"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months."
"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything."
"But the plans were on display..."
"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That's the display department."
"With a flashlight."
"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with asign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."
Fom: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Now that little skit has often crossed my mind over the years - especially when seeking enrolment at school or when trying to gauge a schools practices and attitudes towards special education. And I gotta tell you - it ain't pretty. I still recall the anger and anxiety caused because Kit's enrolment acceptance came through with everyone else's but Hannah's was delayed. I've heard tell of the dreaded 'second interview' - if it comes before acceptance and is held because of disability.... well... it's a fine line but it roars discrimination to me.
At open days for high school (I know I'vve been to a number), the queue before the Gifted and Talented staff stretches proudly for metres. Occassionally someone will slink by the special ed staff, hoping not to be noticed. Most laughable is when some poor sod left their spectacles at home - you see them peering at the signage like a foreign language - and when one of the staff explains - the look of horror quickly masked with a pitying smile as they smugly shake their heads and glide away as quickly and easily as they can from the train wreck. A few like me walk right on up - and ask straight up what we wish to know, but mostly nope. It's a slow day for special education.
Now why is that? Consider the enrolment scenarios I've seen - where you wonder if your child with special education needs will be accepted. I never wonder that about Kit. Yes we have laws - the Disability Discrimination Act has been around almost as long as I've been teaching - and I've accumulated 2 lots of long service leave! But here and now - over 20 years since that Act was passed parents fear that their child having learning difficulties will compromise their choice of educational setting.
Then we wonder why we get students into Year 7 that we may not have the full background on... and this is perpetuated in many messages- sublte and not so sublte. "We are a MAINSTREAM school" said with a low calm voice and a slightly exaggerated smile - a factual truth with a hidden warning cos let's face it - your kid AINT 'mainstream'. It truly gets my hackles up because I've heard it so often now - I try and avoid using it anymore - I mean what the hell does it actually mean anyway? Schools have a huge variety of kids, kids with special needs are just part of the mix in any typical school setting - therefore I would argue that the mainstream school is a setting for diverse learners... for all learners.
I happened to come into possession of a school prospectus this week - you know the glossy marketing mag used by private schools (and I don't mean exclusive private ones in this instance).... Information to help you choose a school for your child. What has been chosen as 'important and persuasive information?' you ask. I don't think the answer will surpise any special needs parent that has dared to dream an inclusive dream for their child....lots of talk of values... you know respect, diligence yada yada the beauty (aka power) of tradition with some latin thrown in, a vision of caring and compassion - inclusion of the whole person through academic rigour, yada yada...some talk of multicultural community and then - yep You guessed it - bullet points about awesome Gifted and Talented Programs, debating, mock trials, yada yada.... and finally nestled under the heading of Pastoral Care mention of special education - as extending experiences of Gifted and Talented as well as 'supporting students with specific learning difficulties'. Counselling if you're having 'personal difficulties'. That is it. 'supporting students with specific learning difficulties'. No more information ANYWHERE in this prospectus. No wonder I see it as a piece of marketing. This prospectus is the 'Beware of the Leopard' sign that any special needs parent gets pretty familiar with unfortunately. It tells me NOTHING about how they might support students with additonal learning needs in that school and all the sweet and lovely generalisations of values means NADA without strong and clear processes and strategies to actually WORK for INCLUSION.
The final straw is on the last page - in large font is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:
"Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education"
I see little intelligence in the vision of this prospectus - no great humanity of Christian values as I understand them being ALIVE in this school. Nothing to attract me to it. Just more 'shame' being perpetuated and so the next open day I go to - when I see those parents glancing sideways towards the special education staff, nervously wondering if they should approach. I'm not going to judge them. I get it. If it's at the school that I work at I hope I can go up to them and greet them with a big welcoming smile. Reassure them that it will be ok. That we are there as an important, integral part of the school to support their child's RIGHT to access quality educaiton on the same basis as their 'typical' peers. It's the law and it's right.
Sorry, rant over now.... for now....