with effective strategies, why did they have to?
2) I love that these kids did what they did, I love that they acted when adults had not, I love that they took responsibility, I do. I worry about the press they have gotten and the attention that has been paid to them for what they do. I think that attention changes the story and, in one case I saw with the kids interviewed, they started to sound like a group of staff caring for a kid with a disability, rather than a group of friends motivated to take care of one of their own. It shifts the kids focus from doing the right thing for the right reasons to kids who get paid attention, instead of dollars, for doing the ‘job’ of protecting. I also worry that, for the viewer or consumer of these stories, the message becomes exceptional kids take care of exceptional kids. The idea that there is something wonderful about kids who don’t stand by and watch others bullied and teased. Isn’t it incumbent upon all kids and all adults that we act when we see unfairness, discrimination and hurt? I worry that rather than simple acts of humanity become exceptional acts of heart or soul.
3) Why does the child with a disability need protection at all? Where is the teaching? Where is the skill development? Dealing with bullying and teasing and unfair practices and prejudicial attitudes requires skill and insight – we all need them, most of us have them in one form or another. If we don’t have the skill of standing up to the bully, we have cognitive ways to understand the actions of the bully and internal strategies for caring for ourselves. All these strategies are simple. Easily taught. But they require practice and they require, of course, a teacher. In all these stories there is the question in my mind … “and yeah, when those kids aren’t there?” Teaching abuse prevention and bullying strategies should be an obvious place to go when the data indicates that kids with intellectual disabilities are the most often bullied and teased group in a school.
I don’t know what you think.
But, I say that I’m grateful that there are good people in the world, good kids in the world, but I am even more grateful when people who need to deal with people – can. But until the narrative of ‘wonderful non-disabled kids take care of poor disabled kids’ is replaced by a narrative of kids with disabilities with power and with voice and with the skills to use them, we’re going to get “heart warming” stories rather than “fuck yeah!” stories.