Pupil Idol

24 May

I’m a big fan of the original reality TV show Big Brother. Shameful to admit but true.

But I utterly hate Pop Idol (American Idol) and all those utterly vacuous shows where Simon Cowell is paid to crush people whilst the chavs of the UK and the rednecks of the US yuck it up.

And look what its spawned: Pupil Idol:

Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son’s kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class.

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn’t like about Barton’s 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.

By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.

I’m going to rant and swear quite a lot now so if you’re not into that I apologise.

What the *fuck* is going on when a _teacher_ – an educator (allegedly) is allowed to humiliate, segregate and bully a five year old boy? Is this America? Or os this America?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Which is it?

I really like America and Americans. I like the fact their speech truly is free. I like the fact that they are proud of their (admittedly short) heritage. I like the fact above all that Jews, Hindu’s, Christians, Asians (near and far east), Hispanics and good old WASP’s (as well as a multitude of others) all mix together and produce America. That rocks.

This doesn’t. This is the underside. This is a country that has allowed five year old children to _vote off_ a fellow five year old (who happens to be autistic) like he was a contestant in a frigging game show.

I would just like to say in the strongest possible terms that it is my considered opinion that the teacher, the school system and the community that allowed this to happen are scum with no redeeming features.

57 Responses to “Pupil Idol”

  1. “By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.”

    That is fucking evil!

    Nothign less. Just plain frigging evil.

    “What the fuck is going on when a teacher – an educator (allegedly) is allowed to humiliate, segregate and bully a five year old boy?”

    Like I said… evil.

  2. Bunny May 25, 2008 at 00:00 #

    The huge increase in autism diagnoses over the past few years has led some teachers and school personnel to conclude that “autism” (and especially “Asperger’s) is the new politically correct name for “bratty,” and that certain parents secure this “diagnosis” for their child in an effort to excuse their own bad parenting. My guess is that Wendy Portillo is a teacher who thinks this way.

  3. ebohlman May 25, 2008 at 01:00 #

    This really reminds me of the faddish (and often harmful) aspects of the 1970s “human potential” movement, with nonsense like “encounter groups” and “primal scream therapy.” But at least the participants in those festivities were adults there of their own volition.

  4. Ammey & mikel kohen May 25, 2008 at 02:55 #

    Soooo unbelievably yucky. I find it hard to comprehend that they found this was not emotionally abusive. Unfortunately, this is just a small glimpse into the ugly attitude many general ed teachers have toward higher functioning kids on the spectrum.
    I hear remarks so frequently about my 2 sons that the rampant ignorance of genral ed teachers does not shock me anymore.
    I hope that this gets as much media and legal coverage as possible to bring some much needed change to the public special education system.

  5. Diane May 25, 2008 at 03:27 #

    So, Kev, I was just coming back to continue our little “tete a tete” (your words, not mine), but this entry both caught my eye and proved my point. And this is KINDERGARTEN. Guess what happens when they turn 12? Or 21? Or 31? You think this kid is happy right now? Do you think he’ll be happy as he struggles through life trying desperately to fit in all the while holding on to the fact that his peers in kindergarten wouldn’t even let him stay in class? For the record, I am a teacher in a school that teaches grade 1 through 5. We have three children with autism in the first grade. Each child in the class was asked to write one wish on a paper. John wished for a play date.

    Do you get it now? All the autism activists in the world are not going to make a 6 year old invite a kid to their house to play if the inviter sees the invitee as odd.

  6. Joseph May 25, 2008 at 03:32 #

    One thing’s for sure, Diane. If your daughter is ever “voted out” of school, who do you think is going to come to her defense? The Autism Hub types or the AoA types?

    Also, I completely disagree with your apparent take that it’s the child’s fault that he was disliked.

  7. Bev May 25, 2008 at 03:36 #

    Diane,
    Children are not born full of prejudice and hate. Children brought up around people with disabilities learn the value of inclusion and diversity. Having adults in their lives who are not bigoted and cruel but instead encourage acceptance of others does make a difference. People like Wendy Portillo not only support the status quo, but make things worse. How dare you use this as some sort of “proof” of your views? What did you do for the child who asked for a play date? Helping kids understand differences is not so hard. It just requires being a bit more mature and enlightened than they are.

  8. Island girl May 25, 2008 at 04:36 #

    For what it’s worth. If there was a situation where a group of emotionally and physically healthy normal parents needed to vote one unhealthy parent off “the island,” It’s my opinion that Diane or anyone of her fellow antivaccine parents would be the one to get shoved into the dinghy, followed by much relief from the remaining parents.

  9. Sullivan May 25, 2008 at 06:09 #

    Diane may want to read “Unstrange Minds”. There is a nice description of how children in one autistic girl’s class came to protect her over time. It describes how the parents of the typical kids found that her presence in the class helped to make the typical kids better people.

    Guess what happens when they turn 12? Or 21? Or 31?

    A lot depends on what the parents of the other (typical) kids teach them.

    Sorta the point here.

  10. Kev May 25, 2008 at 06:18 #

    I genuinely feel pity for you Diane if that is your interpretation of this situation.

  11. Schwartz May 25, 2008 at 08:12 #

    I’m amazed that some people think that the behaviour written about here is acceptable.

    Island Girl,
    Why would you assume people who diagree with you on some aspects of Autism or vaccines support the behaviour of the teacher?

    That teacher was ignorant and incompetent among other things. I highly doubt anyone is going to support those actions.

  12. Jen May 25, 2008 at 10:54 #

    I was ill when I read that article- I can’t believe that the teacher still has her job.

    The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network has contact information for all of the people involved, and are encouraging people to express their outrage (http://www.autisticadvocacy.org/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=28)by contacting the appropriate school authorities (politely).

    I can’t even express how unacceptable I think this is, so I’ll steal Kevin’s words and just use “fucking evil”.

  13. Bunny May 25, 2008 at 12:36 #

    Diane,

    Are you forgetting that it’s not just kids with autism who are excluded and shunned? “Normal” kids are routinely picked on (and not invited to playdates!) for having crappy clothes, or for being a different race from the majority of the class, or for being fat. What do you propose we do for those kids? Cry? Cure them?

    Maybe listen to Dolly Parton’s song “Coat of Many Colors” to understand that we don’t have to all be the same in order to be happy. Even if a child is “lacking” socially, he can still live a good life if he is supported by those around him. And that includes his kindergarten teacher.

  14. Diane May 25, 2008 at 13:16 #

    “One thing’s for sure, Diane. If your daughter is ever “voted out” of school, who do you think is going to come to her defense? The Autism Hub types or the AoA types?

    Also, I completely disagree with your apparent take that it’s the child’s fault that he was disliked.”

    Joseph — I think here is where you (probably collectively) do not understand that the Autism Hub and the AoA types are inherintly the same: They both want to protect their children. Additionally, IN NO WAY did I or do I believe that its the child’s fault that he was disliked. Autism is not a child’s fault (or a parent’s fault).

    “I genuinely feel pity for you Diane if that is your interpretation of this situation.”

    Kev – WRONG, again. That is not my interpretation of the situation. The teacher was at fault and I am fully aware of that. If I was an administrator in that building, I would take action against that educator for screwing with the welfare of a child. My point was connected to our back and forth on the other post….I want children…mine, yours and every other one, to be happy and make choices and autism puts a child at a severe disadvantage in that arena. But you constantly have a way of turning other people’s stuff around to support your attack mode.

  15. Diane May 25, 2008 at 13:41 #

    ” How dare you use this as some sort of “proof” of your views? What did you do for the child who asked for a play date? Helping kids understand differences is not so hard. It just requires being a bit more mature and enlightened than they are. ”

    Bev — Don’t use the “how dare you” shit with me. I am not a child. And your use of quotation marks around the word proof illustrates that this is your word (interpretation) which is status quo for many of those who comment over here.

    Additionally….what did I do for the child who asked for a play date? NOTHING. Would you care to know why? (I’m nauseous that I’m even taking the time to spell this one out for you.) I am not his teacher and other than playful interactions in the hallway I do not see or service this child. Additionally, his parents do not want anyone to know (and that includes me) that he has autism. I was already raked over the coals for talking to his parents about this because they see it as a breach of confidentiality that I even know. I am also a teacher in the school, not the after-school social director. At the end of the day I go home to my own children. So there. Are you happy Bev? And if you’re not, keep it to yourself.

  16. Kev May 25, 2008 at 14:30 #

    Diane, I strongly suggest you take a time out. You’re not making any sense at this juncture.

    Further, please do not have the temerity to tell other commenters how to behave on my blog. If we were on your blog then I’d extend you the same courtesy.

    Now, to my comment and your response.

    It wasn’t _autism_ that put this child at a disadvantage, it was the teacher concerned.

    I think your approach is skewed. Can you imagine Emily Pankhurst not wanting to rock the boat and wishing for a cure for femaleness so she didn’t have to stand out any more?

    I’m not suggesting this little boy is any kind of activist but I am trying to get you to realise that what this little boy is – an autistic child – isn’t a question of _fault_ – its simply his reality. To suggest that it is _his_ reality that is at fault here is ridiculous.

    If he wasn’t autistic would he be getting this treatment? Probably not. The question then is – is the answer to that to make him not autistic or to make the others involved learn about human tolerance and realise their mistake?

  17. Joseph May 25, 2008 at 14:33 #

    You did say this Diane:

    “Do you get it now? All the autism activists in the world are not going to make a 6 year old invite a kid to their house to play if the inviter sees the invitee as odd.”

    What if the inviter sees the kid as odd because the kid acts gay? How would you feel about it then Diane? I don’t think I’m describing an impossible scenario here.

  18. Bev May 25, 2008 at 15:48 #

    Thank you, Kev. Sometimes I forget how much I really dislike banging my head against a brick wall. Not the first time I’ve been told to shut up. Autism really is none of my business, you know. I’ve heard a lot of that lately. I have to have things spelled out for me. Don’t think I’ve told you lately how much I appreciate all you do. Thanks for allowing me to speak here, along with the popular kids.

  19. Oldfart May 25, 2008 at 16:11 #

    “who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism”

    Sorry guys. That phrase has no meaning. Does it mean “he has autism, we know that and we are gonna prove it by diagnosis?” If it said “was being tested for possible autism”, that would make sense. If the first case is true, then you are all guilty of the worst woo. If the second case is true, then there is the possibility that he does not have any form of ASD and is just a spoiled brat.

    That being said, even a spoiled brat should not be kicked out of class. In fact, that teacher should be looking for a new job right now. And “shunning” is as much an American characteristic as it is a British characteristic. We may have a short history but we can link most of it to your history.

  20. Bink May 25, 2008 at 16:19 #

    This story is breaking my heart. I cannot find (polite) words to express my feelings about that teacher.

    In my own experience, I have found that having the teacher hold a little teach-in about autism for the kids in class, and reading them a book like “My Friend With Autism,” has always made a huge, huge difference in how the other children have treated my child. Children can be very loving and accepting if they understand what is going on. Otherwise, they assume the autistic child can control his behaviors and is simply “getting away with” things.

    Bev, thanks for your input here. It is so vital for those of us trying to lovingly raise autistic children to hear and respect the views of autistic adults.

  21. Catherina May 25, 2008 at 18:41 #

    Oldfart,

    I personally know two boys who were unambiguously on the autistic spectrum, however, it took several years in both cases to get them the proper diagnosis.

  22. Kassiane May 25, 2008 at 19:02 #

    This story is just so…infuriating, really.

    It doesn’t surprise me that certain parents are twisting what happened to this little boy to say “this is why we need a cure”. I guess I’ve been around the autism world too long if I’m that jaded, huh? It isn’t about that, it’s about cruelty. If Alex had been voted out of class for a visible disability, or for being a racial minority, everyone would be having a shitfit.

    The authorities really need their heads examined if they need to stop and think what they’re going to do, and this so called teacher should consider herself very lucky that the Bartons have so much restraint. Some parts of the country it doesn’t go to court, you just take it outside.

  23. Joseph May 25, 2008 at 20:41 #

    William: I think we’re all adults here. Also, disagreements are not attacks. You might choose to see it that way, but I don’t see anything I’ve said at least as an attack.

    In fact, I don’t believe your claim that I attacked Diane is true, and you’d be hard pressed to demonstrate your statement.

    Some points have been made. If Diane wishes to have a discussion, she can start by addressing those points. Claiming that she’s been “attacked” is not a satisfactory response, in my view.

  24. Bev May 25, 2008 at 20:45 #

    Bullying is wrong. Bullying of a child by an adult is wrong. An adult encouraging children to bully another child is wrong.

    Is this the “accepted groupthink?”

    One would hope so.

    Using these wrongs as an example of why autism (or any other minority characteristic)is itself a bad thing misses the point entirely. That includes not having their stories twisted into sick examples of how imperfect they are.

    People with disabilities and other types of differences have a right to exist and to be treated with respect. Just like anyone else.

  25. Bev May 25, 2008 at 20:47 #

    Edit: Last line of paragraph 4 in my previous comment should have been last line of paragrpah 5.

  26. mike stanton May 25, 2008 at 20:53 #

    Christschool has done a masterful job of compiling draft letters of complaint to the authorities and the media over at Thinking in Metaphors. Anyone who wants to use them please let Christschool know and also forward copies to ASAN who are trying to coordinate responses.

  27. Oldfart May 25, 2008 at 22:11 #

    “personally know two boys who were unambiguously on the autistic spectrum, however, it took several years in both cases to get them the proper diagnosis.”

    How could that be? You can suspect they were on the autistic spectrum but you cannot say they were unambiguously on the autistic spectrum until you have a diagnosis….. Unless you have some other meaning for the word diagnosis than the normal one. That word “proper” suggests that you “knew” the diagnosis ahead of time by some means beyond normal diagnosis. Laying on of hands, perhaps? Who knows? Suppose the final diagnosis had been something else other than what you “knew” to be the proper diagnosis?

  28. Kev May 26, 2008 at 07:00 #

    Oldfart – getting an autism diagnosis _is_ a process. In the UK it can take anything between 2 weeks to a few months.

    William – do you have a point to make or are you just trolling the edges of this conversation?

  29. William May 26, 2008 at 08:46 #

    Joseph, please forgive me. Your post was just the beginning of a barrage of posts that not only declared their disagreement with Diane, but questioned her sanity and worthiness to remain on this little island without being voted off.

    Your message was definitely of the “I’m right, you’re wrong” character. What came after from the others was a pile-on that got more and more rude.

    I am in no way condoning what that teacher did. And I’m not reading anywhere where Diane is either.

  30. Kev May 26, 2008 at 09:03 #

    I’m going to ask you once more William. This will be your last time. Do you have a point to make or are you just trolling?

  31. Catherina May 26, 2008 at 09:32 #

    Oldfart,

    sadly, many child psychologist do not know their jobs very well. In the one case, mom and dad of the boy were both MDs and had long come to the diagnosis using the normal guidelines. However, the child psychologist insisted on ADD and the insurance went by his assessment. Mom finally saw a psych who knew his stuff two years later.

    In the other case, daycare care givers, teachers and pediatrician agreed that the boy was on the spectrum, but the state child psychologist could not decide on a definite diagnosis and dragged the diagnosis out for 1.5 years, during which the boy was not in school.

  32. HCN May 26, 2008 at 10:43 #

    Just a quick question to William (and Diane),

    Do you think it is okay for an adult to coordinate the humiliation of a five year old child in front of a classroom?

    Please, tell me what educational benefit this has on both the boy being “voted out” and on the children doing the voting.

  33. Joseph May 26, 2008 at 14:55 #

    Joseph, please forgive me. Your post was just the beginning of a barrage of posts that not only declared their disagreement with Diane, but questioned her sanity and worthiness to remain on this little island without being voted off.

    Again William, you are not being truthful. I did not question anyone’s sanity at any time, nor did I state that Diane should be expelled from this blog or anything of the sort. I would like to ask you to refrain from making false accusations, and to substantiate your assertions.

  34. Oldfart May 26, 2008 at 16:25 #

    My child has chicken pox. I KNOW my child has chicken pox. I take her to the doctor who says he has to verify what she has (diagnose). He says she has measles. I take her to another doctor who says she has measles. I keep taking her to various doctors until I find one who agrees with me.

    Now, did I EVER get a real diagnosis? If so, when was that? Taking your child to doctor after doctor after doctor seeking the “proper” diagnosis is not something I’d care to do to my child.

  35. Catherina May 26, 2008 at 16:59 #

    Oldfart,

    in the case of chicken pox or measles, you would do a blood test for the “real” diagnosis.

    In the case of autism, you would want you child psychologist to look at published diagnostic criteria (in the case of the two 5/6 year old boys, the DSM diagnostic criteria for 299.00 autistic disorder would have been a good start).

  36. Oldfart May 26, 2008 at 19:54 #

    I understand that Catherina. My point is that, as a parent, I do not come into the doctor’s office with the “proper” diagnosis in hand. I wait for the doctor’s diagnosis. And, if I don’t agree with it (assuming that I am an intelligent parent), I get a second opinion. There is no a priori “proper” diagnosis.

  37. Another Voice May 27, 2008 at 05:20 #

    This is such an outrageous story. What a horrible message to teach children before they even enter the first grade. I am heartbroken for the little fellow who was voted out and very sad that the other children have had such a bad example set out for them.

    It seems that this May has been a particularly bad month in terms of exclusion. Thank you for posting about this and for speaking out against a wrong.

  38. Staci Hoehland May 27, 2008 at 08:09 #

    An American, living in Germany. This is a prime example of what has been going wrong in our world, and my country for some time now. I seriously think, those who are shocked and angered by this should write this school/teacher with none insulting comments but views and disgust. I say none insulting comments or cussing, then they can not complain about shit! Makes me very embarrassed to admit I am an American.

  39. Kev May 27, 2008 at 09:42 #

    William – you seem to operating under 2 misconceptions.

    1) That my blog is in any way a democracy. It isn’t. The only votes that exist are in the polls to your right. I solely decide who stays and who goes. By the way, your analogy is weak. We are all adults. The _children_ in Alex’s class are not.

    2) You clearly have not read the previous discussion Diane and I were having, where she barged in and was rude to everyone. When people act like children on my blog, thats how I’ll respond. And continue to respond until they leave or apologise.

    If thats too autocratic for you William, tough luck. Go start your own blog.

  40. Another Voice May 27, 2008 at 15:23 #

    Clearly there are some posting here with there own agenda. They wish to take a post about Alex and twist it into a forum for some point they have not developed. That is rude.

    I would encourage this blog to make more liberal use of the delete key for off topic comments.

  41. Joseph May 27, 2008 at 15:52 #

    I just have to say I don’t care very much about the bickering. I do care that Diane never had the courtesy to address certain points that were made. For example, in a different thread she claimed that there’s something of a tsunami of autistic adults in the horizon that will be costly to taxpayers or something to that effect. This is an unsubstantiated assertion, of course. I then posted data showing that the number of developmentally disabled teenagers living outside of the home has declined throughout much of the supposedly huge “epidemic” in California. There was no response or acknowledgment.

  42. HCN May 27, 2008 at 17:51 #

    The teacher has been removed from the classroom and is being investigated:
    http://www.palmbeachpost.com/treasurecoast/content/tcoast/epaper/2008/05/27/0527slteacher.html

  43. Staci Hoehland May 27, 2008 at 18:39 #

    HCN Thanks for the info.

  44. Another Voice May 27, 2008 at 19:18 #

    Thank you HCN, at least the school board is investigating. Interestingly, one of the links attached to the article refers to another wherein the Attorney General’s Office states that this does not constitute emotional abuse.

    Taking the child to the front of the class, encouraging all to state what they don’t like about him, and then vote him out. I can’t help but wonder what must be done to meet the State’s definition of emotional abuse.

  45. Kev May 27, 2008 at 19:56 #

    Update: I’ve removed Diane and William’s silliness from this thread and banned them.

  46. Jessi May 28, 2008 at 03:00 #

    I have a feeling that this kindergarten teacher is either completely intolerant, or fearful of, people with disabilities. I think that she used the other students ‘dislikes’ as a reason to unburden (for lack of a better word) herself (yes, caring for a child with a disibility is a challenge, and it takes a caring attitude and lots of patience). I work as an aide for a preschooler with autism, and the classroom teachers and I have made it a point to encourage the students to play and interact with my little ‘angel’, and we have yet to have an issue of the children disliking her. Some of the kindergarten students even volunteer to walk around with her during recess. If this teacher was doing her job properly, and genuinely cared about her students, she would have been teaching them about tolerance and understanding towards people who are ‘different’. I hope that someone corrects this before these children grow up thinking that it’s OK to shun people with disabilities.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Whitterer on Autism » Blog Archive » Alex Barton - May 24, 2008

    […] Best wishes from me and mine to all the Bartons. “Left Brain Right Brain” […]

  2. The Golden Rule « Odd One Out - May 25, 2008

    […] https://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/?p=834 http://actionforautism.co.uk/2008/05/24/alex-is-cool/ […]

  3. Autism Blog - ‘Neurodiversity’ in New York Magazine | Left Brain/Right Brain - May 26, 2008

    […] someone has been ‘cured’. This is (to me) at the root of the recent issue involving Alex Barton. One argument is that because Alex is autistic this is only to be expected. I disagree with that […]

  4. Autism Blog - Neurological diversity | Left Brain/Right Brain - May 28, 2008

    […] I think to very many people) neurodiversity is about. Take Alex Barton – the five year old voted out of his class. That is a lack of respect. There is absolutely no justification for that teacher to behave in that […]

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