Back to John Holt. In his book "How Children Fail" he goes into a lengthy description of an experience he had at a concert in a park and seeing a young girl and watching her interactions with the concert and her family - how she ate her food, waved at the orchestra when it was over, and how she tried to do things properly for her mother. This takes place in a journal entry of his from August, 1959.
Holt notes that he often sees a type of anxiety and tension in retarded people and that he doesn't believe it is innate but a reaction to how they are treated -"So it may well be that the tension we see in retarded children is caused, not so much by their being prevented from doing things that to them seem perfectly natural, as by the horror and revulsion that their inappropriate behavior arouses in all who see it, including, and perhaps above all, their own parents. For we may be sure that, retarded or not, they sense and understand these feelings, which are vastly more effective and terrible than any punishment"(104).
Inappropriate behavior - that is a key word for me. I feel quite strongly that the only inappropriate behavior I see is when one person intentionally infringes on the physical and/or emotional space of another person or does something to harm another or animal (with that intent: I eat meat).
According to Holt, "We have to draw some line between behavior approved and disapproved, or how is the child to learn? But the great difference between the normal child and the retarded child is that the former is punished for his "bad" behavior; the latter may not be punished, but he is abhorred, which is far worse"(105).
Holt makes the argument that retarded children are slower to learn - not incapable of learning. That our insistence on the pace and requirements of knowledge is what hinders them and makes them "retarded" at all. The visual aspect of the 'other' in developmentally disabled people is an ocean I won't even wade in for this post. Our expectations and illusions of others carry a lot of weight in this world. If one is to spend all of their time pushing and teaching things that can be expected rather than stepping back and taking in the individual in front of them a monster can be made where only a little girl exists.
Of course, for Holt, this ties back to a story about an institution unwilling to change a label. Once a child was labelled as retarded the possibility of that label every being removed, EVEN if that child caught up with the rest of their peers, was impossible. We, as a culture, are obsessed with being correct and protecting our institutions. I thought this topic was pretty controversial - especially his descriptions in his book - but nonetheless important to be open about. We should all think about our reactions to those "less capable" than us and pay close attention to what it says about who we are.
Holt, John. How Children Fail. New York: Pitman Publishing Company, 1964.