Posted in Disability in Education

The Null Curriculum: That Which We Dare Not Speak About

At a Diocese meeting yesterday, the other principals were surprisingly helpful, trying to see what they can do to help me personally and professionally.

It was kind of creepy.  I’m not used to colleagues caring.  Then again, it was probably easy for them to see that it could happen to any of them, so they are genuinely concerned.  If I became a wheel in the machine, I would expect to see fake caring, the kind of thing neurotypicals do because it’s expected.

This was genuine.

Beyond that, though, there may be a job open next year, through one of my colleagues who told his priest he was only doing the job for one year.

The holy spirit may be at work here, because this is also my priest’s home parish (his parents, who adore me, are parishioners) and they have Spanish-speakers, besides.  We share a teacher who comes to do some religious education at my school who likes me a lot (and she has the ear of the priest besides).  Also, they are not in danger of closing any time soon for they are closer to full and well-supported financially.

I’m not sure if anything comes of it, or if I want to be at the mercy of another priest’s whim, but this particular priest is older and more experienced, which comes with it both good points and bad points.  It’s less likely that what happened to me with a sudden school closure would happen there, though.

On paper, I know I am valuable (I went over my CV; it’s a bit gappy in places, since, well, Autistic; but it’s got a solid combination of degrees, educational experiences, and professional “appearances” that I’m kind of a unicorn in the K-12 market), but I am still Autistic.  I know this is a strength, but sometimes it’s just people getting past my oddities, to see it.

Having people trying to open doors for me, though…this is what I needed.  I tend to get jobs this way, with someone pointing out how great I am first, and then we can go from there.

I’m told neurotypicals get jobs this way, too, through connections and networks, but it’s hard to get that narrative of working hard leading to success out of your head.

It’s amazing what stories we tell people about how to get ahead, which we don’t really mean.

There’s a word for this in education.  There’s the curriculum, what is actually taught.  It’s overt and obvious.  There’s an implied curriculum, where you can sort of pick it up as you go, and there’s the null curriculum.  The null curriculum is what’s not talked about or even discussed.  It’s hidden there, all not-obvious and it’s very hard for Autistics to pick up this null curriculum (heck, it’s hard for us to pick up the implied curriculum besides!).  An example of the null curriculum would be that often schools truly believe that poor kids are incapable of learning.  They’ll dress it up in pretty language and talk about advantages/disadvantages, but really there’s a racist and/or classist attitude at play there.

No one talks about it, or addresses it.

I think for Autistics, we are told first the working hard narrative.  This is the overt curriculum.  Work hard, go to college, get degrees, and whammo, rewards!

Then some of us figure out, hey, so-and-so isn’t working hard, but she’s getting ahead.  Then we realize the implied curriculum is there.  She learned she can and should leverage her looks and/or her connections to get ahead.

In some families, this is overtly taught; families of color have to overtly teach some rules, such as the rules for encountering a police officer, which schools ignore.  These families might also teach that, while you have to work hard and all, that’s true, but in the end some people will get ahead of you since they have more advantages than you; therefore, you have to work harder.

But I think there’s more at play here.  For Autistics, there’s a bit of null curriculum at work here, besides: we not only have to work harder and leverage connections, we have to deal with the fact that, while few people will say this, most people think we are incapable of working in jobs that are not routinized and/or we are, at any point, going to murder people.

It’s terrifying to think that your neurotype is so regularly villainized, but it is.

They won’t say this, not if they know you’re Autistic, especially, but it’s hanging there in the background, hidden so well most people don’t know it’s there.  It’s not talked about, yet it is there.

This is why, no matter what happens, I have to wear a mask around these connections who are hoping to get me a job.  I can talk about my husband or son’s Autism, but I must wait to tell people about my own, or I might never reveal it.

This is part of Autism social skills: we may have to deny who we are in order to get, and keep, employment.

This is the kind of conversation we all have with each other online, the questions about revealing our disabilities and when.  We are privileged to be able to do that, since our disabilities are hidden.

But every time I hide who I am to people in power, I feel like I do a disservice to the Disabled people who cannot hide their disabilities.

But I will need a job to live.  Ideally one that pays enough to live on, and has health insurance.

Most of the people trying to help me do not know that I am Autistic.

But the man who will recommend me for hire knows, and has never held it against me.

So I know that I must be cautious, but I also know that sometimes it’s safe.  Sometimes, it’s okay to not have to mask completely.

And maybe if we could get this conversation out of the null world and into the overt curriculum, we could take this problem out into the light and examine it and fix it.

But few people really want to look at these things because it’s hard to confront what we are as a society.

It’s easier to expect us to wear the mask and conform.  Easier for those who don’t have to work to conform, maybe, but society is made for them just now.

I keep hoping we can make a better future, but for now, I just need a job to live.

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