Monday, March 11, 2013

I Don't Miss It {Ellen Stumbo Writing Prompt}

{from Ellen Stumbo's beautiful blog's writing prompt for this week}

Not one bit I don’t. Miss, that is, advocating and struggling with the school system to fully include Jessie and educate her. While we have other struggles and challenges now that Jessie is out of the public school system and dancing her way through life, I can say that I do not look back in fondness on those years, or at least those moments, marked by the sheer frustration of battling what felt like an immoveable, illogical, uncaring, unresponsive, patronizing monolithic establishment.

Jessie was usually the first student with an intellectual disability to be fully included in regular classes. The early years, I will admit, were often fun. God’s jocular inoculation of my drive and will to the brute force of a system bent on not bending. Those early elementary years were when the team worked best—we all (teachers, parents, school community) had a sense of humour and delighted in the unfolding adventure that was inclusion. We all knew that we really didn’t know what we were doing, but would share the best of our experience, knowledge, and creativity to figure it out. We did know that inclusion was the only thing that made sense and that its difficulties offered myriad opportunities for growth. We figured out what each of us did best, and then did it. We recognized and honoured each other’s intentions and always brought homemade muffins, and the good kind of coffee, to meetings. There were, of course, challenges. As teachers, administrators, and the curriculum changed, we had good and bad years. But it was not until high school that I really needed to work some prunes into the baked goods.

We should have known when, even after the elementary-high school transition meeting—where Jessie’s grade 6 teacher promised to bodily harm the resource teacher (God, I loved that grade 6 teacher) if they did not have the accommodations in place when Jessie started school so that she could continue to learn and grow and blossom into the creative compassionate Jessie she knew she was—the high school had not one single accommodation in place when she crossed the threshold with her friends. But should have known would not have changed our decision to send to Jessie a regular class at the local high school. We quickly rallied allies, friends, and resources to support the school and lead them into supporting Jessie so she could continue to learn and grow alongside her peers. Did it work? Perhaps. In most cases, when we pushed and moved up the ladder of responsibility, we “won.” Principals and teachers were dragged from above to do what was right (in all senses of the word), what was required.   

I think Jessie struggled with finding her place, but in the struggling grew strong and carved a place for herself, identifying her belonging and contribution in a way that convinced her of her own strength and meaning in a broader community. She’s a sucker for a cause, wants to fight for her and anybody else’s rights. Perhaps all the struggling with the school convinced her that even if you don’t win, the struggle is worth it.

Worth it. Yes. But I do not miss it. I do not miss being asked to make a choice between having the curriculum adapted and having an aid. I do not miss a teacher questioning the value of teaching someone like Jessie about cell structure. I do not miss fighting with a school that defends mounting a community play with vigourous use of the word r#tard. I do not miss a point-blank refusal to adapt the curriculum or to follow a written plan (“But if we write it down we will have to follow it!”). I do not miss being yelled at for taking notes during meetings. I do not miss hours spent learning how to write a letter, making sure I take every emotion out of recounting a challenge and stick clearly to only the facts. I do not miss coming home and (WASP ice princess that I normally am) throwing a Cuisinart bowl across the room into the wall and collapsing on the floor with tears and snot and bubbly body fluids cascading out of every facial orifice in sheer frustration at a system so bent on not making inclusion, or learning, possible for my daughter.    

That part I do not miss. I will confess though, that I do miss wearing the Mothers from Hell biker jacket that I have stashed away in my closet. It represents the best part of that journey: coming together with other hellions to battle for the rights of all children—to be educated, respected, and beloved.  

To see what others don't miss, go to


Ellen Stumbo said...

Nan, we are only on the beginning stages of this journey, so I am not sure all that will happen in the years to come. But I can see so well why you don;t miss it at all!

Thank you for joining the prompt!

Nan said...

We are hoping that part of it included making changes for the children and students that followed. Enjoy each step, never scuba dive alone! Thanks for reading!

ckbrylliant said...

Lovely. In your recount of your experience you have provided education for us new on this journey. Glad I am not alone in my use of bowls! New follower!

Erin said...

I am gearing up to fight this battle as my daughter will enter kindergarten this coming August. I had hoped the way would be more smoothly paved by now, but it looks like we will be trail blazers. I am ready, but wish it didn't have to be this way. I will not miss it either!

Welcome back to blogging, I missed you!

Nan said...

Ck ... just heading over to read your blog. Ah yes, bowls. It is SO good to not be alone. I am thinking/hoping that life is better in the inclusion lane. Sometimes detours are needed for sanity. But its all good! And fun! Especially with friends .. and paint! (and baked goods)

Nan said...

Erin, thanks for welcoming me back! Sometimes you are not sure if anybody notices when you are gone ... Trailblazing can be fun ... I will be following you!

starrlife said...

We are just getting geared up for middle school and I'm very interested in your experience! Thanks!

The Trousdell Five said...

This is very powerful stuff and I'm sorry for the difficulties you had. As I head into the world of school for my twins in the coming months, you are reminding me I will need to find my voice and make it a loud one! Thanks for sharing.

Nan said...

Loud is good! So is kind and thoughtful first! I LOVE old and good and new and improved!

ahoy.jenni said...

Hi Nan, I found you thru Trial Run.
Wow, great post. I like you but if I was a school teacher I would tremble at the knees if I knew you were coming!
we have had an amzing inclusion journey (still are) My 9yo daughter attends a school in the non public sector in Australia, its a school for Rudolph Steiner education, and we are having an incredible, loving, accepting, flexble, adaptable...what more can I say ...experience. I will blog about it when I start my blog, one day...We now have an adopted son, he also has Ds, and I am so excited for him to start school!! He is 3, he is enrolled already and I am so looking forward to his first day of school. How lucky are we! I will now add your blog to my list of DS family blogs :-)Enjoy your freedom from the past, take rest for the future.

Nan said...

Jenni ... I look forward to bush pirates and LOVE the title! WE had friends with children with Down syndrome going the Steiner and the Montessori route and it was such a positive experience for them!I think that's what we would have done if we could have afforded it!