As many of you know, I went to Christian school. The first one I went to had a total of 80 kids K-12 when I left it. The one I graduated from had a total of about 180 students K-12. There were 6 kids in my graduating class. To be short, it was teeny tiny. So teeny tiny we only had two lunches, one for elementary and one for 7-12th. I am not used to public school by any shape or form. Even though I have worked in public schools for a few years now, I still can’t wrap my head around them sometimes. The clap-clap- clapclapclap thing. The color and shape coded kids. The pin numbers. The color sorting for buses. It’s all so chaotic.
This year I am working with a child with autism in a school that has 130+ kindergarteners. The first couple days were so overwhelming for me, I can’t imagine how they were for someone who’d never been to school let alone a child with autism who has never been to school. It’s all so much to take in. Even now that it has been a week and a half, it’s still a lot. To be honest the experience is a little soul crushing. The head shakes and pursed lips are reserved for those who forget their lunch numbers or who sway a little too much in line. The loud whistles and raised voices for things like walking on the wrong side of the hall or not getting quiet when they hit the chime. And can someone tell me what makes the women who run recess and lunch so agitated? I am all smiles watching them run around, and they are sucking lemons. They are annoyed every time the kids get out of their seat instead of raise their hand. It’s like all they see are the negative things. The kids are being forced to grow up too fast and in some ways not fast enough. Too fast because they are expected to sit still or be drugged, too slow to not be trusted to walk over to them in an emergency bathroom situation to ask for permission. Not to mention the idea of punishing students with not getting lunch if their parents don’t pay, or making them run laps if their parents don’t pick them up on time. What are we teaching these kids? Not to trust their bodies and needs, and that people get punished for others’ mistakes? Well, the last will be quite useful in our society won’t it. We spend all this time and effort creating numbers, letters, and colors that have to be memorized to save time and effort, but what do we really get? Emotional distancing. It doesn’t save time. They have to ask the kids who forget their numbers their classroom and their names. How about you let them enter or tell you their name, something easily remembered, instead of the number that makes them faceless? Too easy? Too personal? Personally, the closer we let everyone involved get emotionally to these little kids, the more of a priority they will become to us. It’s why photographers care more about the number crunches about the collateral damage of war. Proximity and emotional closeness. It’s hard to deny the humanity of a person you can look right in the eye, not a screen, or someone who’s name you know and are familiar with, as opposed to another number.