During Lent we are offering a weekly blog written by Pullen members about their passions. The phrase “Passion of Jesus” has been used in Christian history to refer to the suffering of Jesus from his entrance into Jerusalem until his crucifixion. This makes sense because one definition of the word “passion” is to suffer. Yet another meaning of the term in English is strength of feeling.
So each Monday in Lent, a Pullen person is sharing in blog form something about which she or he is passionate. It is our hope that reading about the deep commitments of other Pullenites will enrich our own passions and our experience of this holy season.
-The Education Council
Why I’m Passionate about Inclusive Education
by: Yuki Puram
Six years ago, when my daughter Clare was born with Down Syndrome unexpectedly, I had to learn the world of disability very quickly. I had to learn medical conditions that could be associated with Down Syndrome. I had to learn about government social programs such as Medicaid or Early Intervention. I had to learn child development, which I had no knowledge of. After Clare was born, we had a team of people who tried to “normalize” Clare’s development. They tried to normalize how she ate, how she talked, how she crawled and how she walked while all the other babies were just simply playing. Although her team was dedicated to providing the best care for Clare, I couldn’t help feeling that people viewed her as somebody who was broken and needed to be fixed. In my eyes, however, she was perfect just the way she was…
When she turned three years old, we went into the world of special education. The way the special education system was set up really did not make sense to me. They segregate the children with disabilities from their peers so that they can be “normalized” to be integrated later in their lives. If they are segregated from their peers, how can they be normalized? By the way, what does it mean by “being normal”? All children are unique in their own way, and I think that is why they are so beautiful. They are still young and have not developed filters to hide their own uniqueness that God gave them. Clare has such a pleasant spirit and many Pullenites have commented that they enjoy watching her big smile as she exits the sanctuary during worship. Of course she is not perfect, but that is exactly why she needs to be with her peers learning how to follow directions, to be patient and to respect others. However, many people believe that children with disabilities do not belong in regular classrooms. This is mainly because people with disabilities used to be institutionalized up until 40 years ago. They used to be hidden from mainstream society, and people are not used to seeing them out in public.
Once I got to know the world of disabilities, however, I could not believe I was so blind to the huge civil rights issues for people with disabilities. They were segregated in schools as young as three years old, being sent to group homes away from their families and communities, and most of them are unemployed despite their willingness to work. That is why we founded a group called Advocates for Inclusive Education (AFIE). We need to set much higher expectations for students with disabilities so they can be contributing members of society. Through our advocacy efforts, we have learned that inclusive education is not only good for students with disabilities, but it also benefits students without disabilities. The studies show that students without disabilities in inclusive schools have higher academic growth than those in segregated schools. Of course non-academic benefits to students without disabilities are inevitable. They are more likely to be tolerant not only of people with disabilities, but also people of different races, genders, cultures and sexual orientations. They are more likely to be patient, kind and compassionate. I have personally witnessed this among students in Clare’s classrooms. I believe this is what we want to teach to our children. This is quality we want for our future leaders. What if we can all accept the fact that being different is normal? Perhaps that is the message that God is trying to send us through people with different abilities. Perhaps God sends children to this world to wake us up… the children who are perfect just the way they are. I know I am fortunate to have one of God’s precious children. It is an honor to get to call her my daughter.
Resource: AFIE website