Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, intersectionality, leadership, Teaching

The Rest of Us Just Live Here: Accepting That I’m Not a Superhero

The thing about being Autistic, I think, that can be really detrimental to living a functioning adult life, is that we believe a lot of what we’ve been taught.

Think back to all those posters on the walls at your schools.  Think about all those heroes they made us read about, so that we could learn to cultivate all those virtues “they” wanted us to all have.  We were supposed to be honest, hardworking, and compassionate.  We were supposed to save the world!

But, as we Autistics have found, we aren’t really supposed to be too honest.  Being too honest doesn’t work out so well for us.

A lot of people can hang out at the water cooler (literally and metaphorically) all day long, and yet they seem to get ahead at work.

And when you give so much that it hurts, all that happens is you’re hurt.  There is no reward.

And yes, it’s all possible for all this suffering we go through on this earth to be rewarded in the afterlife, but we see so many people flagrantly ignoring the rules we were overtly taught and internalized, and they do, in fact, get ahead on this earth.

If they meant that honesty, diligence, and compassion would mean not a danged thing now, but might or might not in the afterlife (if it exists), why the heck didn’t they just say that?

Heroes, Virtues, and the Schools

I’m reading Jonathan Kozol’s On Being a Teacher.  It was in my stack of “to be read” books and I figured, okay, let’s listen to the Prophet Jonathan.

The Prophet Jonathan is one of my best friends now.

See, he’s not as anti-religion as I thought, nor even as anti-private school.  He’s just anti structures of school, same as my other friend, John Taylor Gatto, who focuses on the purpose of education (the real and true purpose), not the junk they tell us about building up an educated society.  Kozol even points out some religious heroes we ought to be studying in school and why they are great, instead of the insipid versions of Americans (and others) we are told to look at.

Here’s something from Disability history you may not know.

Hellen Keller is taught in schools as someone who “overcame adversity” of being Deaf and Blind.  She went to college!  She was good friends with her teacher!  We love her story…it’s the makings of inspiration porn!

But they leave out why she was actually great.  Hellen Keller spent a heck of a lot of time writing and speaking out against injustice.  She fought for the poor and the workers.  She talked about not having to see and hear to know how deplorable the conditions in sweatshops were.  She was downright intersectional in her work.

They leave that part of the story out.

Kozol uses this example to point out to us that, hey, it’s not that Hellen Keller wasn’t a great American; heck she was one of the greatest Americans, but they have sanitized her story down into inspiration porn, rather than using it to excite us about how we can be great advocates for the poor and marginalized in society.  As a Disabled person, I’m irritated as hell that she was so fascinating and I never knew it.

But the narrative of fighting for the poor and marginalized is not what we talk about in schools.  We spread platitudes and pacify.

Because school isn’t meant to teach us anything but to follow orders and accept our place in society.

And yes, this goes for Catholic schools, as well as public schools, particularly when Catholic schools meld into this blob that looks like “high achieving” public school rather than focus on telling the Church’s story.

See, Kozol, it appears, would have no quibble with my Catholic history textbooks that I insist on using.  He’d love them.  They are, in fact, honest about what is inside.  Public schools, and most religious schools, use “secular” books which purport to be neutral, but are not.  It is impossible to be neutral about history; choosing what to put into the book and what to leave out is already a political act.  Besides, language is so powerful, it’s nearly impossible to find any neutral way to write about events or to structure sentences that would really be neutral.

My favorite line from the section in which Kozol encourages many textbooks from many views (weirdly, Common Core encourages this: to have many perspectives and have kids read deeply from many perspectives to get a deeper understanding, rather than the surface level understanding of one “neutral” view; I can’t figure out how the businesses that were pro-Common Core let this slip into the standards) is a defense, when students are encouraged to write their own books.  He says people will say these new books are biased.  This is the response he gives:

“‘Of course it tells our side.  That’s why we wrote it.'”


That’s why I had Catholic history textbooks in my classroom and was honest about what they were.

To Stay or Go: Can a Prophet Stay Home?

So, the Prophet Jonathan and I are getting to be better friends as I understand his nuanced arguments.

I also understand why he spends more time writing than he does in classrooms (though he visits them; he is not a teacher anymore, and only was for a brief time).

See, here’s the thing.  When you SEE the mess, you have two choices: you can rail against the problem, or you can suck it up and keep going because you need a job.

Jonathan Kozol saw the mess and cried out against it, and, by the gift of God, was able to publish enough that he could support himself through writing and lectures (etc.).

John Taylor Gatto sucked all of this up and stayed working in the New York City Public Schools until he became “teacher of the year” and gave a speech about how insidious public education had become and why, from its roots, it was always rotten.  He had to make a living, so he stayed complicit and wrote and spoke later about what he did and why he did it.

Somehow Gatto could keep going even though he knew it was all a mess.

Kozol writes about how other people can fight back, carefully.  But he stays out of it.

He inspires the teachers and brings hope, but he himself cannot do these things.  He cannot stay in the trenches.

I’m not as wise as Kozol, but I am as honest.  I am truly struggling with whether I want to go back into education after this, and whether I can make it to retirement in this way.

And I’m already a problem: I see what is wrong with schools, and I live where I grew up.

Even Jesus (not that I am comparing myself to Him!) couldn’t be taken seriously in Nazareth.

If I want to stay here, and I think, financially, we have to, unless I am paid enough to make relocation viable, I may have to limit my choices.  I cannot be a prophet in my hometown.

I had a phone call yesterday with the local jobs center; they help unemployed people with the next step, and I will soon be unemployed.  The person on the phone talked to me about what people want to do and they have training, resume-writers, interview coaches, and more to help us go after whatever it is we want.

What do I want to do?

I’ve been reading a lot lately; fiction, mostly, working on this huge pile in my office that I bought when I wanted to focus on writing, but that pile also included On Being a Teacher.  

I like reading.

I like writing.

I even like reading about education (though I was about to box up all of my education books and sell them because, eff this thing called education).

But it is difficult to be a prophet about education.  Jonathan Kozol and Alfie Kohn are two of my favorite writers about education, and both of them work outside universities because, honestly, there’s no money in what they say for the university.  It’s all theoretical, and both of them write about what schools are messing up.

They are not selling a product.  They are selling ideas about a product that is defective and was designed to be defective.

They are not talking about fixing the existing system (though yes, we can get hints about what to do from them, as teachers, if we want to).  Instead, they write far enough out of the mainstream there’s not much to be done with them in a university or in a school.  You cannot buy from them a kit to start the revolution.

And even if they made such a kit, the systems in place would not allow its purchase.

They are, however, paid to speak about this, and write about the problems and we buy those things and they make a living that way.

But both of them had the right combination of degrees and experiences to enable people to desire to spend money on them.  Both are white males, and both may or may not be neurotypical.  Regardless, they seem to be able to pass as neurotypical.

I am not a male, and I don’t have the right degrees or the charisma to sell my ideas.

I tried university life, and realized it wasn’t for me.

But neither is K-12 life.

It seems very neurotypical and cliché to have a mid-life crisis.  I’m not buying a sports car and looking for a younger man.  I am, however, looking for fulfillment.

Conventional wisdom tells me to blaze my own path, do what you love, etc.

But, I am learning, these are lies we tell people.  I forget what show we were watching, but the daughter wanted to YouTube her gaming adventures (she said Twitch, but it was clear it was YouTube) for a summer job (I think it was the new One Day at a Time) and she quoted the do what you love idea, and mom pointed out that was for rich white ladies doing crafts.

Because in the end we need to have an income to eat, to keep our house from being taken away, and to have health insurance (though the health insurance would be free if we had no money, but then we’d have no house or food).

I get this.

But when you’re an Autistic, you are honest.

And I see the monster for what it is, but I’m not able to lie about it.

The Prophet Jonathan would tell me (and has; read this book, seriously) that I shouldn’t lie to children, and that by being honest I will really be teaching.

But Prophet Jonathan also recognizes I have to tread carefully or they’ll fire me.  They fired him for reading Langston Hughes, after all.

In the end, there are few superheroes in the world, and we don’t all have an equal chance of becoming a superhero.

Some of us just live here.

And we have to earn a living.

For right now, I’m blessed to be able to teach my students in my tiny school whatever I want.  And what I want to teach them is to be good, intersectional Catholics.  To care about the poor as people, and to learn real lessons and not platitudes.

In the end, these children are in the lower class, and I want them to know what the middle class knows so they can join it someday, so they don’t have to work as hard as their parents have, but I also don’t want them exploiting people just like their parents to get there.

This is not something that translates into “work” or a “job,” though.

I have time until the end of the year, and the university I got stuck into will let me keep working on administrative licensure under the assumption I’ll jump back in this summer.  This summer is school law.  I’ve taken that class twice already: once as a law student and once as an academic.  This class will be easy.

So it’s just a question of using this time to learn if I can mask just enough to stay in education, like Gatto did, or if I have to leave it, for my own well-being.

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