To Pauline Hanson, my daughter is just an 'other' who needs to be dealt with
When I first saw Senator Pauline Hanson’s comments on the education of disabled children, my initial reaction was contempt. It’s a common response to most anything Hanson says and when it is related to children with a disability, as a parent of such a child, my reaction is even more swift.
But perhaps we should be kind and offer her more generosity than she ever gives anyone who doesn’t fit her picture of what Australians should be. Maybe we should suggest that Hanson was not intending to be hurtful towards children with a disability or autism.
Let us be generous and assume when she argued that “we are not providing the special classrooms or the schools for these autistic children” that she was actually arguing for more funding for such areas. Certainly that would be a worthy point to make.
Children with a disability do often perform better in special classrooms – and even schools. My daughter, for example, attends a public school in the ACT where she spends time in her mainstream class and also in a classroom with students with special needs. Once she reaches high school age, we will also decide whether to send her to a specialist school for children with an intellectual disability.
But such resources cost money. So bravo, Senator Hanson, for calling for greater funding for disability education.
But no. That is not what she is arguing. Throughout her speech she actually decries the need for more money. Her concern is that there is actually too much money being spent on education.
These are her words: “My concern about this is: why do we need another $18.2bn thrown at this when the federal funding for education now is just under $88bn?”
That is her concern – that more money is being “thrown” at education. Just before turning to the issue of children with disability in the classroom, she said: “I hate to think what Labor would throw at funding for the schools, because we cannot afford it.”
Now let us again be kind and suggest that she wants that money “addressed in the classroom” by providing extra services to children with disabilities. But that requires a level of generosity which is nowhere present in her speech. Rather her speech – as is so often the case with her political outlook – is about “the other”.
When she says, “We cannot afford to hold our kids back,” she is not thinking about children with a disability. They are children to be got out of the way so the focus can be on “the child who is straining at the bit and wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education”.
In Hanson’s view, “that child is held back by those others”.
There is no care in Hanson’s speech for the child with autism who “wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds”, or indeed children like my daughter who likewise loves to learn and who every day is “straining at the bit” to improve her communication.
No, for Hanson, my daughter and children like her are just “the others” who need to be dealt with because they are a handbrake on the learning of children without a disability.
Does someone who comes from a place of kindness and compassion for children with a disability really argue that “it is no good saying that we have to allow these kids to feel good about themselves and that we do not want to upset them and make them feel hurt”?
So we should not have to allow those children to feel good about themselves?
Again, let us be kind and say that if she was arguing “it is no good saying that” it was because words are not enough and you need to back it up with greater funding.
But no. She does not go down that path. Instead, she follows up that statement by arguing: “We have to be realistic at times and consider the impact this is having on other children in the classroom”.
The impact of allowing kids with disabilities to feel good about themselves.
One who argues that the problem with education is that it is run by people who “want everyone to feel good about themselves” is not someone who wants to see those with a disability treated on an equal level – or even given greater resources.
And being equal is vital to their learning because one of the greatest things for many children with a disability is to be included in mainstream classes – not to be viewed by either the system or by their peers as “those others”.
And let us leave aside the fact that such interaction makes for a better and more giving society.
As ever, Hanson added in a cover – the equivalent of “some of my best friends are gay” – by saying: “If it were one of my children I would love all the time given to them to give them those opportunities.”
And yet she does not argue from such a position. She argues as one who does not have a child with a disability and who only sees such children as a hindrance to the learning of her own.
The problem with Hanson’s remarks is not that there is no issue with funding for education of children with a disability – of course there is – but that she makes no argument for such funding and even pours contempt on those who would because that is the type of funding proposed by “do-gooders who want everyone to feel good about themselves”.
And it would involve funding going to “those others”.
Children with a disability are not holding anyone back and are certainly not to blame for the ills – real or imagined – of our education system. Senator Hanson deserves to be held in contempt for insinuating such a thing.