Inclusion Now Articles Issue 4
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Competition - An Inhuman Activity - Article by Perry
Many Rivers to Cross - Interview with Jackie Downer MBE
Inclusive Education - Poem
The Medical and Social Models of Behaviour
NUT Moves Backwards - Inclusion, SEN and Behaviour
Because We Can Change the World - Conference Report
Jowonio School - What the Children of Jowonio Know (poem)
On a Path to a Place Beyond My Wildest Dreams - inclusion
groups in schools
The Evaluation Game - Spoof evaluation by Lynne Elwell
Helen Flint - Profile of a Disabled Author
One of the most common reasons given to justify the segregation
of disabled or distressed young people, is that mainstream schools are highly
competitive, and such children will fail, and their self-esteem will be shattered.
Another way of looking at it is to say that the exclusion of young people who cannot win in a pre-set climate of standards, tests and ranking by results, is allowing us to continue to pretend that competition is a good thing for human development by removing from our sight the evidence that it is not.
The following article is one person's reflections on the nature of competition. What do you think?
I'd like to tell you a story that embodies the essence of competition. Two friends were hiking in the wilds of Montana, near Glacier National Park, and they came upon a grizzly bear, about one hundred yards away, and the bear started lumbering towards them. One fellow sat down and pulled his running shoes out of his backpack, threw himself on the ground, and furiously started pulling off his hiking boots and putting on his running shoes.
Now, his friend was watching this amazed, and said "you don't think those running shoes are going to help you outrun that bear, do you?" The first fellow looked up at him and said "I don't have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you".
If you can imagine a spectrum of competition, at one end are societies that function without any competition at all, and at the total opposite end is the United States of America. Our entire economic system is predicated on competition. Our schooling trains us to beat others and regard them as obstacles to our own success. Even in our own families there is rivalry for attention and love and approval......we can't even go dancing without getting involved in a dance contest.
We need a working definition of competition:
Competition is two or more people trying to achieve a goal that cannot be achieved by all of them.
I would like to briefly uncover four myths about competition.
Competition is part of human nature
Competitive behaviour is not the way we want to be. It is not the way we were born. We were born as completely good human beings, wanting to love and be loved and to co-operate and be close to one another. There is evidence of this all around us. The great popularity of Barney (an American cartoon character) is because Barney relates to their natural way of being, of sharing, of hugging, of loving and co-operating with each other and having fun doing it.
Competition is more productive
The question really is, do we perform better when we are trying to beat others, or when we are working with them? The evidence in the literature is overwhelmingly clear. The answer is we perform better when we work together. The key to understanding why competition does not promote excellence is to realise that trying to do well and trying to beat others are two different things.
Paying attention to who is winning distracts one from the task at hand. Competition, also by its nature, makes people suspicious of, and hostile towards one another.
Competition is more enjoyable
If you are trying to win, you are not experiencing true playfulness - fun, joy and self-satisfaction. There is proof all around us that competition is not enjoyable. Do you know people who get really upset when they lose a game and who get so wrapped up in winning that the game isn't fun for anyone any more? They are not having fun!
Competition builds character
Why do people compete? (Some) suggest that we compete to compensate for low self-esteem, but self-esteem is not conditional. It does not depend upon approval of others or winning contests. Despite this, our self-esteem might have been injured, to put it mildly, by societal hurts, thus we might try to be stronger or smarter than others in order to convince ourselves at some level that we are a good person. Even winning fails to satisfy us in the long term and cannot compensate for the pain of losing. Why? Because there is no competitive activity for which victory is permanent. Instead of contributing to self-esteem, beating people contributes only to the need to try and continue to beat other people. It is like an addiction. A vicious circle.
What is it about competition that damages relationships? Well, had we set out to deliberately sabotage relationships we could hardly have done better than to arrange for people to have to compete with each other. If I regard you as a rival over whom I must triumph, you become an 'it' to me. An Object. Something I use for my own ends. Depriving our adversaries of personalities, of faces, of their subjectivity, that is a strategy we automatically adopt in all areas in order to win. Whether it is relationships, sports or the ultimate competition - war.
It is difficult to imagine a more telling indictment of an activity than the fact that it requires such depersonalisation.
Is there an alternative to competition that is better for relationships? The simple fact is that when we co-operate, we are inclined to like each other much more. Even in our merciless, competitive society each of us has had a co-operative encounter, working with others to paint a room, complete a report, put on a craft fair. Co-operation teaches us the value of relationships. Co-operation means that the success of each participant is linked to that of each other and of every other. Studies show that in a co-operative environment, children encourage each other. They have improved communication and they trust each other more. They are more sensitive to each other's needs.
We need to expand co-operation to include as many people as possible in solving problems. There are enough problems to occupy us indefinitely, and our work on them will have the delightful consequence of binding us together if we join together in solving them.
What practical things can we do right now to make that transition towards a competition-free society? For my part I have adopted a programme which includes:
Securing my self-esteem other than by beating someone else
When I find myself in conflict, I resolve to persistently look for the common ground, to listen and understand the other person's viewpoint
I will never compare my children's performance to that of someone else in order to motivate them to do better. I will not make my affection or approval contingent on my child's performance
I will stop making up contests such as challenging my children to see who can set the table fastest
In the end analysis, I believe that the only thing we have to compete with, is competition itself.
This article represents extracts taken from a talk given by Perry Saidman to the Ethical Society, Washington DC on November 14th 1993. It has been reprinted from 'New Learning Together' magazine, 1994
by Jackie Downer
Taken from an interview with Caroline Goffe at Parents for Inclusion:
My mum was a single parent surviving in a country that was not hers. She came here in the nineteen sixties. She was very protective towards me. She showed love in a different way. I missed the hugging and kissing but she still loved me. She made lovely West Indian food and I really miss that now. My mum has been a rock for me as a black woman. She never judged me. She has been my lifeline. If it had not been for my mum I would not be where I am today. She went back to Jamaica two years ago. She lives with my niece Cheryl. She's a lifeline for me too. I still miss my mum. She was there for me; I try to be there for her when she rings.
I went to Caldecot Primary School near Kings College Hospital. It was a mixed ordinary school. It is closed now and is part of Kings College Hospital. You can still see part of the brickwork.
I was like any so called normal child at Primary school. I was happy doing things that so called normal children do at Primary school. I remember playing in the playground, eating dinner together, playing in the sand, and having fights.
I was happy there.
I knew that I was slow at certain things, slower than other children in the school. I felt the other children were a bit better than me. I used to avoid schoolwork and just do practical things. I don't know if the teachers thought I was slow or anything. They hid it from me in a good way. They were nice to me.
When I was 11 years old an Educational Psychologist came to see me at Primary School. They took me out of my classroom into a small room and let me play with some bricks. My mum was there and that was when I knew there was something wrong with me. I was a bit tearful. The Educational Psychologist was a man in a three-piece suit. He did little tests on me. He judged me for a couple of hours. He never said goodbye. Because of the power he had as a psychologist and a white man he put me into a Special School called Highshore School in Peckham. He's got his wages and lives in a beautiful house. If I saw him now I still think I would be scared. I don't think I would know what to say to him. For me it was a sad part of my life but for him it was just part of his life. As a Caribbean woman my mum felt that she did not have any choice. I felt I didn't have a choice because I was a child. In those days they knew best. I don't think all special schools should be closed at once but people should have a choice about which school they go to.
Now I have to cope with the memory of special school all the time.
Highshore Special School was near to a girls ordinary secondary school called Peckham Girls school. Some kids from that school used to call out to us, "Idiot school, Backward school, Why are you going to that Special school".
I just wanted to be like other children. I could have had a support worker to help me at ordinary school in case things went too fast for me. I felt embarrassed going to the special school. I had to travel there on a special bus. But if I had gone to an ordinary school I might have said things to the kids at special school too.
I would have liked parents and children to have had more say in the way the school was run. Black parents of disabled children get a double double, triple triple whammy in schools and all services.The Teachers thought they knew best. They believed in segregating us from other children. They did not ask us what we wanted. Sometimes the work was too easy for me. I could have done more. We were never allowed to overachieve. Once I walked out of the school because the work was so easy.
I never had a black teacher while I was at School. I would have liked to have learned about my culture. I never learned anything about black history, poetry or music; not a peanut, not a sausage! We were taught about Florence Nightingale who was a famous white nurse who cared for wounded soldiers but it was only two years ago that I found out about Mary Seacole who was a famous black nurse living at the same time. Now the culture of my support workers is very important to me.
I think things changed. I was scared when I left school as a sixteen-year-old with Special educational needs. People discriminate if you can't spell or if you speak in a certain way. There are certain jobs you cannot do. I have done many basic jobs but I don't want to work in a supermarket all the days of my life. There are many jobs that I can do with the right support. It was always going to be a struggle. For me it's how do I cope? I think that's true for everyone.
All parents worry when their children start work. There is so much competition for jobs.
I would love to work in schools but I think that I am too much of a threat to teachers in special schools who want to keep their jobs in those schools to pay their mortgages.
When I talk about the past the tears still flow and run down.
If it were not for my mum, my support workers and the love of God I would not be where I am today. My mum said to me Jackie you can do it. It does not matter. We do make mistakes. It's going to take time and its not going to be easy. She did her best. She never shoved me into the daycentre. I have nothing against daycentres but she did not send me there. I will love her until the day I die or until the day she dies.
I think I am blessed. I'm so lucky. I'm still struggling to be an independent person. I would love to learn to drive a car. I would like to be in a relationship and have children. One day I'll tell you if my dream comes true. Let me be myself and don't discriminate or label me.
Sometimes dreams scare me because they often don't come true. But you must hope and hope and dream and dream. If I was told that my child was a disabled child I'd be scared that I could not fight for the rights of my disabled child. I worry that I could not speak the jargon. I'd want to know what they wrote about my child. I think I would have to take one day at a time.
My dream is to see Disabled people, especially people with learning difficulties in good jobs and respected. I want Disabled people to live where they want to live, to have relationships and to have rights.
There is a song called 'Many Rivers to Cross' - that says it all for me........
Jackie Downer is on the Steering Committee of the Black and Ethnic Minority Parents Group at Parents for Inclusion
Caroline Goffe is the Helpline and Inclusion Group Co-ordinator at Parents for Inclusion.
"Many Rivers to Cross
And it's only my will
that keeps me alive
I've been ripped,
washed up for years
And I merely survive
because of my pride"
Inclusion is the buzz word.
Do we mean shifting policies,
Nothing too radical; must
Preserve national history,
even if it is
A tad unfair.
Inclusion is inclusion.
We do not want to compromise: forget
Our ultimate goals.
All kids should be able
To get a decent education
From their local state
School. Is that too damn
Well, no, I do not think so.
If we had left things as they
Were, not so long ago,
The working classes
Education at all.
Am I idealistic? I hope so.
Ideal is what we really
want, so let us
Aim for it. If it means
Reforms, however drastic,
Then that is
What we'll do.
Inclusion is inclusion is
The greatest thing our education system could achieve would be to turn out emotionally healthy young adults despite the inequalities in their family lives, or their physical or intellectual endowments. The following two articles look at how we are beginning to apply all that we have learned from the struggle of disabled people, to the issues of emotional and behavioural difficulties.
by Micheline Mason
On 25th January 2002, thirteen members of the Alliance for Inclusive Education met to share our thoughts about our position as an organisation in relation to children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. We listed eight different 'groups' of young people who might attract this label, recognising that each group may require a separate response:
Children who challenge authority and do not have any impairments,
Children who become disruptive because their needs are not being met,
Children with mental health difficulties who need help, e.g. children who have been bereaved or traumatised, or who are depressed,
Children whose challenging behaviour is part of a condition, e.g. Tourettes Syndrome or Autism,
Children whose lives are impossible for them to manage, e.g. chaotic home-lives, ill parents, abuse and fear,
Children who have had little exposure to socially acceptable behaviour,
Other groups or situations in which the child may be labelled as the problem rather than their circumstances.
Lonely or insecure young people wanting to gain status in the eyes of their peers.
We looked at the national picture in which there is a strong tension between the Governments support for inclusion and the growing tendency to demonise and punish children and their families who have problems coping with school, or indeed life itself.
Our fundamental belief in the social model of disability looks to a structural and community-based response to supporting children with impairments. We agreed that the same model needs to be developed for children with emotional needs. The social model recognises the factor of oppression in shaping a child's experiences - racism, classism, adultism as well as disablism - and argues that each oppression will put barriers in the way of the child's safety, development and inclusion. The identification and removal of such barriers is a vital piece of work, and now seems to be the time to begin.
We acknowledged that there are many existing examples of good practice and committed practitioners. We are planning to draw together the thinking we are doing into a discussion paper. This we hope will be the basis for a strong group to develop the ideas and to campaign for an education system which can help rather than reject children with the greatest needs.
If you would like to be part of this group, please contact Micheline Mason at the Alliance address.
Inclusion, SEN and Behaviour by Richard Rieser
At the NUT Conference in Bournemouth this Easter, the Executive managed to pass two reactionary motions that reverse the Unions progressive policies on Inclusion and Behaviour. A promising amendment from Hackney, maintaining the Unions positive approach was never discussed. Instead a procedural manoeuvre to move to the main question 'to save time' by members of the Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union (CDFU) and Socialist Teachers Alliance was carried.
A number of powerful speeches were then made against the Executives motion. This was eventually put to Conference and declared carried, though many thought it lost. This occurred despite CDFU backing for the Hackney amendment.
So we now have a policy that talks of being 'practical and not dogmatic' about the human rights of disabled children, arguing for the maintenance of a continuum of provision, including special schools, even where inclusion has been properly funded and people locally have determined they want all children educated together - i.e. comprehensively. Would we adopt such a position for Black or Minority Ethnic children?
The position on Behaviour was even worse. The uncontested policy calls for Headteachers to have the power to veto the admission of children if they think they have EBD and to refer a child for assessment instead. This seemingly attractive measure to protect teachers comes from the stable of demonising the child.
What qualifications do Heads have to discriminate against this group of disabled children? We should be fighting for the resources and training needed - counsellors in every school and a flexibility of placement while children remain on the roll of their mainstream school. This was the policy that Hackney successfully got carried overwhelmingly, at the Cardiff conference in 2001.
Teachers must be protected from assault, but schools must also develop ways of including the disaffected. However, it appears in the rush for popularism the Union has failed to implement this coherent
strategy. Sometimes principles are more important than pragmatics.
Apart from societal issues, the increasing competition in English schools, with our children being the most tested in Europe, rather than more collaborative, inclusive approaches is the root cause of the problem. We need to develop the language of emotional intelligence, develop peer support through circle time, peer mediation and buddy systems, give pupils more democracy in running schools and move away from behaviourist inspired discipline systems such as assertive discipline to more ecological and theraputic approaches.
Most of all we need to educate our children to be more human.
Despite these setbacks many copies of Inclusion Now were sold at the Conference and there was much discussion and interest in inclusion from ordinary delegates. We now have to make sure that strong motions for next years Conference reassert principled and effective policy on Inclusion and Behaviour.
NUT Conference Delegate
& Director of DEE
Since the Education Reform Act numbers of permanent exclusions rose from 2,910 in 1991/92 to 12,700 in 1997
Reductions in this number which have occurred in the last four years have masked the increased use of Pupil Referral Units and in-school units or 'sin-bins'.
PRUs and EBD special schools exclude children at a greater rate than mainstream schools- because of their behaviour.
Children as young a six are being permanently excluded from school
Prescriptions of Ritalin to treat ADD or ADHD jumped from 3,500 in 1993 to 126,500 in 1998. This is a pattern wherever in the world Ritalin is marketed
There is no agreed consensus as to what ADD or ADHD is, or if it even exists.
by Chris O'Mahony
This Nottingham conference was set up by the Inclusive Solutions team, Colin Newton & Derek Wilson, to highlight the work of Mara Sapon-Shevin from Syracuse, U.S.A. and Doug Fisher from San Diego, USA.
The first morning session was called "Inclusion as Social Justice". Mara Sapon-Shevin spoke of how inclusive schools are our best hope for achieving a socially just world and how school communities are responsible for ensuring that every single child is socially included in that community. She ran us through a variety of resources, poems, stories and activities that include everyone and that focus on issues of inclusion, particularly around friendships and social inclusion in the classroom.
My favourite was "Hey Little Ant" by Phil and Hannah Hoose - a dialogue song between a boy who is just about to crush a tiny ant and the ant itself. This song can be used as an allegory of many situations in which big guys get to do things to little guys just because they can, including the war in Afghanistan. She read her own beautiful poem "What the Children of Jowonio Know" which describes what it is like attending a school that has been inclusive for thirty years. She had us all sing the responses to "I won't Shut Up" by Bob Blue, a song which challenges us to keep on saying what we know to be right even when other people want us to shut up about this inclusion thing.
Doug Fisher took over for the second morning session and told story after story of solutions to apparent 'problems' around inclusion. Many of these were technical solutions that had been devised by involving other people in thinking about the problem. He told the story of asking a class how they could include a child with cerebral palsy. The children thought the child ought to play kickball with them at playtime. As an adult, Doug couldn't figure out how this child who was in a wheelchair and had no voluntary movement could play kickball. However, one of the young people demonstrated a rudimentary system of using a ruler to flick a ball. Doug took the idea to the Engineering Department of his University as a senior project. The result was a gadget which X could operate and which meant he got to be included in the playground.
He described a number of technical interventions which eased 'problems' in the classroom. One favourite was the use of a signal light for a small child on the autistic spectrum who couldn't learn not to interrupt when the teacher was talking. Doug's department bought a very cheap light and fixed it to the child's desk. The teacher found this so beneficial that she got signal lights for the entire class and discovered that all children benefited. Instead of wasting valuable class time frantically waving at her to get her attention, children were able to quietly turn on their lights and get on with their work whilst waiting for her to come round to them.
He described various accommodations and modifications to the core curriculum that would enable students with significant learning difficulties to learn basic concepts of work readiness within the normal day. One accommodation was to 'infuse' specific learning goals into the school day so that the child need not be withdrawn. This included, for instance, working on managing money by buying food in the school canteen, working on time management skills by being on time and with the right equipment for each class attended, etc.
Allowances are made for different learning styles. For instance, the class was studying 'Of Mice and Men'. Some students were unable to remember which characters were which. The teacher got the students to produce visual images of the different characters as they appear in the book and to add more detail to the visual images each week as they found out more about the character through reading the book. A student with significant learning difficulties had modified assignments whilst studying the same curriculum as everyone else, e.g. listening to the book on tape and being given a multiple choice comprehension test, rather than being asked to write an essay on it.
The afternoon workshops focused on "Curriculum Modification and Literacy" (Doug Fisher) and "Co-operative Learning and Friendship Skills" (Mara Sapon-Shevin". I attended Mara's workshop where we learnt to compose songs together, sing in groups, play co-operative musical chairs (Instead of making children leave the game when there are not enough chairs for everyone, the game is to make sure that everyone is on a chair when the music stops. As the chairs slowly disappear, children have to work out co-operative ways of getting more and more people onto one chair). We played 'find your partner' games which can be used to assess learning or learn skills right across the curriculum and at any level of ability, and a game to learn about appropriate touching.
We had short presentations from John Ford of the DfES and Micheline Mason of the Alliance for Inclusive Education. Both were interesting and inspiring, as was the whole day. I came away with my head buzzing with ideas for curriculum developments that would enable teachers to work inclusively and work with their students on inclusion as a curriculum subject.
More information on Lessons Learned in Supporting Diverse Students: www.peakparent.org
'Because we can change the world, A practical guide to building cooperative, Inclusive classroom communities' by Mara Sapon-Shevin
"An ideal book for any teacher who dreams of launching a full-scale battle, step by step, to combat intolerance and exclusivity in the school house"
Vivien Gussin Paley
This book is a wonderful blend of theory and practice. It offers a large variety of literature, games, activities and songs that can easily be adapted for British schools.
Available by mail order through www.Amazon.com
Allyn and Bacon ISBN: 0-205-17489-2
Jowonio School, in Syracuse, New York, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Jowonio (an Onondagan word that means "to set free") was the first school in the country to systematically include children who were labelled as 'autistic' within regular classrooms with 'typical' children. The administrators, teachers, parents and students at Jowonio are solidly supportive of inclusive communities and of the importance of many kinds of children learning to play and work together. At the event organised to celebrate Jowonio's 25th anniversary, I offered this poem as a celebration of the gifts that Jowonio has given to the community and as my appreciation of the meaning of inclusive schooling.
What the Children of Jowonio Know
The children of Jowonio know - not because they have been told - but because they have lived it
That there is always room for everyone - in the circle and at snack time and on the playground - and even if they have to wiggle a little to get another body in and even if they have to find a new way to do it, they can figure it out - and so it might be reasonable to assume that there's enough room for everyone in the world
The children of Jowonio know - not because they have been told - but because they have lived it
That children come in a dazzling assortment of sizes, colours and shapes, big and little and all shades of brown and beige and pink, and some walk and some use wheelchairs but everyone gets around and that same is boring - and so it might be reasonable to assume that everyone in the world could be accepted for who they are
The children of Jowonio know - not because they have been told - but because they have lived it
That there are people who talk with their mouths and people who talk with their hands and people who talk by pointing and people who tell us all we need to know with their bodies if we only listen well - and so it might be reasonable to assume that all the people of the world could learn to talk to and listen to each other
The children of Jowonio know - not because they have been told - but because they have lived it
That we don't send people away because they're different or even because they're difficult, and that all people need support and that if people are hurting, we take the time to notice, and that words can build bridges and hugs can heal - and so it might be reasonable to assume that all the people on the planet could reach out to each other and heal the wounds and make a world fit for us all.
Taken from 'Because We Can Change the World' by Mara Sapon-Shevin
Inclusion groups for parents in schools, by Angie Northwood
I was taking Molly to the Sophie Centre playgroup and saw a Parents for Inclusion leaflet. I read it and thought their work sounded interesting and was offering something different to what I was getting.
I phoned Pi and booked myself onto an 'Inclusion Taster Day'. I was amazed, overwhelmed, excited and keen to learn more. Things began to make sense. The Inclusion Groups for Parents sounded an excellent idea - by this point Molly was going to Maytree Nursery School. I thought having a group there would be brilliant. As a parent of a disabled child, I thought this would give me opportunities to talk about things that were difficult. The group offered a safe, supportive and understanding atmosphere. It helped me to communicate my concerns to the school and celebrate what was going well. I began to feel like a mum again, I felt like I could see a future for my child, I wasn't scared anymore. I began to understand what the real barriers are - not Molly - but the discriminating attitudes which exist, built up over hundreds of years.
I decided to become an Inclusion Group facilitator because I could see how effective these groups are in empowering parents. If you are empowered as a parent you can fight for your child's right to belong and be included. I passionately believe in Inclusion - the support groups offer a way for more and more parents and schools to work together to find solutions and develop good inclusive practice so that all children are valued and welcomed.
I couldn't get enough of the training and workshops! Each one I attended inspired me and gave me strength to plan a positive future for Molly. The training helped me to look at issues that had previously made me want to run away and hide from the world. I had felt isolated, angry and trapped. Now, I felt strong, well informed, supported, united and liberated! Learning about the Social Model of Disability was a huge stepping stone from me. It made sense, it is what I believed, but hadn't understood before the training. I had always instinctively known that Molly was not the problem - but my life had become a maze - full of therapies that seemed so unnatural and intrusive. Some people were even telling me to look at special schools - and I believed it for a while - lived it for a while - and it proved to be the nightmare I thought it would be - isolating, unnatural, segregating. But that is long gone in the past, in the bin with lid tightly closed!
My graduation as an Inclusion Group facilitator was one of the proudest moments (the birth of my children being the proudest). I had embarked on a path, that was leading me to a place beyond my wildest dreams. For me, the star of the Graduation Ceremony was Molly. Without her I would not be doing what I do today.
Facilitating my first group was a wonderful, if nerve-wracking experience. It felt like another beginning, full of hope and dreams that have, and will continue to, come true.
The most powerful and moving memories of facilitating a group is when I saw parents suddenly realise that their child is the wonderful, beautiful, precious little person that they thought they were - but had not until that moment been enabled to believe it.
All schools and pre-schools should have an inclusion support group. They benefit everyone.
Angie Northwood has gone on to become the Inclusion Outreach Worker for Lambeth Early Years Development & Childcare Partnership. Contact: 020 7926 9560. Her daughter Molly has gone on to her local mainstream primary school.
Since 1992 Pi has set up Inclusion groups in 23 schools in Lambeth and Wandsworth. These groups are run by parents for parents to come and share their concerns about their child's education in a safe and confidential space. This is in close collaboration with the schools. The aims are to promote inclusion and prevent school exclusions. It places disabled young people and those labelled SEN at the centre of all thinking. If you would like to know more about Pi Training and Inclusion Groups in Schools contact Parents for Inclusion.
by Lynne Elwell
The Letter you NEVER want to See!
Re (students name).
We want to do a case study evaluation on your child because s/he is having B-I-G trouble at school.
S/he can't: (tick which applies)
Go to the toilet alone
Play without biting someone
(often an child, occasionally a teacher)
All of the above
We want to find out why your child is such a mess. We suspect that it may be your fault, but need to know for sure. A whole bunch of professional people are going to spend hours and hours and hours with you and your child; pulling her/him out of class frequently so s/he can get even further behind with her/his work; pulling you out of your job so you can get even further behind with your work; and generally disrupting your schedule and your life.
Eventually, we will get done. Don't ask us when because we don't really know. Honestly, we are doing the very best we can with a small, frustrated staff who have no office space in the school and who, therefore, must test your child in the caretakers broom closet, or if that is not available, the car park. If you make a fuss about how long it takes, we may cry.
When we do get done, we'll meet you at school at a mutually inconvenient time. There will be 172 sheets of paper on the table, and we will pass them around, and around, and around, and around and you will get to sign them again and again and again. You might get dizzy. If yours is the last meeting of the day, the staff will definitely be dizzy. We'll make an attempt to explain everything to you at the meeting. Don't worry if you don't understand all the big words. We don't understand them either, but they sure look impressive on the forms, don't they?
At the end of all this, we'll have no clue why your child is in B-I-G trouble at school but we will have some new and exciting ideas for you and the teachers to try out. And, we'll all live happily ever after (until its time for the re-evaluation, when the entire process starts again.)
Sign here to show you really mean it.
Social Security Number:
Master Card/Visa number:
Insurance Policy No:
Statement of Special needs attached for your amusement
Submitted by a Quasi Professional
by Lois Keith
Like many women, Helen Flint did not start writing until her youngest child was at school but she made up for it in the years that followed. Between 1987 and her early death in January 2000, she wrote three adult novels, a poetry collection and three novels for teenagers. Her semi autobiographical first novel, Return Journey was published by Heinemann in 1987 and won the Betty Trask Award and this was followed by two more adult novels, In Full Possession, 1989 and Making the Angels Weep, 1992.
Three teenage novels followed; Not Just Dancing 1993, Not Just Babysitting 1997 and Not Just Rescuing 2002, all published by Egmont Children's Books. Her stories are concerned with the universals of teenage fiction: problems with adults (particularly argumentative and sometimes unreasonable parents or relatives), insecurity, young love which doesn't always go smoothly, learning that life is 'not just' about one thing and the writer's desire to address serious issues with candour and wit. Helen Flint became disabled as an adult and died in January 2000 at the age of 47 from a rare inherited degenerative disease. Disabled people and some of the issues they face find their way into her stories, but not always in ways the reader might expect.
One reviewer described Not Just Dancing as 'a cross between Strictly Ballroom and Waiting for God'. Geraldine, a talented dancer, misses out on finding a work experience placement and has to spend the week working with her mother who is a Home Help. Her response to an encounter with disabled people is a conventional one. 'Oh lucky Me. Lucky me not be blind or deaf or mute or limbless or spastic or wracked with pain. Oh, lucky me to have endless opportunities for enjoying life,' and she describes a disabled person she sees as having a face like 'Fungus the Bogeyman.' But as the story develops, she gains insight to some of the insensitive, even hostile attitudes elderly and disabled people have to deal with and begins to genuinely care for two of her mum's clients. Flint's research on ballroom dancing gives energy and life to this part of the story (including a description of how you walk forwards while appearing to walk backwards in disco dancing) and the romantic subplot with her new dancing partner Sunil, a posh grammar school boy, is entertaining if a tad unlikely.
Not Just Babysitting is in many ways the most successful of the three books. It is set in Canada where Helen Flint lived as a student. Like her other books, the style is warm and lively, and the familiar elements - eccentric families, money worries, work, first love, the desire for happiness and stability - fit together very comfortably in this story. Sandra's Eastern European father has just lost his job. Money is very short and so, together with her sister Meg and their mother, she decides to start a nursery at Beznobar, their magical, half built summer home. Beznobar is 'our Sacred Space', infused with the legends told by her Native Canadian mother. But their father passionately believes that everything that is wrong in the universe is because of childminding and so they have to lie to him. The nursery is a great success but the father feels betrayed and family harmony teeters on the edge of collapse. The story has strong secondary characters; Jason, an extraordinarily naughty under five and Paul, the rich wild boy next door. Sandra realises that she cares for Paul when he kisses Meg and then, confusingly, kisses her. What does this mean? The problem of how to interpret that thrilling but fleeting first kiss is well told in all three of the 'Not Just..-' books.
Not Just Rescuing is the book that deals most directly with disability, and tells the story of Joanna and her clever disabled brother Ralph. The 'rescuing' in the title refers mostly to animal rescue when Joanna and her brother are sent to spend the summer with their eccentric and not obviously loveable aunt. Reluctantly at first, Joanna sets about rescuing and then releasing swans, flying pigeons and sundry lost kittens. Readers might not like Flint's casual use of expressions like 'dwarf' and 'mentally deficient' but there are acute and sometimes disturbing observations on what it must be like to be disabled and Joanna's complicated feelings about her brother and the world's response to him. 'Everyone loves Ralph more than they love me . Sometimes, a nanosecond really, I wish I was the one in a wheelchair who needed rescuing.' There are vague references to the possibility of Ralph's dying but this isn't clear and Joanna worries that although he is very popular and has lots of friends, other young people might think 'his wheelchair is a badge' for them to win. The problem of too many friends rather than too few is probably not very realistic, but the observations on access and living with an impairment are well incorporated into the story. However, like all books where a character's story is told second hand through a narrator, we learn more about Joanna's take on disability than Ralph's own view of the world.
Helen Flint brought energy and humour to her stories. Describing a dream in Not Just Dancing, she writes. 'Reality thumbs its nose at me by slowing down just when I most need to run or shout or warn someone - the floor becomes toffee, the air wool, the voice dead.' Sadly true in her case, but these stories might well survive the test of time.
Lois Keith's most recent book is Take Up Thy Bed and Walk, Death, Disability and Cure in Classic Fiction for Girls. The Women's Press. 2001.