Posted in Advocacy, Catholic education, Catholic leadership, Disability in Education, leadership

It is Over: Ableism and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

While scrolling through Twitter, I caught another poll (they seem common, lately, on Autistic Twitter) about employment.  I marked “full-time,” which really understated how much I work, and for how little.

In a few short months, that won’t be accurate again.

Fair warning: this is a post that will get ranty a bit because, well, ableism.

My pastor looked at the financial reserves, and took back his promise to give us the two to three years we needed to grow up again and decided to go back to what he’d said before, before we’d attracted theoretical interest from any number of people that could have turned into real interest this year.

My month of intense work to prepare for next year is now moot.

And he’s going on vacation now for two weeks.

We will close at the end of this school year, when we’d finally done what no other Catholic school had done in this area: we had developed an identity and I was sitting on thousands of postcards announcing our new identity so that those who did not know us would finally come to know us.

It was no longer about how many students, but how much reserves the parish had, and they were gone, not because of this year, but because of over a decade of neglect from previous administrators and pastors.

Maybe had I had more time, we could have changed things.

Maybe if my pastor had charged me with finding x number of dollars in two or three months, we could have given it one last chance.

Maybe if one couple hadn’t been propping up the school for over a decade, buying it “just enough” to get by for “one more year” instead of investing in a future, it might have been different.

But that is not the story.

Instead, we will close.

All I can do now is try to save the next school lined up to fail by attempting to merge with them, and trying to divert my assets to them.  The next school to go has two or three years left because they have a higher reserves than I do, but they are definitely in trouble.  We are hoping to do this, instead of joining a bigger school, to give them the necessary extras to help them to have a fighting chance.  They are also the closest to philosophically aligned with us, not that anyone is truly open to Neurodivergent students.  This school has the opportunity to get a fantastic teacher who can teach every single grade, all together, in one room and kids who love multi-age instruction, and, from what I hear, they are finally open to multi-age because they realized they cannot afford not to be open to it.  Hopefully, they can take care of my teacher and my students.  This is all the hope I have left.

Because I am finished.

I am now poison, locally.  Because I decided to try to do the impossible, I can no longer administrate in Catholic education anywhere near here, if at all.  I am philosophically misaligned with public schools, so they are out.  I cannot go back to standardized test rating since, I have heard, the computers have finally come, and they will be using them to score the tests that, five or six years ago, were so complex they’d given up on both outsourcing them and letting computers score them.  That door is closed, too.

I went back to teaching, on a whim, a little over a year ago, and so much has happened in that time.  Now, after investing much time, talents, and our own financial reserves, it will all be gone, soon and my nay-sayers will win because I’m incompetent, not because they financially mismanaged the school for over a decade.  That is the story they will tell.

But I have my own story, and many of you have been reading it.

I’d like to believe there’s a place for Neurodivergent students in Catholic education, or in any formal education, but the structures of education are such that people don’t recognize the benefits of education built for Neurodivergent learners.  Instead, they would rather force Neurodivergent learners into the factory model that doesn’t seem to work for anyone.  And it’s not designed to work for anyone; it’s designed to preserve the classes where they are.  Rich people don’t have schools that look anything like what the rest of us have given to us.

In the end, the structures against Neurodivergent students are simply too entrenched.  The structures against poor students, too, are too settled in.  My school served poor, Neurodivergent learners.  All of us adult Autistics already know this story: the world is designed for us to fail because it is not meant for us.  We’re not alone; the world as it is now is not meant for anyone who isn’t rich, white, heterosexual, able and male.  In the end, all my rhetoric isn’t going to change that any time soon.  Disabled people comprise the biggest minority group, and we have made so little progress in changing the ableist world we live in.  What progress we have made had to be forced by law, because changing minds and hearts didn’t really do anything without government penalties, but today the Americans with Disabilities Act is not being refreshed and expanded, due to our changing times and greater understanding, but is being limited and ignored.  Those who can afford to pay for extra help or have access to people who know how to leverage the systems in place already have a fighting chance, but the rest of us, the “average” Disabled people, are crushed under the weight of having to pay so much just to get a seat at the table to argue for our rights.

Speechless summed it up this week: “What’s the most expensive thing you own?” Kenneth, JJ’s aide in the show, asked the fictional Dimeo family.

I said it before they did:  “JJ’s wheelchair.”

That is the reality of the struggle we face as Disabled people.

This is, in a nutshell, why we are Disabled because honestly, we’re all fine, actually.  But the world costs so much more for us, and makes us work harder for the things that abled people get just for being born into this world.

And now, one light into the darkness that is this world, has been extinguished because abled people don’t care to understand their privilege.

Or maybe they know, but regardless, they are unwilling to give anything up they believe belongs to them, to give us the dignity of being called human children of God, too.

Over the next few months, there will be more posts on closing a Catholic school and what life is like for me after leaving education again, and trying to figure out how to earn a living when schools are now closed to me again because I am Autistic and because I have failed in a task that no neurotypical would have tried.  If it matters to know my name to you, and where I am located, that, too, will be possible to learn, soon, because it will no longer matter.

For those of you who pray, pray for me and my students and my employees.  Pray for the Catholic schools that are open to seeing the Jesus in every student, and not just in a theoretical sense, but in a deep sense, where we help students to know and love themselves, as God made them and not just be glad to be allowed into school at all.  Inclusive Education is not just opening the doors to Disabled students; it’s about helping Disabled students learn to fight in a world that is not designed for them, and what few schools are Inclusive have a very ableist mindset.  We deserve better.

Our children deserve better.


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