Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dear Special Education Majors: You Don't, Actually, Know Everything

Dear Special Education Majors,

Most of you have gone into this field because you want to work with disabled people in one capacity or another.  So when you meet a Real! Live! Actual! Disabled Person! in the wild, you're eager to show off what you've learned.  But here's the thing:  I'm not your professor.  You are not being tested.  I'm not going to grade you.  And when you tell me that you understand when a kid is having a behavior in a public place or when you ask me if I use my mobility aids all the time because it looks like I can walk without them, it does far more to damage your credibility than if you had just kept your mouth shut in the first place.  (Hint: the answer to that last question is "it's none of your business", unless you're a doctor, or a professional that is going to determine how much help I get based on how disabled I look.)

I get it.  I've been on your side of the table.  I was a special ed major in undergrad.  I know how they shove the medical model down your throats, hoping that you'll become perfect little machines that input diagnoses and output accommodations.  I know how they make you forget that the people you'll be working with are actual human beings.  So I'm here to put your tired, overworked minds at ease. I don't want you to thrill me with your vast amounts of knowledge. The reason for that is because, despite what you might think, you don't know everything, and quite possibly don't know anything.

Being a special ed major doesn't tell you anything about what it's like to actually be disabled.  It doesn't put you in my body, nor does it give you magical powers to determine what I can and can't do.  It also doesn't give you the right to determine that I'm "not like [the types of kids you think you'll encounter in special ed]", because guess what?  I am.  And so are my friends.  The message you're sending, whether you mean it or not, is that I am somehow superior because you're having a conversation with me outside the special ed box.  Because you consider me a friend.  Because you like me.  Is that really the attitude you want to bring to your job?  That your students are only worth something if they can conform to social norms?  If you're unwilling to let go of your preconceptions, turn around and walk out the door right now.  Your students are not your charity cases, and neither am I.

Dear special ed majors, please don't tell me you respect disabled people. Show me.  Most of you have a long way to go.