"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Worst and Best of Society

First the bad:

In the local news was a story of a high-speed car crash that killed three teenagers and injured two others. The girl who died was 13. She was drunk. She was pregnant. The uncle of one of those killed was filmed saying the police need to do a better job of patrolling that stretch of road.

Now the good:

I was at the public library and saw a teenage girl with microcephaly and her mother picking out books in the Young Adult section. Then the mother was choosing DVDs to borrow and asked the girl which of the ones she should pick; the girl chose one and her mother teased her about having a crush on the lead actor of the movie. If she had been born when I was, she might have spent her entire life in an institution. If she had been born in my parents' generation, she might've been sold to a circus. Now she's just a teenage girl.


Jordan Hanlon said...

I would agree, I'm constantly amazed at what people are capable of, both for good and for bad.

Diane said...

I read that same story about the teenagers in WI. I think they were "jumping hills" (i.e. I assume driving really fast trying to catch air"). And my jaw dropped when the article said 14 year old boy with his pregnant 13 year old girlfriend as if this was as normal as could be. I hadn't seen the quote from the uncle.

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

I get your overall point and I trust you'll understand that I am not merely being a dick¹ when I say your concluding line - "Now she's just a teenage girl" - though obviously well-intended, is a little facile ... because I'm pretty sure it's not that simple. Life for these kids is without a doubt getting much better, exponentially better than it was just a generation or two ago, as you point out. But that concluding line moves you dangerously close, analogically speaking, to the wingnut position: "Well black people used to be slaves; then they were subjected to Jim Crow in the South and de facto segregation in the North for a while ... I admit all that about our past ... but all of that is fixed now and racism is entirely a thing of the past in this country and so there's no reason for anyone to be calling for civil rights for minorities these days or for anti-discrimination laws, at least not on the federal level. States can handle it. Let's just let the same people in Alabama who solved the racism problem back in the 60s - you know: Wallace; Bull Connor - run things. Because woo-hoo! States Rights = Freedom!"

And I know it is not your intent to make an argument analogous to that².

Life for these kids, and their families, is still a challenge and a hardship, one that the rest of us can hardly imagine. But I do think the fact that our society has evolved - progressed - enough to make it possible for these kids to live with their families is massive. It's wonderful. Because as you point out, life as a freak show attraction was just two generations ago; institutionalization a mere generation ago.

At the library I was employed at previous to my present one, there was this other librarian who worked there who had a son with Down Syndrome; we also happened to live next door to a family that has a boy - now 19 - who has Down Syndrome (they are still our neighbors); and at that time, back in 1994, Harper's ran an essay by Michael Berube about his life with his Down Syndrome son. I don't know why I read this article; frankly, it's the very type I would normally have skipped. Quite possibly I read it only because of that colleague at the library and that neighbor kid. It was one of the most moving articles I ever read, because Berube makes some of the same points that you do about how a Down Syndrome kid would have been treated; and their doctor even said that this child, Jamie, would eventually have to be institutionalized. Berube's article was about how Jamie, whom they did not institutionalize, enriched their lives. It brought tears to my eyes numerous times. At the time, I pestered everyone I knew to read it, going so far as to Xerox it and place it in Teh 'Bride's hands because I knew she would love this moving story.

As far as I know, no one I recommended it to ever read it. Not even Teh 'Bride.

My overall point here being, yes, we've come very far when it comes to the issue of recognizing the humanity of people with disabilities. But it's an on-going struggle; we should never become complacent. There is still progress to be made in this area; and you always have to be ready to fight people (and their name is legion) who are constantly fighting to undo the progress that we've made thus far, in this and many other areas.

¹ "not merely" because, yes, I'm being a dick, but I'm also doing much, much more than that.

² I've taken a few liberties because, even analogically, you don't go that far. But when I see a chance to take a poke at wingnut "reasoning", I go for it and make no apologies.

SteveQ said...

@GQH: The girl I mentioned undoubtedly will never be able to live on her own (like most people with Down Syndrome) and that of course is a major problem for her, her family and society in general and I don't make light of it.

The point I hoped to make was the tremendous difference good parenting can make. The kids in the first story might have come to a bad end no matter what others did (there are some incorrigible people), but the uncle's comment suggesting that the police are solely responsible for keeping them out of trouble makes me think that those kids could've used a parent like the one in the second story.

Zach Bitter said...

Steve - As a Special Education I have learned all about the past practices with individuals with significant disabilities. It is amazing to see how much more "inclusion" there is today then in your parents day. It is embarrassing to think of how people were treated in the not to distant past (both special needs, and different race for that matter). It's like Glaven said, we still have progress to be made, and tough decisions to make but it's much less frustrating to at least see progress and understanding. I'm very glad you shared this story.