Sunday, October 23, 2011

Seperate Schools for Special Kids

A couple years ago I watched a documentary about a gay-friendly public high school in New York City.  I thought the documentary was fantastic.  You felt for these poor kids who had been bullied at their previous school because they didn't fit the cultural norms for their gender.  Only about 60% of the kids featured in the documentary were gay/bisexual/transgender.  The other kids were straight but were bullied so severely in public schools that they didn't feel safe there.  Last week there was an article in Time Magazine about a similar school in Milwaukee and schools like it popping up all over the country.  Some people argue that special schools weren't needed twenty years ago and they weren't needed now.  They argue that by separating kids from bullies you are sheltering them from what they will have to deal with once they enter the real world.  Others argue that tax dollars shouldn't be used for a public school that caters to a section of the community that not everyone supports due to moral/religious conflicts.  I can understand arguments for and against these schools but I think they are an unfortunate necessity right now.

I am 35 years old.  I attended private school through 6th grade and public school for the rest of my education.  Like most kids I was bullied but not to an excessive amount.  There were times when I was a bully to other people but not to excess.  I never felt like I wasn't safe going to school.  I did witness kids being severely bullied.  There was Derrick, the black boy who was very clearly gay and deaf.  He wore a huge hearing aid and talked funny and that was just too much for some kids to take.  In high school the bullying was pretty bad.  Kids would mock his speech and his mannerisms.  They threw his stuff on the floor and kicked it around the halls.  At first Derrick would cry and yell when they did these things but after a few weeks he just tried to ignore them.  Derrick was a really funny kid and had a really unique sense of fashion that drew people to him.  Pretty soon Derrick was a popular kid with a large circle of friends.  The bullying never stopped but it became less severe when he stopped reacting.  It seems that the fun of bullying comes from making the other person cry/yell/fight back.  When people stop giving the bully the attention they need, they find someone else to bully who will. 

I wonder what would have happened to Derrick if the bullying didn't ease up over time.  If multiple times a day, every day through 4 years of high school he was severely bullied how long would he have lasted?  If Facebook and Twitter were around and people could continue to harass him online outside of school.  If text messages were sent to his phone non-stop telling him what an awful person he was and how people wished he were dead.  Would Derrick have been one of the kids who took his own life or dropped out of school rather than continue to deal with the bullying?  The only special schools that I knew about in our area were for kids with special needs (autism, down syndrome, etc.) and a lot of those kids eventually integrated into the mainstream public schools.   His single mom wasn't going to home school him.  She couldn't afford to send him to a private school (where he would have likely been bullied).  I don't know if I would have been able to make it through 4 years of this sort of bullying.

When you're a teenager everything is very dramatic and seems much worse than it is.  Once you become an adult, you look back at how things that seemed like such a big deal when you were a kid weren't at all.  Your boyfriend breaking up with you wasn't the end of the world.  You weren't going to die because that $5 box of hair dye turned your hair orange.  There were bigger things in life to deal with and you were amused at how dramatic you once were.  But when you're 15 you don't know that things will be better when you're 30.  All you know is that every day life if horrible and there doesn't appear to be any relief in site.  So maybe you give up because you just don't have the strength to fight any more.  Because no matter what you do, they won't leave you alone. 

What's wrong with sheltering these kids until they reach college or the work force? With providing them with an environment where they can learn and express themselves with no fear of bullying?  Once they reach college or the work force, sure there will be people that don't like them but there will also be people who are just like them and can help them cope or who don't care because they are busy living their lives.  I don't have any children but I pay a school tax.  I would rather not pay a tax bill that doesn't benefit me in any way but I recognize that kids going to school and getting an education benefits society as a whole.  My taxes pay for food stamps for kids who don't have the money to eat, for people who can't find jobs, for public housing, and hundreds of other programs that don't have anything to do with me.  Why shouldn't they pay to keep another kid from taking his own life at 13?  I don't care what any one's religious/moral beliefs are, no one should miss out on an education or die because they don't live their life exactly like someone else wants them to.  I hope one day society progresses to the point that these schools aren't necessary but until then I expect more of these schools to pop up. 

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