Yesterday, we posted a reblog from LipreadingMom about a Deaf child whose school refused to let him sign. That led to a conversation about mainstreaming, and I was reminded of a piece I did for school.
Poor Kim C*****, her curse was not her dim brain, struggling to crank out a 60 IQ. Her curse was to be born into a cultural system that prizes beauty above all else, a place where mediocre normalcy is inviolate, and difference despised.
In 1967, the state of Colorado decided to enter into a program for public education, known as Mainstreaming. Kim C***** was taken from the security of her special school, and thrown, unceremoniously into a den of wolves.
Kim was born with a congenital condition – Hydrocephalus, water on the brain.
A pall of silence fell over the school bus, on that first day, as we all watched this drooling creature with a head like a space alien, waddle on, and try in vain to find someone who would allow her the common decency of a seat. The murmurs and whispers were only occasionally punctuated with a cry of “cooties.”
She bounced from bench to bench, like the steel ball in an arcade game – eventually lighting on an empty place at the back. This seat would come to be hers, ever after. The object of stares and ridicule, she’d sit there and drool, her vacuous head wobbling back and forth, alone and friendless.
In my mind, her days must have been the agonies of Sisyphus. Hers was a daily struggle to find some of the milk of Human kindness that the rest of us take, so much for granted. Nevertheless, I would be wrong in that assessment. Kim C*****’s curse was also a blessing. Within her fog shrouded brain, where the synapses moved like motor oil, she was happy.
In our gale force drive to find only beauty in our world, we inadvertently brought out our own inner ugliness. In the end, Kim C***** was the beautiful one.
I can address mainstreaming from a unique perspective. That of being a normal kid. There are few things in life of which I am as ashamed, as the way I – and my friends – treated the mainstreamed kids that were brought into our school.
We called them speds and retards. We would dare each other to touch them. We would get up and move when they came to sit with us. We would trick them into doing things that would get them in trouble. Some of us would even beat them up.
One fears that which one doesn’t understand – and the reaction to fear is intolerance and violence. If I could find Kim C***** now, I’d try and apologize to her for the inhumanity with which I treated her, but that is not possible.
In short, I wouldn’t wish mainstreaming on any kid. School is hateful, bitter and painful enough for those kids who don’t have the added challenge of being different.
But, perhaps things have changed in the 40 odd years since then.
I would only hope that today’s kids are a little smarter, raised a little better, educated and prepared a little better. I would hope that I never again, see a normal kid torturing or teasing a kid like Kim C*****.