Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mr. Jackson is an Ableist (Stop Sharing This Graphic Please)

[image description: a pencil drawn male-presented figure looking distressed next to text reading "Mr. Jackson has 27 students. He has received 9 new students from charter schools. 3 students left for charter schools and 2 were expelled. 8 students have IEPs and 3 students have 504 plans. However, 2 IEPs were modified and 1 504 plan expired. 19 students don't have supplies and 6 students didn't take their medicine today for the Ohio Achievement Assessment. How does this determine if Mr. Jackson is a "skilled" teacher? Write an equation and solve. The some e-card logo is to the bottom under the text.]  
Have you ever read this riddle? Well, it has been circulating around the internet for some time and it seems to have no intention of going away. It is also incredibly ableist. For those unacquainted to what ableist means, it is the word for the systemic discrimination of disabled people. There is an idea that disabled people are inherently weaker and not meant to succeed in society, but that is simply incorrect. Different cultures both present and past have/have had different ideas about disability and have defined who is able differently. For example, in general, d/Deaf people are considered disabled by the hearing majority, but in the majority of North American Indigenous societies, d/Deafness was not considered a disability. (Kim E. Nelson)   Disability, then, is a social construct built on marginalizing specific impairments. [More here.] Before launching into various reasons why I believe this permutation on the someecard meme is ableist, let's dissect and deconstruct what this is saying.

This particular graphic is, in a cynical, comedic format, trying to illustrate a concept that, on whole, I agree with: teachers are overworked, underpaid, and held to impossible standards in their restrictive working environment. And this graphic itself raises important points about school funding, charter schools, and classism (although this in particular might be inadvertent). The majority however, focuses on a particular topic: "trouble students." 

Trouble students are disabled students and more specifically psychologically disabled students (commonly called "[students with] Severe Emotional Disturbances"). It is mentioned in the graphic here: "[out of 27 students] 8 students have IEPs and 3 students have 504 plans. However, 2 IEPs were modified and 1 504 plan expired...6 students didn't take their medicine today for the Ohio Achievement Assessment."

For the first part, that is a completely ridiculous number of students to be receiving IEP (Individualized Education Plan) services in one classroom (unless they're packing all the disabled students in one class which happens and is arguably against federal law). In any case, this hyperbole shows that the creator of this graphic was trying to illustrate a sort of "worst case scenario" for a classroom and more than 1/3 of his students having accommodations and/or IEP services are definitely a part of it. There's no way in my mind that this graphic can be construed as anything but antagonistic to students on IEPs and 504s.(504s are plans for accommodations and are named after section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974.) 

Now, there are reasons why teachers might feel resentment towards having disabled students in their classrooms--none of them good--but reasons. Teachers have to do a fair amount of paper work--depending on their state--regarding the meaningful inclusion of disabled student on IEPs or 504s. This is federal law. Now, the vast, vast, vast majority of paper work is done by special education teachers, but apparently the comparatively minimal amount that general education teachers have to do is just "too much." (Disabled students, by the way, tend to bear the brunt of at least part of this resentment.) General Education Teachers tend to hate having to deal with IEP plans even though it's a student who is using it, but it's not like school is supposed to teach us not to dehumanize people or anything. I mean, what do we do, anti-bullying campaigns? Unfortunately, significant amount of teachers do think of students with accommodations as simply more work and abnormal--not part of natural human diversity or as being disabled by society. This graphic is an example of this attitude. 

In addition, the part about medication in this light can easily be construed as meaning that students on medications are unfortunate others. What I mean by this is that they are othered--that they are abnormal and to be unexpected--and that they are a problem. The text is communicating that if only they weren't in his class, there would be no problem! That's, one, illegal under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and two completely commodifies his students whilst valuing the abled, non-medicated students higher. I'm not sure how you can spin that to not be ableist. 

Now, outside the education world, there is an understanding that disabled people are not supposed to succeed academically. In some ways this is true considering that although the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1974 gives d/Disabled students a right to a free and appropriate education (abbreviated as FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE), the school system in general, despite state and local differences, pushes out d/Disabled students and almost never presume competence of d/Disabled students which has the effect of giving d/Disabled students a much lower graduation rate than abled students. This graphic plays into that and communicates the idea that if only he didn't have to teach those students who "won't ever succeed anyway" he could be rewarded as the amazing teacher he clearly is. In addition, this others these students by classifying them as problem students as opposed to his good students. This is very clearly ableist.   

And lastly, perhaps the worst part of this graphic is the fact that basically all of it is code for "oh no Serious Emotional Disturbances! how do I teach those!?" A significant number of students with IEPs and take medications are psychologically disabled. Students with psychological disabilities are very often marginalized by other students and even by the media. Teachers are no different. This special education teacher's tumblr, Life From the Brown Files (where education becomes "special") exemplifies this is the best/worst way possible. [Gif warning, scopophobia t/w] There is a general sense from the temporarily-abled majority that a physically disabled student (but not "too disabled) mind you) is perfectly acceptable to be with the temporarily-abled leaders of tomorrow, but those other disabled people--the mad--are not. Although it doesn't state it explicitly (and there's room for interpretation), the reason behind thinking there's a "dog whistle" for Those People is because the teacher is shown in great distress--what's the problem if someone just has a negligible impairment with a fairly simple accommodation?   

If you want to be a teacher in this country, you have to teach disabled people. Even though I kind of despise this argument and I think when applied to trivial things like dealing with bullying by students, etc. it applies here: if you can't deal with disabled people you shouldn't be a teacher. To be fair, I think this for most people, but especially for teachers. If you aren't willing to teach all your students, if you think us as extra work as compared to a Normal Student (trademarked), then you shouldn't exactly be teaching. Disabled students do not just suddenly appear or should be a surprise--we're here; we've always been here. Get used to it. This graphic is meant to make us feel like teachers are saintly, but I'm sorry, when did doing your job become a saintly endeavor*?

So if everyone could please stop sharing this that'd be great. 

*the fact teachers deal with all the actual bullshit they deal with--which is a lot--with nominal pay is pretty to close saintly, honestly. Not being a horrible person to d/Disabled people? No.   

Works Cited: A Disability History of America by Kim E. Nielsen, page 4 and 5

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