Wednesday, June 6, 2007
I was in a school meeting with another parent yesterday at one of our local elementary schools. This particular elementary school was rumored to be disability-friendly – a school where children with mild to moderate disabilities would be integrated with their non-disabled peers. However, during the meeting I had an unobstructed view of the playground, and what I saw there made me wonder if the disability-friendly rumor was actually true.
I watched a class of children who appeared to be in the first or second grade make their way to the playground. A teacher was leading the group and another teacher was bringing up the rear. The children had arranged themselves for the walk into three distinct sections. The first had from six to eight children walking huddled together, laughing, roughhousing a bit, and all having a good time. The same was true for the third section – six to eight children, some skipping, some singing, all having fun. In the middle of those two groups was a single child. The child walked alone, his head hanging down. He seemed slightly shorter than most of the other children and a little on the chubby side. He shuffled along not seeming to care where he was going and not in any apparent hurry to get there. Finally he looked up at something the lead teacher had said, and I saw that he was a child with Downs Syndrome.
My attention was pulled back to the meeting I was attending, and I wasn’t able to watch the groups of children at play. But after a while, I did see them returning to their classroom. The procession was the same as the walk out – a teacher followed by a happy, laughing group of children, followed by the one child shuffling and with his eyes downcast, followed by another group of boisterous children, and ending with another teacher. It truly saddened me to see that even at such a young age, children were distancing themselves from the child with Downs Syndrome. I do not believe any person is born knowing those things or that any child at the age of 6 makes a conscious decision to avoid a person with a disability.
Where do children as young as 6 or 7 learn about alienation, prejudice and rejection? Never mind, I believe I already know the answer to that question.