I sent out a tweet the other day. It was a little, innocuous retweet of a picture of a little girl, trying on her school uniform for the first time. In it, she is clapping her hands, as pleased as punch to be wearing a blue checked dress, her hair in a ponytail, shiny black shoes as neat as a pin. Clearly, her parents were pleased as punch too because they sent it out to some big hitters in the Down’s syndrome tweeterverse. I saw it and I was glad to share it with the many teachers with whom I am connected in a virtual sense.
It had a surprisingly large effect. To date, it has had 32 retweets (which is a lot for me), 90 people have saved it with little love-heart likes, there have been 8,672 impressions and 148 total engagements (whatever they are). I’m pleased, because I thought at the time, and I still think it this morning, that it is an important little tweet for people to see – and to notice the three, innocent sounding hashtags that follow. #inclusion #acceptance #school
You see, I too have been in the place of this mother. When my son was standing there, all togged up in his little school uniform, ready to take his first big steps away from my side (I don’t count the little ones at nursery, it was only two and a half hours anyway, hardly enough time to get there and back again and make a cup of tea in between) (if I was the sort to drink tea), I, too, was filled up with a sense of importance of what his entrance into mainstream school would mean.
You see, what I don’t think that many people understand, and why should they after all, is quite what it is like to be told that your child, the baby you hold in your arms, the one you have waited for, anticipated with such joy, is somehow less; a cause for concern. It’s a shock, I can tell you, and not a pleasant one, either. People who have not had this experience don’t know how it knocks you sideways, how long it takes to recover, to rebuild the life you thought you had lost.
And, again, what I think many people, many teachers, don’t understand is what an important role they play in regaining, reclaiming that stolen joy, in denying the less than and turning it on its head; the way that they can turn the role of the state from destroyer of dreams to healer and hope. They don’t understand, and there is no reason that they should, the importance of their symbolic role in the life of another.
But, and here’s the thing; what will happen when inclusion turns out to be less warm and fuzzy and more blood, sweat and tears? Will we blame the parents, for not telling the truth about their children, for carrying on in an irresponsible manner? Will we blame the children, for being too disabled, too needy, too naughty, dangerous, even? Will we, instead of examining a system that fails to put in place proper and adequate support, for teachers, for families, for children, blame everyone but ourselves and throw inclusion out of the window?
I do not wish to peddle a kind of warm and fuzzy inspiration that has little effect and no lasting value, for, while the smiling faces of cute little children with Down’s syndrome and tales of inclusion might make us feel good in the moment, will they help when the going gets tough? It might be enough for me, because I am driven by more than a moral imperative, but will it be enough for you?