by Adelaide La Blanche-Dupont
Education is an important part of putting "The Social Model of Disability" into practice, because it is the first place that we see that everybody is different from the family and friends that we usually hang around with. It is also the place where impairments, visible or hidden, are recognised or even further hidden, or sometimes even exaggerated to fit the criteria that will get you the most help. And it is a place that helps us to fulfil the developmental tasks that make us satisfied and happy human beings-or end up treating us like animals or aliens with no self-esteem.
I only entered the British education system when I was 10 years old, after my brother's death and my parents' divorce, two events that made me realise that I could not live in France (where I come from) any longer. Also, my father made fairly significant losses in the 1987 stock market crash. So I don't know about the infant and junior schools, nor about the LEAs. What I do know about is being an overseas student, a role that comes with its own privileges and responsibilities. I also know about using technology to perform at my best. I am a proficient computer user and used to frequently tutor my peers and co-operate and compete with them.
I know about perfectionism and compensation and comparing yourself with other people, knowing that you're different from them and might never be like them. I also know about getting along with friends and teachers and those who are meant to help you. Also about assessment and criteria procedures in everything from psychology to sport. Physical education was my worst subject, and the subject of a lot of my frustrations in my educational life. I can watch sport but not always play it.
Academically I am considered fairly brilliant. I earned 8 A-level GSCEs in 1995: English, Maths, Science, Computers, Art, Music, Drama and Phys Ed. I got As for all these except for Maths for which I earned a C. I was accepted into Cambridge University (Kings College) when I was 17 years old, and have graduated this year (2001). Yet I could never be considered just a boring swot. I participated in lots of activities, particularly Youth Leadership which is a public speaking course, and our recorder production in December 1995. I played the part of Mary.
Yet I only got my place at Cambridge Public because a sixth-former with learning difficulties and an aide was leaving, leaving room for an 0.6 position in 1989, when I arrived in Britain on February the 3rd. The school was then relatively large in its area-it had 300 students as opposed to the present 150 students. The problems with student enrolment really began in 1992, when there were budget cuts which meant changes of teachers and composite forms-which meant I did not see my boyfriend, but his brother in the new class.
At my school we really worked on literacy and numeracy skills, as well as creative things, and sport, sport and more sport. We had associations with a technical school and we got to see plays and do dancing. We had a general purpose room and two buildings one for the juniors and one for the seniors. The school at present is in one stone building, and the newer building is red-brick. It started in 1963, and when I was in the fourth form we celebrated the 30th anniversary. Also we had celebrations for Book Week and special Football days for fundraising. Both the Parent Club and School Council were really big, and my parents got onto the subcommittees to make benefits for all the students, particularly the Integration sub-committee which serves to assist pupils with disabilities and impairments. The curriculum was essentially integrated and we didn't move from teacher to teacher except in specialist subjects like Art and Library Skills.
The other students who were my contemporaries had visible disabilities like cerebal palsy and Down's syndrome, whereas I was put down as a behaviour problem and seriously emotionally disturbed. (Moi?). Now that was really strange, I could not understand it. I had problems with my behaviour because I could not communicate, and not being able to communicate meant social problems. I think, as well as my hearing impairment and brain injury, there was an element of "Bloody overseas students!" in where I was put. Serious problems do mean serious help in this country, and I was sent an unqualified aide, who happened to be a friend of my step-aunt and married to an Italian. She had two grown-up daughters and now considers me a third daughter. However, we had to go through several stages in our relationship to go through this point. She could have been taken away for any number of reasons, or I could have been institutionalised. There are 12 autistic institutes in the Cambridge and East Anglia area, and I would have learnt a new meaning to the term "permanent resident". I could be put in one for each year I have been in this country as a student. But fortunately I was not.
When I came to England I didn't know the meaning of a whole lot of words and concepts, so much so that everyone thought I had comprehension deficits all the way across the line. I was in fact a very competent, independent reader, but again because of my brain injury, my verbal and reasoning skills weren't as good. I could not tell what things were made out of what, nor what they would be made into. My judgement and explaining abilities are somewhat impaired. I used the computer to help me develop logical skills in writing and other areas. I was also very good at maths for the first two years at least, and was well-read on many academic subjects. The reality is that I could not really show what I understood or knew in what was a socially acceptable way.
I have learnt now to give such concepts as "normal", "appropriate" and "acceptable" the push over they deserve, and to advocate for what works for me. However for six years and more meetings regarding my education became a source of excessive anxiety and dread, because I never knew for what I would be judged and evaluated.
Adelaide La Blanche-Dupont
4th January 2001
Education and Technology-part 2 >>>
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