I've been so busy working and being the voice of those who are discriminated against that I have not been able to post on here. I have decided to re-share a past post for my first 2019 post for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
To start, watch-- "A Class Divided."
Yes, Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes is a powerful video on racism. It gives insights into the personal experiences of how we discriminate based on the attribute of the color of eyes or the color of one’s skin. Let’s think outside of the box on this one and see how this is also a great lesson on how we treat people with learning disabilities (Dyslexia, ADHD, Dysgraphia, Asperger’s….) and other types of disabilities (physical, deaf, blind…) in school settings.
To help you understand this, I’m going to explain it as “Butterflies” vs. “Dragonflies.” Butterflies are “typical” students who learn easily, have athletic and/or academic talents, and viewed by others as beautiful. Dragonflies, on the other hand, are students with disabilities and challenges (with or without IEP/504’s); they struggle academically, athletically, socially, and/or emotionally; and are viewed by others as scary, not fitting in, and different. In school environments, it is often assumed that “Butterflies are better than Dragonflies.”
The Butterflies are more likely to be given extra opportunities in schools such as crossing guard or member of the student council. Teachers are concerned if they give Dragonflies positions of responsibilities, they will not be able to handle the job, or the Dragonfly doesn't deserve a reward--so Butterflies get the special treatment.
Butterflies are picked more often for awards and accolades because they are “easy to teach” and “well-liked by their teachers and peers.” For more details on this, check out my post on Stop the Shaming: why ceremonies and graduations need to change. The Dragonflies are often not given these awards and accolades because they are so challenging to teach; they may be experiencing Learned Helplessness (explained in the linked post) from the years of discrimination, shame, and pain that they have just given up trying; they just don’t fit in socially.
Butterflies are given positive reinforcements in the classroom while the Dragonflies often receive negative reinforcements. When you observe an elementary classroom room where a teacher has a Colored behavior chart, more Dragonflies are on Yellow and Red than Butterflies. The Butterflies are most likely on Green and get to run particular errands for teachers or get to sit in special places in the room.
As you can see, the list of the differences can go on and on, yet the key point is how Dragonflies are not just discriminated against by their teachers this treatment is seen as acceptable to their peers as well. Students model the behaviors of the teachers.
So when thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. today, think about how we still treat students who learn differently (academically or socially) as less than the students who are “Mainstream” learners. Dragonflies are often excluded from classes that Butterflies receive automatically, such as gym, art, and other electives because the Dragonflies need extra teacher support to learn. Schools require students to take these foreign language classes. Although students with learning disabilities would benefit from Sign Language, it is too much trouble to make this happen, so they just have to struggle (causing emotional pain) or not participate (excluded from a class open to non-disabled peers). For some reason it seems acceptable to the adults to take away opportunities from Dragonfly students using the reasoning that teachers can’t work beyond school hours, it would cost too much to provide the services, or they don't want to make a specific accommodation. For more details on this visit, the following post: Dr. King’s Legacy Regarding Discrimination in Education.
So here is my question to you: What are we really teaching our children in schools? Are we teaching them empathy, or are we teaching them discrimination? By excluding the Dragonfly students from the events and opportunities that are freely given to Butterflies, we are condoning discrimination. I am often told that the Butterflies have “earned” these privileges, but the Dragonflies have not so they do not deserve them. So you really think that because Little Johnny can’t read that he should have to be pulled from gym, art, or recess so he can be taught to read? By the way, maybe we should go back to teaching students using the Orton-Gillingham reading program- look for this scene in the movie!
Maybe you think it is safer to not have Little Sarah as the library helper because she has impulsive ADHD and may get lost in the hallway or forget what she was doing (or is it really because it would just be easier for you to not have to supervisor her so you will send the “responsible” student). Then there is the socially awkward student and wanted to be a “student leader,” but you think that a different student would be a better role model (the 'popular' student). By denying students these opportunities, you are discriminating against them and perpetuating the belief that there really is something wrong with Dragonflies.
We need to practice lessons we have learned from Dr. King: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character- that is the goal of true education."