Teacher’s Corner: Retarded!

As you may know by now I have recently started a new job as a special ed teacher without having actually trained as a special ed teacher. This is pretty challenging on top of the job being challenging anyway, and I’m trying to desperately read up on the concepts and theories of the discipline. In doing so I stumbled across a word that is one of the nastier ones flung around in English: retarded.

And I discovered that it is a good word. Or at least used to be.

See, special ed went through it’s development just like regular teaching. Concepts and ideas about children, learning and teaching have changed, change which is often (though not always) reflected in our schools. In its earlier stages, special ed saw children who were slow to learn as “defective”. Children who could more or less keep up with the classwork were “normal” and the other ones were broken, damaged goods, lacking. You see where this is going.

Then came science and studied children and how they learn. They put many things educators had long known on a scientific basis and formulated scientific concepts. One of the still most influential people in this area is the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who described the processes through which we learn and also formulated stages through which we develop.

Screenshot of Piaget bok covers

Yes, there’s an endless amount of books on and by Piaget

All legitimate criticism aside (it relates mostly to how far you can take his models and where are limits of their application), his models are still important. As teachers we want and we need to challenge our students to help them in that development, which isn’t an automatism. We need to construct our input at the right level. Primary school teachers will endlessly use concrete things and pictures to teach their students. They need to literally take away five marbles to find out what 12-5 is.

What especially Piaget’s students found out was that not all children develop at roughly the same pace. Some children are much slower than the average, they stay behind, they are “retarded”. The concept as such was revolutionary. The children were no longer seen as defective, just slower. They were not inferior to their peers but would reach the same levels of cognitive development as their peers, just later. This had, and has, great importance for teaching children with special needs, as it means that we need to give them different input, teach them using a much more hands on approach than with their peers and most importantly, get them to the same place, just a little more slowly.

It’s sad to see how ableist ideas turned such a revolutionary concept into a nasty slur. It also shows that you need to change society, not just words. The slur does not mean what the word means in a professional context. It still means “broken and defective”.

 

Teacher’s Corner: Bathroom Breaks

Teacher’s Corner will be an irregular feature containing my mumbling and ranting on issues of education  and people.

The theme of today’s post is probably going to be a reoccurring one: Why are the USA determined to be so horrible? On Twitter somebody posted the following note which apparently was handed to their child:

Note about bathroom use

Mrs. White’s 8th Grade Admin/Bathroom/Water/Nurse Pass

I will only have two passes for the ENTIRE month during Focus, BOTH Math Blocks, Community, Lunch, Restoration, etc.

I understand that once the number is circled, it indicates how many times I have went (sic) thus far for the entire month.

I understand that I need Mrs. White’s signature for EVERY TIME I leave to go to the Bathroom, Nurse, speak with Admin or to get water.

I understand that once I have used my 2 passes for the ENTIRE month, I will not be able to go to the restroom, get water, or go the nurse (sic).

I understand that only special accommodations will be made if my Doctor writes a note regarding a medical condition.

I understand that failure to comply with the Bathroom/Water/Nurse Pass will result in an Automatic Detention and a zero on whatever assignment I decide to walk out on.

I understand that Ms. White is petty and although we both have options, I can be denied going to the bathroom/water/nurse during the lesson.

 

I mean, WTF?

As a teacher, I know that “the potty goer” is a nuisance. It is disruptive in class when every other minute somebody asks to leave, leaves, comes back, etc. That’s why we encourage our kids to use the breaks, which are, btw. included in this bathroom pass. We have two big breaks of 20 minutes between 2nd and 3rd, and 4th and 5th lesson, and short five minutes breaks between the other lessons. And still we don’t deny our kids bathroom breaks. At the most, they get some extra work (I have a whole book of extra work that “fits the crime” where the kids have to reflect on their behaviour). Some classes have a system where you automatically move to “yellow” if you go during the lesson. In most cases we use common sense. The kid who asks to go five minutes after the end of their break needs to learn that yes, going to the bathroom is part of their “during the break” activities, same as eating*. The kid who asks to go after 30 minutes probably couldn’t have known during the last break.

 

*You wouldn’t believe the amount of kids who return to the lesson and then take out their breakfast. Many of them react angrily when you tell them to put it away and feel treated unfairly because they are hungry.

 

Although the school issued a retraction (see below), this isn’t the first time an American school is in the news for “strict”* bathroom policies.

On Twitter, while many people shared their stories about peeing/vomiting/etc. in class due to similar practises, many people replied that they didn’t see the problem and that it would teach kids discipline. It’s a dangerous gateway to the authoritarianism we currently see.

*strict as in dehumanising, cruel and completely fucked up.

 

Retraction letter from school

Retraction letter from school