What’s Really Real?

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What’s Really Real?

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Move beyond widely held assumptions about services and people with disabilities & think for your self. http://3bl.me/sdrqxz
Monday, September 24, 2012 - 4:20pm


Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Sir Kenneth Robinson at Millersville University – if you don’t know who he is, check out his Ted Talk – 20 minutes well worth investing. He speaks of a radical shift in education towards uncovering gifts, nurturing creativity, and building a human community capable of responding to and interacting with a world which is changing at a dizzying pace.

He said something that is so obvious but it just keeps popping back into my mind. A teacher in the audience asked him (with a sense of hopelessness tinged with a bit of resignation in her voice)- and I paraphrase here liberally…. What can be done in the face of a rigid and uncompromising educational empire fixed on a model of education that has not fundamentally changed since our grandparents experienced it?

He immediately rattled off a list of common elements of public school “givens” that simply do not have to be. It is not required that a school day must be broken up into 45 minute increments, or that a bell must ring to signal the start and end of each said session, or that students must be grouped according to age. These are assumptions that are widely held, because in our minds this is how education is “done”.

I guess this has stuck with me because I cannot help but think about the zillions of “unquestioned assumptions” that many of us in human servicedom hold in our mindsets.Some of them take the form of slogans, some “common sense”, some even are unquestionable because they are so universally accepted as simply truth.

Here are a few “givens” that just pop right out of my head:

1. Deinstitutionalization of the psychiatric institutions was made possible by the advent of Thorazine

2. Increasing independence is good

3. Independent living in an apartment is the goal

4. Taking psycho-active medication helps people with mental disorders have better lives

5. Special Olympics and Best Buddies are good for everyone involved

or, conversely, Special Olympics are bad, and Paralympics are good

6. Service animals help people make friends

7. Autism is increasing: 1 in 88

8. People should get to retire from their day programs at some point

9. Segregation is bad, unless it is a special summer camp or it is someone’s choice, or it is a school for students with autism

10. The focus on employment for people with disabilities has been effective

11. Institutionalization is a thing of the past

12. When people get old they will/should go to a nursing home.

13. If it is not documented, it didn’t happen

14. “Sensory rooms” are good

15. Volunteering should be done if one does not work

16. Restraint training for human service staff is a regrettable necessity because of liability

17. “Best Practice and Evidence-Based Practices” can be trusted as good or helpful.

18. There’s not enough money

19. Group homes and day programs are community programs

I am not saying any of these are patently false, or that there may not be truth within them. I am saying, if we want to make a difference by our commitments to people who have been marginalized and oppressed, we had better be willing to dig into the assumptions and truisms, whatever they may be. Curious thinkers, probing questioners, and avid idea explorers – we need you. If we can provoke and support each other to do this, I suspect we’ll create communities willing to respond to the challenges posed to us and those we care deeply about.

An image comes into my mind, and it is Dr. Wolfensberger standing up at a workshop (from the very same stage that Sir Ken Robinson was speaking from last week), peering at us (we each were certain he was looking directly at us personally), pointing out some new human service slogan or craze, and saying so forcefully, “Think for yourselves!”.

Indeed. Think, read, ask, and engage. That’s something we should invest in.


Betsy Neuville
+1 (717) 909-9425
Keystone Institute
Ann Moffitt
+1 (717) 232-7509ext. 133
Keystone Partnership
Keywords: Health | Disabilities | Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger | Keystone Human Services | Keystone Institute | Sir Kenneth Robinson | Social Role Valorization | Volunteerism & Community Engagement | human services