DSM: Re: Is democracy for everyone?

Alan Klein (Alan@klein.net)
Wed, 4 Aug 1999 09:07:55 -0400


I am curious as to how you have gotten the idea that democratic schools are
unwelcoming to those with special needs.

You remind me of a true story: In the mid 1970's, in Ann Arbor, I taught in
a school-within-a-school program that was not completely democratic, but was
the closest thing I have yet seen in a public school to it. We had about 60
kids from second through sixth grades all working and learning together. In
the middle of the year a mother (a lawyer) of a kid (Danny) who had CP and
was in a "special school" began "agitating" (as the school bureaucracy saw
it) for him to be mainstreamed. After a long spat with the school
psychiatrist and psychologist, our principal (who understood and supported
our program) suggested that Danny be placed in our group, which he was.

There were two vignettes that I remember most about his time with us, and
that you message recalled for me. In the first, on the first day he arrived
(he was larger than most of the kids, a little older than most, and used
crutches to get around) several kids were making animated 8mm movies (yes,
not videos!) They had marked off their work area by moving tables around in
a "corral" so that their camera and sets would not get disturbed. When Danny
saw this, they invited him to join them and he did by simply ditching his
crutches and crawling under the tables. So much for worries about how he
would be "integrated".

Scene II: A few days later, the occupational and physical therapists came by
to assess our readiness to accommodate Danny's special needs. Our rooms were
by no means orderly, which dismayed the therapists to no end. Finally, in
desperation, they asked, "What do you do with him at recess?" I was, for a
moment, unable to respond, since we didn't "do" anything with him...he
simply had recess. As luck would have it, it was recess time at that moment
and we were near a window overlooking the playground. (The kids were playing
a game called "Barrel Tag" in which they ran among several concrete drain
pipes that had been placed in an open cornered square. The game required one
to climb up on a barrel in order to be "safe". The kids had, of their own
initiative, modified the game so that Danny only had to be touching a
barrel.) I pointed out the window, explained the situation, and said,
"That's what we do with Danny at recess!"

Alan Klein

----- Original Message -----
From: rhonda goebel <rrands@chicago.avenew.com>
>seem to be excluded. If Sudbury serves as a model of democracy in
>action, does that mean that there is no place for some people with
>special needs in a democratic state?

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