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Being Uncomfortable

The purpose of this blog will primarily be to share information, ideas, and resources with students (and anyone else who happens to be interested). A lot of the work we do as educators and future educators--if we are doing the right kind of work--will make us uncomfortable. Cognitive dissonance is where true learning happens, and for someone like me, I know that it's happening when my first instinct is to look away. I avoid conflict, and to become a better educator and advocate for all children, conflict is necessary.

Today, I thought back to the times when I was most uncomfortable, and those times were often when I was being asked to make a change. Like a lot of humans, I fear and resist change. I heard a great sentiment once, the origin of which I unfortunately cannot find, that claimed that our first thought is how we are conditioned and our second thought is who we want to become. We have been conditioned to fear change, to fear new ideas, and to fear people who are different from us; it takes work to change that conditioning. If we want to become great educators, we must resist the resistance to change.

In education, we are often asked to consider new ideas, and our first instinct might be to resist. Today, for example, I read a Tweet from one of my favorite academics, Paul Gorski, that challenged something I have believed for a long time.

The Tweet reads: "'Disabled student'/'students w/ a disability?' Just learned some folks in crit disability studies say go back to the former because it suggests that 'disabiling' comes from outside--isn't of the person. But most ppl don't have that structural view. So, what do you use?"

The resulting conversation gave me a lot to think about in terms of how educators talk about students and their families, and I highly encourage reading the discussion. For a long time, we used "special needs," which is very similar to special education. There was a discussion about avoiding the term special needs, so what, then, should our discipline call special education? I used "students with exceptionalities" for a while, but that still puts the person first, which is what this literature is debating.

My challenge to myself now is start every discussion about disabled students with a conversation about who we are referring to. When we do not clarify who we are talking about, assumptions are made, and that is rarely a good thing in education. Do we mean students with IEPs? Do we mean Autistic students? Do we mean students with learning disabilities? Which types of learning disabilities?

Language matters, and othering students is harmful. However, a fear of saying the wrong thing is not a good enough reason to stay out of the conversation. It is okay to be wrong and to use incorrect language as long as you are open to being corrected and actively seek knowledge.

Vulnerability is necessary for learning and change. I hope that educators are willing to be vulnerable so that they can become advocates for all students.

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