To Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the National Education Association…an explanation.
For those of you reading this who don’t know, Lily Eskelsen Garcia – President of the National Education Association (NEA) – made a speech recently in which she made a few jokes. In fact, she breathlessly rattled off a list of things teachers do, including “diversify our curriculum and instruction to meet the personal and individual needs of all of our students.” Sounds nice…but then she begins to list some of those needs and she includes the “blind, hearing impaired, physically challenged, gifted and talented, the chronically tarded and medically annoying…”
There are some people charging that that last part was meant to be “chronically retarded and medically annoying.” Evidently Garcia has clarified that she meant to say “chronically tardy” and that she was referring to kids who are very annoying, but lovable. Hmmm…
There has been a Twitter backlash over this and honestly I’m on board with it. I might be able to buy that she meant to say “chronically tardy,” and perhaps she is talking about annoying kids who are just lovable little skamps…but I’m still not amused. In fact, I’m more inclined to see this as a Freudian slip than a simple misunderstanding. I’d like to explain why.
Whatever your intention, your joke is not funny to those of us with medically fragile children. It is not funny when we have had to fight to the point of exhaustion for our child’s rights. I’m sorry to say that I am more than familiar with teachers who find my child’s medical needs to be annoying. I have had school administrators lie to me about what services are available for my child. I have had teachers become irritable and insulting when faced with making accommodations for my child – and we’re not talking about anything disruptive here, we’re talking about providing an alternate location for a speech or sending a test to a separate room – things that are absolutely transparent to the other kids and not in any way disruptive. I have had to listen to a school administrator suggest that perhaps if my very intelligent child is that sick, she doesn’t belong in Honors Math with the other kids.
The sad lesson we’ve learned is that we can’t really trust our schools to do their best for our children. We don’t attend any meeting without an expensive advocate by our side. We’ve actually had to go into debt to make sure the people who are getting paid by our tax dollars are doing the job they are supposed to be doing and not trying to pull a fast one. And while that might make me laugh ironically while shaking my head, your jokes and accidental attitude-reveals do not.