As some of our Reach Every Voice students head into high school, we've been tackling summer assignments. One of the best we've seen asks students to pick a high-interest topic (from a list that includes racial prejudice/race relations, cycle of poverty, gender roles, bullying, intellectual disability, and euthanasia) and then to read and respond to the five or so selected articles, podcasts, or TED talks. After responding to the assigned material, students then need to find one more information source of their own choosing and respond to it. This assignment, with high interest topics, built in choice, and student-driving learning has spurred some really good conversations.
One of our students chose intellectual disability as his topic. For his final free-choice article, he asked to read Cheryl Jorgensen's post for Swift Schools, "Five Reasons Why Presuming Competence is ALWAYS a good idea." We wanted to share Ethan's thoughts since he pokes at things that affect so many parents, teachers, administrators, and members of society in general. Do we ignore signs of competence because it's easier for us to believe the opposite? Rather than face the idea - and GUILT that comes along with it - that our understanding of disability may have been wrong (in some cases for many years), do we continue to assume the limitations we've placed on others are in their best interests? How do we ensure that we're providing not just a Free Appropriate Public Education to students with disabilities, but one that is on par with the services we provide to their nondisabled peers? We all know that full inclusion is hard, but what are the costs of saying it's too hard?
Enough from us. Ethan's words say it better.
Always, always presume competence. Most people don't ask the questions they don't want answers to.
What if she actually is smart but we've been satisfied allowing education to consist of easy, babyish language? Are we so stupid that we missed [the] laconic solution to this?
How could we have underestimated him for so long and told people stuff right in front of him like he couldn't have a clue of what we said?
Languishing in presumed incompetence still hoarding the retarded label just to spare well-meaning but misguided people from having to reassess their actions and belief systems is inexcusable. Too many doors get shut eons after Plessy v. Ferguson, segregating neurodiverse learners into separate and unequal classes.
Remember that guy who woke from what looked like a vegetative state to tell the people who just planted him in front of baby shows that he'd been there stuck, seething the entire time and was furious? That was my life for years. So many times we act on beliefs regarding assumptions and only cause harm. If we still put all minority students in separate classrooms, people would riot. Why then is it acceptable for the segregation ceded to individuals with disabilities? Why are we second class citizens?
I am a pretty chill guy, but this laziness on the part of the school simply makes me go nuts. The excuse that inclusion is expensive slays me. How much do schools spend supporting extracurricular activities like sports? Shouldn't quality education for all take priority over football in the budget? I'm sick of all neurodiverse kids getting a 'good enough' shot at education. Don't we deserve a good one?
Ethan Tucker is a 15-year-old autistic high school student in Maryland who communicates the importance of presuming competence one letter at a time. Always, always presume competence.