Author: Maria Vinciguerra
In my class Friday, I had a meeting with a father. His son is fourteen. In kindergarten he was labeled with a speech problem. LABELED. I didn’t know him then. I only wish I had. Kevin does not hand in anything he writes. He sits in the back of the room almost curled in a fetal position possibly to hide himself from all. And he is invisible to all, except me. The class is filled with kids who talk, laugh, socialize. Kevin just sits. Sometimes, falls asleep. Perhaps, for him sleep and dreaming are a way to cope with how he has been shunned because of his differences. I have asked him countless times to come up at lunch to makeup his work. He always just looks at me, nods up and down and walks away. There is nothing “wrong” with him except a failed system. A system that placed him in a smaller class, a smaller bubble to keep him safe. A system that told him and his family constantly how different he was and how he needed to improve instead of building on his strengths. A system who instead of helping him speak has muted him in a fake world called a classroom and now in life.
I talked to the father, who kept raising his voice at this child. “Kevin, why can’t you speak up. Kevin, why can’t you participate? Kevin, look at the teacher when she speaks. Kevin,hand in your work.” “Stop,” I said. I could not refrain. Here was his child who was obviously hurting, who he just unintentionally hurt more. I know it was unintentional, but why the loud voice? A child who could hardly whisper needed reassurance not a loud voice drowning him further.
I hated myself for even calling the meeting. I knew this was the worst thing I could have done. “Kevin, do you have friends?” I asked. “N..” he replied. He couldn’t say a full No and not because of his speech, but because the word was too heavily stuck in his spirit. His head was down, I lifted it up. One eye had a tear in it. My heart fell to my feet. “Kevin, you are a good boy. You don’t have to be afraid. You are very special.” I had to keep myself from bursting into tears, from grabbing him, hugging him and taking him home. I will help you little guy. I will show you there is nothing to be afraid of. I will never raise my voice louder than yours.
I took the father outside. “What does Kevin do after school?” ” He goes to an after school program to help him until 6 PM, then come home eats dinner and goes to bed.” Jesus Christ, and they expected this child to actually ‘be like everybody else.’ “Help him with what? He has no academic difficulties, he had problems speaking, he does not need after school. He needs to go outside. He needs to see a world outside this little classroom.” I am not violent but what the father said next made me want to smack him. “Can’t we just put him back in a small class environment?” I wonder what the hell this man was thinking. This was Kevin’s first year mainstreamed with all the children. He had been with the same group of kids also labeled with something for 8 years. He wanted to take a turtle who was trying desperately to peep his head out from his shell and shove him right back in.
”Please do not raise your voice to him. I cannot tell you how to parent, but Kevin has lost all belief in himself.” This was so obvious, I could not understand how this father didn’t see it. “But he is going to fail.” he replied. I answered with ,”Right now, I could care less about Kevin’s homework or classwork or academics. He doesn’t need to prove how smart he is to me or to anyone else, he needs to know he is ok. He needs not to hate himself for having been labeled different. He needs to smile. I want you to put him on a team, sports, something. He needs human contact. He needs to see he is not what we have created here, a child who had a speech problem who now has shut down because of it, lost in a sea of children who don’t stop talking, who shouldn’t ever stop talking.”
He just looked at me. “Ok I will take him for tennis lessons.” “NO,” by this point I truly just wanted to cry. ”A team, with lots of children, not one one one competition.” “Ok,” he looked at his watch and agreed. “I have to go now.”
I walked back in. “Kevin, don’t worry about your schoolwork right now ok? Daddy is going to put you on a team, would you like to play sports? You can make lots of friends. You deserve lots of friends.” He just nodded, picked up his books and went down to lunch. I locked the door behind him and just cried. I remember that child. One who didn’t speak, one who was not as shy but almost, and who wanted to dance just like all the other girls. No, I was never labeled, but I was extremely shy. I hardly spoke just like Kevin. I too felt different. I cried not just for Kevin but for all of us who are seen as different. Some of us, will outgrow our shame, some of us will repress it, some of us never forget but that longing to dance in the center is always buried in our hearts. I don’t think anyone that doesn’t know me very well, would ever know I was that child, as I most of the time refuse to be a spectator and watch on the sidelines. I dance in the center regardless of who is looking or judging. But, lately that little girl has been hurting too much. That night, I had to push myself to go to dance and hoped Kevin was dreaming of something beautiful.