Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Being Special

The word “special” has more than one meaning. If we say it in a positive tone, in a sentence such as “This is going to be a very special occasion!” it means something very different than when spoken in a mocking tone with air quotes “Oh, you’re so special!” as a teen might mock another.

My high school, years ago, had a “special” alternative program that general ed. students referred to as “Apple Pie High”. Of course this title was a form of mocking, suggesting that the students who attended were not intellectually or emotionally capable and to be discounted in some way. I never knew well anyone who attended there and I certainly would never have wanted to attend such a program had I had access. My attitude reflected what existed then as does still today, a de facto stigma against differences and particularly with regard to mental health issues. We haven’t in reality made much progress in the last 35 years.

In order to avoid the social stigma directed at students attending the alternative program, I worked hard to hide my own undiagnosed learning disability. Through heroic efforts, I was able to maintain reasonable grades and make it through my classes. My knowledge of the degree of effort I had to expend, contributed to my low self-esteem, which I lived with for years as I clawed my way to my bachelor’s degree and into my first jobs.

My saving grace in high school came in the form of “The Lunch Group”, a sweet, quirky, geeky group of kids to whom the students at Bridge bear a remarkable resemblance. These were the social outcasts. They were also the kids who would later become physicists, engineers, doctors, research scientists, musicians, etc. I found that although they could be very silly, and awkward, they tended to be incredibly intelligent and creative and I enjoyed their company immensely. I didn’t need them to dress according to the mid-70’s social convention for high schoolers. They didn’t need to act like the herd to earn my respect. With them I found acceptance and discovered a little self-appreciation because they appreciated me. To me, these kids were special indeed.

I bring all this up because I see Bridge as a very special place. Poorly understood, quirky, awkward, bright, creative sweet kids, come together for education and for the solace that comes from being with others who understand. Maybe some or perhaps all have suffered at the hands of others who’ve missed their qualities- haven’t seen beyond the awkwardness or missing social polish or the anxiety of being overwhelmed or bullied. Why do these kids need a small school of their own? Maybe the students at Bridge are more sensitive than the kids in “The Lunch Group”. Perhaps the local school programs here and now are less inclusive and supportive of such students than was my school. It could be that my high school was much smaller than are current middle schools and high schools. Certainly we now have large classes and overcrowded schools. Whatever combination of factors contribute to the problem, the students at Bridge need an educational home and place to be socially accepted just as much as I did.

To me a special school like Bridge is a place where kids who might otherwise be denied an academic and a social education elsewhere, have a fighting chance.

No comments:

Post a Comment