Monday, May 4, 2015

Let's have special ed students do the football team's laundry. Wait, what?!


Sometimes, you read or hear about something done to a child with special needs and all you can think is, How is it possible anyone could think that's OK? And it makes you despair that it is 2015 and there are people out there still treating kids with disabilities like it's 1955.

This is one of those things.

Michelle is mom to Kayla, a fifth grader with Down syndrome, and Lucas; she writes the popular blog Big Blueberry Eyes. As I read her Friday post, I could practically feel my blood pressure rise.

Kayla's headed to middle school next year, and Michelle and her husband checked out the self-contained classroom. She found a few things disconcerting, the top one being the use of the washer dryer in the classroom (it used to be the room for Home Ec, which the school no longer offers). As part of a "life skills" program, the students occasionally wash the football team's uniforms during class time. The school considers this a "win-win."

Mind: blown. This is utterly demeaning As Michelle noted, "Why is this acceptable? How is this appropriate?"

To be sure, our kids need to learn life skills to enable them to be independent adults. Yet Michelle raises valid questions about whether doing laundry even belongs in a middle school curriculum, let alone limiting it to students with special needs. For sure, these students do not need to learn to be subservient. Look at it this way: If a school-wide home ec program still existed that included doing laundry, would other students be washing the football team's uniforms? N-O.

What message does it send to these kids that they're cleaning their peers' dirty clothes? What message does this send to the football team and the rest of the student body about them?

However well intentioned the initiative may be, it is regressive and repressive. There is no reason a school should be treating kids with special needs like second-class students.

Image: Flickr/darrylh

31 comments:

  1. This is so disturbing. It only perpetuates the social ladder existent in middle and high schools.

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  2. If their idea of "inclusion" is some kind of postmodern Bantu education (Apartheid times), what does it say about the place people with disabilities have in society? I'm sure this would be quickly recognized as unfair if it was students of a certain race or religion doing the football team's laundry.

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    1. Very true. This is just completely wrongheaded, on many levels.

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  3. Thanks for sharing. There are also many high schools that have students with disabilities do the recycling. Learning how to wash clothes could be something that all students are taught. There's no valid reason why this task should fall just to the students with disabilities.

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    1. I know. Michelle mentioned hearing about students with special needs cleaning up the cafeteria or picking up trash.

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  4. One group of students shouldn't be servants for another group of students, period.

    --Phyl

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  5. I just read your piece in the May issue of All You. The one where you detail staying up late trying to fix a toy your 10 year-old broke because of carelessness. Maybe she would've learned her lesson (things can break!) albeit late in the game, if your neurosis hadn't swooped in. My parents both worked full-time, physically demanding jobs while raising five kids. We weren't coddled & I thank God for that. We knew the world didn't revolve around us & we accepted the consequences of our actions. As a speech pathologist, I'd like to shake some basic sense into all the helicopter parents I come in contact with. I've observed a marked shift over the past 10 years or so, with seemingly intelligent adults babying their kids into absolute brats. Being a "Hero Mommy" as you so aptly put it, doesn't help your child - IT HURTS THEM. Good luck to the man she'll depend on to fill that crutch of a role when she's grown. Maybe you should start considering how to foster long-term happiness instead of sacrificing sleep to provide instant gratification. It will benefit the both of you.

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    1. Congratulations. You totally missed the point of her post.

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    2. Your criticisms are irrelevant. This was the one thing she could do for Sabrina and only her, to show love to her, which far supersedes fostering responsibility. A parent's love should be unconditional, not limited to "I'll love you if you're responsible" or "if you're productive". Sometimes, these instant acts are what it takes to display such love. Not everything needs to be "for the long run".

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  6. To anonymous above: Why did you choose to post that comment here? Wouldn't it more appropriate to share your critical and judgemental thoughts via the comments section of the May Issue of All You? Your comments are completely unrelated to the post here and offer nothing in the way of furthering a conversation or sharing a different point of view. You simply spout criticism and espouse your way of thinking as the only, right, and correct way.

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    1. I don't get it, either, and she seems to have entirely missed the point of my piece (which was based on this post: http://www.lovethatmax.com/2015/01/attack-of-shell-creature-true-tale-of.html). Can you imagine working with a speech pathologist who is this judgmental and critical?! Wow. I pity the parents who have to deal with her.

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  7. Oh.......and as for the actual post.....that's horrible! The messages sent are appalling! Our kids are only good enough to wash the DIRTY clothes of the kids who really matter?? What an awful sentiment to express, even it might have been unintentional, it should have been recognized and stopped by someone at the school.

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    1. Sadly, they seem to have some other retro approaches to kids with special needs, see Michelle's post....

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  8. My eldest child (who does not have special needs) took a fun elective class in junior year called "On Your Own"
    They learned to do some cooking, make a household budget, clean and tidy up and yes do laundry--they did their own gym clothes, sweatshirts, towels etc
    He lives in a dormitory setting now and that class has been very beneficial to him
    I would be delighted if Addie could be taught to clean up, make a sandwich and do some of her own laundry
    Her school is determined she learn reading, writing and arithmetic
    Nothing wrong, IMHO, of some practical education

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    1. For me, the difference is that your child took what you called a 'fun, elective' class. It was an elective so any student at the school could choose to take that class. In this situation it is one class of only students with disabilities who are learning to do this laundry, it isn't being offered up for the rest of the school to use the washer and dryer.

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    2. Exactly, Michelle. Mary, as I noted in the post, our kids do need to learn life skills. But there is a BIG difference between learning them and acting as their peers' servants.

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    3. Mary L SullivanMay 4, 2015 at 1:47 PM

      Ellen--it says they occasionally wash the team uniforms which leads me to believe the rest of the time they are probably washing the dishtowels, table cloths etc which are used in the food preparation class--there is nothing wrong with this
      I don't see how occasionally helping out a school team is any different than the kids helping out selling programs, food and beverages at a school event
      I am sure Addie would enjoy doing these things if she were able and permitted to do so
      I think sometimes the special needs community is too quick to take offense and looks down on jobs like bussing tables, cleaning up etc which is what our Yalie will be doing this summer

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    4. I don't see how discrimination and menial labor are practical skills. This is postmodern bantu education, not the school's life skills program.

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  9. Is it even appropriate to teach 11 year olds how to do laundry, unless your last name is Duggar? When I was that age, I helped my mom sort socks out of the dryer, and fold things, but I didn't do laundry. I guess I was coddled. And you know what? My mom still thinks the world revolves around me and my brother, and we both turned out just great!

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    1. That's how I feel, too, - at 11 that's not what I want her to worry about. She, and her 7 yr old brother, put their clothes away, and eventually we work up to doing the laundry. But it's not something I want her doing at school.

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    2. Mary L SullivanMay 4, 2015 at 1:28 PM

      Addie's brother was 16 when he took the class---it was nearly all male students--I guess the girls could have selected it too but as I recall a lot of them took dancing or art instead
      Addie will be 13 this week and it would not be inappropriate for her to be taught some practical skills
      I realize I can buy her a box of soap powder and teach her to rinse them out in the sink but there is no reason her school cannot offer electives too---she is going to be there until age 21

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    3. I learned to cook during home ec starting at 5th grade and do laundry (thanks grandma) about the same time. I am forever grateful that I learned these life skills early and was able to help out around the house as I got older. And when I became an adult I was more than able to take care of myself. I am all about teaching tweens and teens (as their abilities allow) some life skills at home and in school. However, I think the school could have approached it better. It is one thing to have the class prepare a meal and then have them wash the towels they use. And quite another to have them wash the football teams laundry.

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  10. One of the spec. ed. classes at our high school does laundry as part of life skills and job training, however they do laundry for a local business and they are paid.

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  11. I've always wondered why Home Economics classes were pushed aside. I graduated High School in 1995. My graduating class was the last to have the option to take Home Ec electives, which I took in addition to AP English, Science & History classes and loved. I learned how to meal plan, cook those meals, balance a check book (a skill my younger sister still does NOT have) basic sewing and -GASP- how to do laundry!! We practiced on all of our sports teams uniforms. It didn't make me feel like a second class citizen, I was learning a life skill and it was easier than bringing in dirty laundry from home. Did our teams benefit? Sure. But so did I, my parents didn't own a washer/dryer we sent our laundry out a local laundry mat to be done. Thanks to that class I saved a ton on laundry as a college student and young adult. I think the better question is: Why aren't ALL our kids given the chance to learn these skills? Sports stars included...

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    1. Because schools are responsible for imparting academic knowledge in kids -- not cooking, cleaning, laundry-washing or attempting to parent kids (OMG, don't even get me started on the "teaching of emotional regulation").

      There aren't nearly enough hours in the day to teach kids academic stuff... let alone non-academic stuff!!

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    2. Schools are responsible for educating our young people to ensure they are able to function in society and take care of themselves as adults. To successfully do that so much more than academics needs to be included. I suppose you think things like Drama, Art, Music, Sports, Student Government, Dances and the myriad of other clubs and activities schools provide shouldn't be offered? They do take away from the "three R's"

      I don't remember saying that schools should parent in my previous post, but since you brought it up: If parents parented better in general maybe they wouldn't have to? Are you involved with education at all? Have you ever tried to teach 20+ kids (all at slightly different levels and coming from different back rounds) at once? Not easy to begin with, even harder when they are out of control monsters. So yes, in some ways just to get through the day the teacher has to "parent."

      That said, what good is all the education in the world if you don't know how to feed and keep yourself clean? I don't know where you live but there are plenty of kids in my area that that do not have parents that are able (or in too many sad cases, willing) to teach them life skills like the ones I learned in Home Ec. I don't for a second think that only children with special needs belong in these classes, on the contrary I think EVERY kid belongs in these classes. I think perception is way too skewed on this topic. I would love to go to the school mentioned in the original post and ask the kids in the class how they feel about doing the football team's laundry. I'd also like to see first hand if the kids on the football team even knew who did the laundry because my guess is they have no idea. The adults in this situation are jumping to conclusions based on their own life experiences, not on what they know about the situation first hand...Which is nothing...Because they read about it in blog posts.

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  12. It's beyond appalling and inappropriate to use middle schoolers with disabilities as, effectively, unpaid labor for the football team... or anybody else!

    It's also distressing that a MIDDLE SCHOOL would write off 10 year olds as having no academic potential!

    My 25 yo niece is awesome and just happens to have Down syndrome -- and a job she adores at Walgreens. She is also dyslexic... so didn't become a fluent reader until she was about 13. I'd hate to think how much more limited her opportunities would have been -- for work, for reading for pleasure, for independent living -- had her school written her off at 10.

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  13. I agree. There are better ways to teach life-skills

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  14. I'd be interested to know what the kids in the class think of this. Also, how do the team members act? Do they treat the "special" kids as their personal slaves (bad), or are they not even aware of who's doing the laundry, and just think that the school takes care of it (much more ok)?

    Basically, if no one but these kids and their teachers know they are doing the laundry, I'd file it under life skills. If they're the punch line of jokes because they're seen as the "clean up" crew, that's a very different situation. -Alyssa

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Thanks for sharing!



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