Originally posted on the 17th of October on The Anti Room. An edited version appeared in the Irish Times. The author wishes to remain anonymous.
I participated in the recent protest in Dublin about cutbacks to Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in schools, bringing with me half a dozen eggs with the intention of lobbing them at the front door of the Central Bank on Dame Street. In the event it didn’t seem right to do that in front of the many children who had come along, so I left them instead in the lodge at Leinster House with a request to a gateman that they be given to Enda Kenny with the message that he should consider himself thoroughly, if symbolically, egged.
The other day on twitter the finance and economics expert Paul Sommerville tweeted a post by the Ballyhea Bondwatch site which gave details of a further ‘tranche’ of billions of Irish citizens’ money being handed over to the dead bank, Anglo Irish. Meanwhile we continue to read stern editorials and commentary admonishing us, untruthfully, that in order to save small fractions of the amounts being paid even to unsecured bond-holders (thank you Timothy Geithner) on a weekly basis, we must obediently suffer any amount of impoverishing and dehumanising ‘austerity’ the government might impose for years to come. To make the books add up. We are also being told that these two things are unrelated.
My 15-year-old son has autism, exacerbated by verbal dyspraxia, severe receptive language difficulty and an IQ of 69 – just inside the level that means he is officially intellectually disabled. He cannot functionally read or write above the level of a four-year old, tie his shoelaces or play team games – he finds it difficult to follow complex instructions like game rules. Besides, he also has motor problems – major and minor – and does not understand many of the norms of social interaction.
On entering secondary school he was allocated a full-time SNA and five hours of one-to-one sessions with a resource teacher working on literacy and numeracy skills. The rest of the time he would have his SNA with him to help him follow whatever was happening in mainstream classes as best he could. He had to abandon language and other subjects because of the impossibility of being able to participate meaningfully. In all except for three subjects in which he did well at a modified level, he rubbed along for two years clearly unable to keep up with his peers, making limited but worthwhile educational progress with the vital support of an attentive and conscientious SNA.
This September, faced with cuts in special needs provision Andrew returned to school to find that the Principal, in reallocating reduced SNA provision, had decided he was ‘over-resourced’ and had slashed his SNA support to 25% of what it had been. He had to spend much of his time in mainstream classes trying to follow what was being taught without the help he had before. He was unable to take down instructions from the blackboard or to use any printed sheets or textbooks, for instance. His needs had been extensively and professionally documented on entering the school. He was bewildered by what was happening to him. In this state of educational isolation, he also began to feel more keenly how none of the mainstream children wanted to talk or play with him at break times. He was accused of being lazy by other pupils following what we were told was ‘a bust-up’ between him and some of his classmates who resented that Andrew did not do as much school work as they did. Within four weeks he had become worryingly depressed. He was troubled about his disability and painfully hurt by the lack of social warmth from the other pupils, whom he desperately wanted to accept him.
The teacher we attempted to discuss the situation with was uncomfortable and defensive, casting around for explanations other than the obvious one: his much needed support had been taken from him. It began to be hinted that his problems were behavioural rather than actual. Spiteful, untrue gossip about him by other pupils was repeated back to us by a teacher, for what purpose we’re unsure. On the way to school on his last morning there he said to his Dad ‘it would be better if I didn’t exist – I’m too much trouble for everyone at school’. He couldn’t stay in that environment a single day longer. We went to the school with flowers and thank-yous for the support Andrew had had before from his SNA and other teachers, determined to finish his school days on as pleasant a note as possible in spite of the circumstances. When we described how Andrew was feeling and what he had said, the Principal declared icily ‘that’s not an educational issue’ – which in itself went a long way to explaining why Andrew had been so much abandoned by his school. Stunned by that, we agreed afterwards that our decision to home educate him was in fact an imperative rather than a choice. So much for cherishing the children of the nation equally. We are faced with an enormous undertaking, we realise, but the many sacrifices we will have to make will be more than worth it if we can do for our son what the Irish education system has effectively put beyond his reach.
But credit where it’s due. Well done Timothy Geithner, Goldman Sachs, Christine Lagarde, Jean-Claude Trichet and all the rest. You’ve taught our son a good lesson: divide and rule is a tried and trusted strategy. It allows you to slink out the door with all the world’s wealth while ever-willing, ingratiating foot-soldiers at the coalface get on with finishing your dirty work for you. (Funny how those foot soldiers are never in short supply, isn’t it?)
There are thousands of children having similar experiences in Ireland this autumn because of the decision of the Labour/Fine Gael government to implement serious cuts in special needs education, defended and rationalised with a lot of faux hand-wringing. What is happening to our country is not economically necessary in many respects. It is, rather, a vicious exploitation of the banker-caused and privately owned recession of the very richest people – used as an excuse to entrench the same ideology that got them into trouble in the first place while ruthlessly landing us with the bill. It’s very lucrative and risk-free for them, this ‘socialising the debt’. They are intentionally destroying much of what is left of our civil societies, the better to monopolise our wealth and resources in future. The recessions they create are also their gold and silver-lined clouds of opportunity. I read about that in an IMF document: it said the crises they cause are a chance to push through ‘reforms’ they couldn’t get away with at other times, under the guise of pretending they are unavoidable. It was down there in black and white, I tell you. I wonder does the SNA who wrote in the Irish Times that ‘we all accept these cuts have to happen’ realise any of this? Are we going to continue submissively to accept that we should give all of our wealth to these people for generations to come? Are these talentless talents, who stamp their feet and demand huge salaries and bonuses for the privilege of doing this to us, really worth the lost futures of our children, destroyed health care, massive unemployment, social breakdown, suicides, stuffed prisons, families broken up by emigration, needlessly ruined small businesses, a devastated voluntary sector and a myriad other assaults on our way of life?
If we want our country back from international finance and banking, we will have to take it back ourselves by whatever non-violent means are available to us. The three main political parties who typically make up our governments have proved beyond any doubt not just that they are one and the same in all but name, but that they are not our representatives in the world but rather the powerful bankers’ here at home.
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