Sunday, June 01, 2008

School as an 'In' Club

Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son's kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class.

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn't like about Barton's 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.

By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.

Since when did attendance at school rely on a popularity contest?

I'm going to stop myself long enough to say I definitely understand the frustrations of dealing with a difficult child. I'm not saying Alex Barton is difficult - for one thing, not even anecdotal evidence has been offered that proves that he was causing serious problems in the class - but I worked with a child who was later removed from kindergarten. The reason? He was one of those cusp children, and had the option of starting kindergarten at the age of 4. He wasn't emotionally ready. I couldn't say I was surprised, because he was violent and aggressive (I witnessed him kicking his pregnant mother in the stomach, as well as several assaults against peers) and his parents couldn't acknowledge there was an issue. The school had an out, as cusp children could be "held back" with the recommendation of the admin that he needed another year before starting kindergarten.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong in that case. What I am saying is, he wasn't expelled, he was deferred. And it was handled through proper channels, with the administration.

I'll even admit that, while I miss many of the children I've worked with over the years, I did not miss that particular child at all. But really, I didn't miss the parents. With their support and cooperation, he would have made more progress, but when the parents will not discipline their child at all, well, they've made your job a thousand times harder.

However, reading this news story this morning made my blood boil. School isn't a democracy - if it was, we'd have students voting teachers out, or for no homework, or to abolish school rules. Second of all, turning to the children of a kindergarten class - children five and six years of age - to render this kind of judgment against another child is emotional abusive. The abuse is not just against Alex, but also against every child in that room. They were used by the adult who has been charged with the responsibility of educating them. What they've been taught is that they can take out anyone they want. What happens next year when there's a student who isn't popular? Will they also be denied the opportunity to attend school?

If a child is presenting significant problems in class, there are options. You go through administrative channels. First of all, given the pending diagnosis for Alex, the teacher should have sought additional support staff to assist with this child. Second of all, if a child is causing significant disruption and the teacher can't get additional support, there are administrative channels to go through to address the problem, and it's something that should have been handled behind closed doors, with the parent called in to discuss strategies and options.

No way in the world should a child be traumatized by being publicly shamed in front of a class and then booted out. I mean, because his classmates say he's "disgusting" and "annoying"? You know, I've known some teachers who were disgusting and annoying in my day. Heck, when I went to school, there were some very poor kids. The kids who relied on hand-me-down clothes being handed down to them. Ragamuffin hair, always a bit grubby. I told a story here once, of visiting my public school after I went to high school, and asking to borrow a hairbrush from a girl who sort of fit in the above category. I'm not sure now if she really was that poor, or grubby, but she was teased a lot. She was one year younger than me, and sometimes we had a mixed class, so I was pretty familiar with the harassment.

When she passed me her brush, I got a paper towel to hold it. Thing was, I had pink eye, and although I was being treated, I was still being careful. She didn't know that, and she started to cry.

Imagine thinking people disliked you so much they'd use a paper towel to handle what you'd touched.

How awful is that?

People who've worked with me in the past know I can be a hard ass. I'm pretty strict. Hell, just ask Daniel Hatadi. I'm a you-piss-me-off-cross-the-line-I-kick-your-ass type, even when it comes to online forums. However, in the parenting dynamic, I'm the soft touch of the two of us. That doesn't mean I'm not disciplining or saying no, but on a lot of things I'm pretty relaxed. Life, after all, is full of enough disappointments all on its own. I don't need to say no on all the little things just to prove that I can say no. Want to use the crazy straws to drink left-over cereal milk? Sure, why not? No big deal.

I'm actually astonished that no disciplinary action has been taken against the teacher in this case. A class full of children have been taught that it's okay to discriminate against a child with special needs. They've been taught they some people are hopeless and should be removed. How far does that go? In a child's mind, will they think that applies everywhere? Does this sow the seed, contribute to even one of them growing up to think that these people who are 'disgusting' and 'annoying' should be removed from society too? School is supposed to be safe, and it's a place for children to go to learn. The teacher has the responsibility to teach them, and in kindergarten a big part of what you're learning is about is socially appropriate behaviour. This teacher has a responsibility to teach Alex as well as every other child, and if there were persisting problems with him it's fair to say that the teacher holds some responsibility for failing to teach him, or get him the extra support in class he may have needed.

I have two words for Alex Barton's parents. Civil lawsuit. This was the blatant humiliation of a child, and that's simply unacceptable.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Would they have voted him out of the class if he had asthma? Teacher should be fired.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I agree Patti. It's unbelievable. We've made so much progress in learning to show understanding and integrate people with challenges into our society. This is a huge step backwards, imho.

Brian said...

The good name of Survivor has been ruined forever

Sandra Ruttan said...

Is there an emoticon that reflects the appropriate amount of sarcasm, Brian?