My Down syndrome son Jason was not mainstreamed in high school, but we did all we could to make his high school experience as “normal” as possible. He was mainstreamed in religion classes where he met a lot of the boys he encountered in high school. His mother and my late wife, Jean, always encouraged Jason to “high-five” his friends rather than hug them to make him like the other guys. In that same quest to make him “like the other guys,” we also bought him a high school Varsity jacket so he could be “cool.”
The jacket had his name, his graduation year, 1999 on the sleeve and the school’s mascot name on the back. I vaguely remember there was some discussion about getting Jason a letter but we decided the jacket was plenty and he hadn’t really earned a letter. But, I will tell you that my attitude would have changed it somebody had said Jason could not wear a letter because somebody else said so.
I have been having an ongoing discussion recently with a close friend about her contention that most people are basically good if you give them a chance. I desperately want to believe that, but I am too often encountering people who shock me with their smallness and meanness.
The cause of my most recent ire is this story out of Wichita. A Wichita woman is telling news media that the high school principal ordered her Down syndrome son to remove the Varsity letter sports letter from his sports jacket. The principal without appropriate shame confirms that his teachers told the mother they did not want the boy wearing a letter he did not earn. The mother claims the action was instigated by another parent of a varsity athlete. This is the dictionary definition of small and mean.
What in our society has led people to think that telling the Down syndrome boy not to wear his letter because he didn’t earn it, is a good idea? Was nobody around to say, “you know this is really dumb and a lot of people are going to hate us for this?” It appears shame has taken a powder. Apparently people are just not concerned these days about appearing small and mean. One would hate to think that selfishness has become so dominant in our society that people can’t see beyond their own interests.
I sort of get the fact that letters should be earned, that was my instinct 16 years ago. However, I bemoan the lack of empathy in our society that does not allow people to cut a Down syndrome high school boy a little slack. Who really gets harmed if special education students are allowed to wear letters? And don’t tell me that if you allow one non-athlete to wear a letter then everybody should be able to wear one. That is antiquated everybody-has-to-be-equal thinking that is simply the work of narrow minds.
Can’t we all just lighten up and get along?
Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance