Euphemism cannot hide the desperate plight of some children

Is this an acceptable face of collateral damage?

Is this an acceptable face of collateral damage?

I receive regular email updates from an organisation named Team Around the Child (TAC). These often provide useful information about new publications or events related to children with special educational needs, or those living in difficult circumstances. The TAC newsletter and other resources are managed by a man named Peter Limbrick. I have never met Peter, but certainly feel some affinity to his ideas and the commitment that he has given to keeping the needs of children and families in focus for all who care to listen to what he has to say.

Peter Limbrick is often referred to as an activist, working on behalf of children with disabilities and their families, and inevitably at times this places him in opposition, and even conflict with those authorities and policy makers who he perceives to be falling short of delivering effective support and services. Such campaigners are, in my opinion, essential if we are to avoid complacency with regards to the rights of children.

I usually find something of interest in the TAC newsletter, and when one arrived in my inbox yesterday I was not disappointed by its contents. I have made a note to seek out the details of a new DVD about the use of intensive interaction from Dave Hewett, which may well provide a useful teaching resource, and I forwarded details of a forthcoming conference on autism spectrum disorders to be held in New Orleans to some of my colleagues. As a source of such information, this newsletter is always welcome and I have on several occasions accessed useful teaching materials from this much appreciated newsletter.

Whilst the information contained in this latest edition was welcome, it was an item titled Collateral Damage – A Sorry Little Phrase, that grabbed my attention. Rather than announcing a new publication or resource, or highlighting a course or conference opportunity, this link took me to a personal reflection from Peter Limbrick which could well provide a useful source for debate. Limbrick opens this brief piece by stating that:

“The term ‘collateral damage’ is trotted out to make the death or damage of innocent people in conflict zones seem like an unfortunate inevitability. We are invited to think it is much the same as infirmity with old age and disturbed nights with a new baby. We don’t like it but we are persuaded it has to happen”.

He continues the article by suggesting that whenever there is armed conflict it is invariably the most vulnerable and innocent members of society who suffer most. He provides a harrowing example of a five year old child killed in a bombing raid, despite the fact that she and her family had no direct part to play in the conflict that brought about her early death, other than that of being yet another victim.

Limbrick suggests that by using the term collateral damage we are in fact accepting that such tragedies are an acceptable and inevitable part of life for families in war zones. The ways in which we define this term are almost always euphemistic, but Peter Limbrick offers an alternative view in which he suggests that we could well understand collateral damage as meaning

  • Parents who had children and now do not
  • Children who had parents but are now orphaned
  • Youngsters who had all four limbs and now have to manage without some of them
  • Babies, children, teenagers, adults and elderly people who had a complete brain and now have some of it missing
  • People whose skin used to be soft and smooth and is now burned all over and painful
  • Families broken apart, traumatised and displaced
  • Girls and boys who could see, hear, play, talk and sing – but now cannot

This is a chilling list, but sadly it is one that seems wholly appropriate at a time when I am sure children and families in many parts of the world are living in fear as their homes and communities find themselves in the front line of conflict. The debate about military action in Syria held in the UK Parliament last week was certainly to the forefront of my mind as I read Peter Limbrick’s words.

Peter Limbrick’s item in the TAC newsletter is brief and stark. I am sure that it could provide a useful stimulus for further debate, I am equally sure that it will ruffle more than a few feathers. Being located amongst other articles that provide a positive perspective on how greater support can be afforded to  children and families experiencing difficulties, I am struck by the juxtaposition of hope and despair on a page. Let us hope that the former overcomes the latter.

 

 

Only through a shared responsibility will inclusion work

Finding the right structure to support a child whilst considering the whole class. This is one of today's challenges

Finding the right structure to support a child whilst considering the whole class. This is one of today’s challenges

Wherever we work in pursuit of a more equitable education system teachers talk about obstacles. The barriers to inclusion have been constantly listed, and mulled over for as long as I can remember. Negative attitudes from teachers, lack of professional training, poor resourcing, insufficient time, these are recurring themes that arise whenever we discuss the need for change in schools. Blame culture also has a significant presence in this field. Teachers in that school aren’t interested, the government doesn’t invest, parents object to having these children in schools. Each of these is cited as a reason not to progress.

Working with a group of dedicated students here in Bangalore is a tremendous antidote to the negative expressions that we often hear. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their ability to focus on a task and see it through makes our job as tutors relatively easy. Today began with them looking at how structured teaching approaches could be developed in classrooms to support pupils who experience difficulties with learning. They designed visual timetables, analysed classroom environments, developed positive approaches to visual structure and shaped plans for pupils with a range of individual needs. Such is their commitment to the tasks we set that getting them to break for lunch is all but impossible.

The afternoon was occupied with a consideration of how schools might best collaborate with families and the local community to enhance the inclusion of all children. Rights and responsibilities were at the core of the discussion with students considering how empathetic approaches could be developed for the benefit of all parties. The ability to decentre and see the perspectives of others is an important skill for any teacher who wishes to promote inclusive teaching and learning, and these were certainly in evidence throughout this afternoon’s class. A statement of actions to be taken for the support of families was written by each group and related back to the principles they established earlier in the week.

A key to successful inclusion is most certainly the development of partnerships based upon shared responsibility. In our current market driven education systems it is easy to lose sight of the reason why most of us entered the teaching profession, which was founded upon a commitment to children and their families. The principles that our students have devised for the development of inclusive schools need to be kept at the forefront of our thinking in all that we do. Once we sacrifice our principles for material gain or influence and forget our responsibilities or the motivations that originally set us on our paths within education we are destined to build failing systems and to let down those for whom we have a responsibility. There will be times for sure when we are called upon to make a decision to either do that which is expedient, or that which is right. Let’s hope we have the courage to follow the correct path.

Having seen the way in which our students have participated and shared in learning this week I am convinced that they will move forward with a high regard for the principles they have established. I only hope that we as tutors and organisers of this course can live up to their high expectations.

 

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Structure for support of an individual and the benefit of us all

Structure for support of an individual and the benefit of us all