Inclusive education wrangling on Weekend Sunrise

“Social commentator” Prue MacSween dropped some turds on talk show Weekend Sunrise a couple of weeks ago, saying that children with disabilities should be “put somewhere they can be properly trained” away from “kids without special needs”, that inclusive education holds back “normal” children, and that schools should be gender-segregated because “boys are so retarded”.

Protests ensued, and the show today held a followup with two parents of children with disabilities, a Teachers’ Federation representative, and South Australian parliamentarian Kelly Vincent.

The video of the first segment is up at Weekend Sunrise . The segment is a panel in which two panel members – journalists, shock-jocks, and so on – are asked for soundbite opinions on issues in the news. The segments are usually orchestrated so that the two commenters will have a disagreement. Here’s a transcript of the relevant section, which starts about two-thirds of the way into the video. [All emphases in transcripts are mine.]

Announcer: Anyway, moving on. A teacher is suing the government claiming that she’s damaged her larynx by having to scream at kids. [laughs] Some of the – well, as a parent I kind of understand! – Some of the kids in her classmates are special needs, and she claims she wasn’t given proper assistance. The 39-year-old is now seeking four hundred thousand dollars. Was she training as an opera singer? Anyway! Does this sound reasonable to – hang on, I’ll start with Paul Murray. [incomprehensible]

Paul Murray: [explains that teaching is a ‘tough gig’ and she could have got more help, but that four hundred thousand is a ‘stupid number’]

Prue MacSween: But it’s a number of issues. The woman is put into this room with all these special needs kids. So many of them! She should have – for a start, it’s a reflection of the bad system. These special needs kids should not be in a class with, you know, kids that don’t have special needs for a start. So we need to throw more money at the education system, make sure that these kids are properly administered to, because they almost need one-on-one help!

Paul Murray: Yeah, but I disagree with that. [Announcer in background: Yeah, I disagree with that too.] I think that they should –

Prue MacSween [interrupting] I know, I know what you intelligentsia are saying –

Paul Murray: No, that’s rubbish.

Prue MacSween: No, it is, it’s thought police stuff!

Announcer: It depends on the nature of the special needs.

Paul Murray: They need two teachers in the room, to be able to make sure that there’s one who can cover the gap. But you can’t just –

Prue MacSween: No, I’m sorry, I can’t agree with that.

Paul Murray: It’s about socialising. It’s not about –

Prue MacSween: I understand that, but what about the kids who are quite normal and adequately able to understand? They’re being held back. It’s like girls going into schoolrooms with bloody boys! Boys are so retarded, they keep them back!

[Announcer laughs heartily in the background; Paul Murray smiles and shakes his head dismissively]

Prue MacSween: I honestly think that we need to make sure that we have these special needs kids put somewhere where they are properly trained. And then slowly, once they are in a capacity of being able to –

Announcer: We’re running out of time. [sarkily] That’s next week’s topic, “Are Boys Retarded?” And I look forward to hearing your views on that, Prue.

When people kicked up about this bigotry, including a Facebook group “Prue MacSween and Channel 7 Should Apologise“, MacSween ‘splained to us all that she’s not prejudiced because she once employed a “Down Syndrome boy” in her office – so she knows that integration should only occur in “controlled situations”.

For one example of protest in the blogosphere, read Nothingbuteverything’s Open Letter to Prue MacSween. Excerpted:

What exactly do you have in mind when you suggest that children with special needs need to be ‘properly administered to’ and ‘put somewhere’? Where do you think they should be ‘put’? What happens in this place? How exactly do they get ‘trained’ (and why not ‘taught’) ?

Also, I know you didn’t get the chance to finish your last sentence, so please enlighten me: just WHAT do ‘these kids’ need to be ‘properly trained in’? Being ‘normal’?


Today Weekend Sunrise ran a followup segment [click forward to the “Special education” video], including Kelly Vincent, parliamentarian in South Australia. Transcript:

Announcer: Two weeks ago, we looked at the story of the teacher suing the government claiming she’s damaged her larynx from yelling at the children in her class. Now some of the kids had special needs, and comments made by our All-Starts panellist Prue MacSween caused controversy.

[replay of offensive comments]

Announcer: No surprises: the comments have sparked a massive online debate. A Facebook group protesting against Prue’s point of view has more than 2600 members. The founder of the Facebook site, Livian Jones, joins us now, along with Larissa Iani [sp?], a mum who feels passionately about the subject. We also have New South Wales Teachers’ Federation Vice-President Gary Zadkovich, and newly elected MP Kelly Vincent joins us from Adelaide this morning. Good morning to you all; thanks for your time. Ah – Livian, your six year old son Caleb has autism. Now he’s in a mainstream class in a public school. Why have you pushed so hard here?

Livian Jones: Well for me, it’s about choice, and the freedom to be able to look at all the options available and see which option best suited Caleb’s needs. And I figured if I found a great public school and they had the resources to support him, well then I figured why couldn’t he have the same opportunities as other kids to attend his local school? And now he’s a great example of how inclusive education can work with the right supports, and how as parents we need to protect that option for our kids.

Announcer: OK. Now, Larissa, your son, six-year-old Anthony has been diagnosed with a global development delay. He’s educated in a mainstream school, but he’s in a support class.

Larissa: That’s right.

Announcer: Why do you object to the comments?

Larissa: Well first and foremost, we’re talking about children here. No child should ever be spoken about so disrespectfully, and no child should ever be labelled a “retard”. As the mother of a child with an intellectual disability, I find those labels and insults quite sick and wrong. And it’s these kind of comments that incite people to discriminate about our children. And look, we’re here now as a result of this, debating whether or not children with special needs are disadvantaging others! When all they have is a basic human right to access the education style that fits them best. It’s their right, it’s their choice, and they should be respected for that.

Announcer: Gary, I was just going to ask you if we take the emotion out of it – I don’t think we can – but from a business perspective, from an advantage/disadvantage perspective, should kids with special needs be educated in separate classrooms?

Gary: Teachers support a full range of options being available for students. We support special classes in regular schools, special schools – standalone special schools, but also we support the integration of students into mainstream classes where that’s appropriate. The problem is not so much the placement of students into mainstream or special classes; the problem is that governments have not properly funded the support and the resources to best meet those students’ needs. And that’s why we consistently and continually campaign to improve government funding to meet the students’ needs.

Announcer: Now, Kelly. You were recently elected to the government of South Australia. You have cerebral palsy. What’s your opinion on this debate?

Kelly Vincent: Well, it’s disgusting. It’s terrible, the comments that have been made. Sure, funding has a lot to do with it, but attitudes don’t help, especially negative attitudes obviously. The comments were just way out of line, particularly toward children as someone said earlier. Because they are defenceless, and they can’t stick up for themselves, so to go around publically saying those things is just terrible. When we talk about children of different abilities being in the same classroom – once upon a time, we said that about people of different colours, that they shouldn’t be in the same classroom as each other, black and white people. And look where that got our society. So it’s just totally unacceptable. Completely agree that funding and the support for the teachers has a lot to do with it. But it begins with parent and student choice, and having the resources in place once the family makes those choices as to what’s best for their child.

Announcer: Alright. Everybody, thankyou for coming in this morning; we appreciate your input. Thanks for your time.

There’s a lot to talk about here, but one thing I do like about the segment is that firstly they had a person with disabilities involved. Though more would have been better, this is a move in the right direction. Also, I like that not everyone is talking only about a parent’s right to choose; there is an emphasis in comments about respect for children with disabilities and about allowing children to have input into their education choices.

One thought on “Inclusive education wrangling on Weekend Sunrise

  1. I am in jaw-drop country. And turns out, it’s a BIG country. Oh, I’m familiar with shock-jocks and I get that the purpose of such ‘debates’ is not to get any useful discussion going, but to have the contributers shouting at each other on-air because that amuses listeners, but this really does reach unusual heights of awfulness.

    The sad thing is that this might just be one of those situations where bad publicity specifically increases their ratings, because people tune in either to hear this situation get worse or what the next controversy will be. But as with all media-propagated disablism, the nasty underlying result is that people who share these prejudices get their views validated. However fringe or purposely OTT the opinions are implied to be by the show’s format, there will be many people who agree.

    This isn’t to say that no disablist opinion should ever be allowed on air: I believe strongly in putting proponents of these positions into reasoned debates where the flaws in their arguments (and their roots in stereotype) can be exposed. But this was not that situation…

    Also, it’s very easy to blame disabled children for the low achievement of able children, and in school systems that are under-resourced in every way, it’s an argument we can expect to see return again and again. We need to be ready to refute it at every turn and to highlight the range of issues that have an impact on classroom control, teacher experience and the overall quality of education.

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