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Monday, December 11, 2023

Diversity And Digby Swinton - Why There's No Room At The Table For The Dimwitted

"He has ADHD", said Marfa Potter about the neighbor's boy, recently diagnosed with a learning disorder.  Of course all but his parents and the schoolteacher whose job it had been to anticipate such problems and refer the children for professional help.  "We must do something for these children", said Mrs. Potter, "they try so hard".  A generation or two ago, before the currency of dyslexia, ADHD, and Parker-Bing Syndrome, the boy would simply have been dumb - not developmentally challenged, but with fewer cards in his deck. 


In those days there was nothing wrong with having trouble with math or reading.  No matter how teachers might have worked patiently with the likes of the neighborhood boy, he would still be stumbling along sounding out his letters, guh-guh-guh, buh-buh-buh like a kindergartener, or wracking his brain to add two and two.  

"Poor Digby Swinton", Marfa Potter went on, " he reads everything backwards, and God only knows what his brain makes of it", but this was the modern age and Digby was given all the latitude in the world to try to turn the sentences around.  Of course he finally figured out that English was not Arabic and stopped trying to be contrary - for that was exactly what his problem was, stubbornness.  He could make sense out of every other two- and three-dimensional piece of information, navigate quite easily through today's complex world; but got stuck on sentences and sentences alone.  

His teachers, especially those recently graduated from the state's new School for Remedial Enterprise, a post-graduate institution designed to deal with the learning impaired.  These young women never looked beyond their noses.  The fact that Digby had no trouble with comic books (visually-assisted learning VAL) or road signs (high-value intellectually visual targets), and could read backwards like a whiz made no difference.  There had to be something structurally wrong with the boy - he couldn't simply have behavioral issues. 

Of course he could and had.  His mother had dropped him off on his first day of kindergarten with "Well, he's your problem now", leaving this totally unsocialized, unsupervised, reluctantly cared-for, synapse-twisted five-year old with poor Miss Leander, a transfer from the Anacostia ghetto as part of the District's rotation plan, who knew how to deal with guns and gangs but not a spoiled upper middle class white kid. 

Marfa Potter was unmoved.  She, like others in this progressive enclave of Northwest Washington, were convinced of environmental determinism.  The 'my child cannot possibly be dumb' syndrome of inclusivity.  To admit that his wiring had gotten crossed and his DNA spliced the wrong way was unconscionable.  The teaching paradigm was at fault, and the new crop of teachers trained at the School for Remedial Enterprise would turn things around.  Even Johnny would soon be able to perform like his peers.


According to Mrs. Potter and her friends, there seemed to be no normal children in the neighborhood.  The bell curve did not seem to apply there, with all boys and girls grouped at one asymptote.  This one had ADHD, that one dyslexia, this one with Parker-Bing.  Then there were those who must have been neglected or even abused, left dangling, cognitively, emotionally abandoned, shuttled from pillar to post by two-income parents for whom childcare was donkey work.  These children needed care and professional attention. 

Of course it was the parents who needed the attention.  They were an indifferent, casual lot about their children.  In a community where immigrant Latinos did everything from house painting to leaf-blowing to chimney-sweeping, paying for them childcare was certainly easier than DIY parenting and, if opportunity cost is considered, far cheaper. 


Learning disability became part of 'inclusivity', victimhood, and environmental abuse.  It was not, as in the old days, a stigma.  It was a statement against hyper-individualistic conservatism which only values the traditionally smart, able, and quick-witted.  These youngsters jumping over the bar and the herd on their way to Sidwell Friends and Harvard were bred not for success but dominion. 'The rich kids' want nothing to do with the likes of Digby Swinton. 

Move a few blocks out of Marfa Potter's neighborhood into one of Washington's wealthiest and most conservative, and you hear no whining and whingeing about learning disabilities.  There are simply smart children and dumb ones, and everyone else is on some part of the bell curve. 

It was Marfa who approached her neighborhood's diversity community and suggested that there should be room at the table for the cognitively disadvantaged.  They were as victimized by an elitist, privileged cadre of white men just like blacks, gays, and women. Inclusion of these children and increasingly young adults, would add flavor and distinction to the community and open the big tent finally and about time to the intellectually odd men out. 

Her request fell ironically on deaf ears, for the hearing disabled had also been given short shrift for far too long, and she retreated disappointed into her neighborhood activism which was really nothing more than cover for her own less than brilliant son. 

And hammer on she did, praising all the new educational technologies available to public schools in the District.  Cooperative learning, 'Coloring Within The Lines', an initiative to elicit creativity within social boundaries and thus prompt 'reluctant' children to come out of their dim back rooms and into a brighter, more encouraging world.  Or 'Johnny plays the tuba', a musical role playing device to show how even the most ungainly child - the living tuba - could indeed fit into the orchestra; and so on, 

Everything was a psycho-social problem - children who ignored walk-don't walk signs were discipline-impaired; those who spoke scrabbled English were growing up in culturally positive families and needed to share their linguistic patterns with other rather than be corrected. 

It was a free-for-all, and Marfa Potter could simply not get over the fact that her son was, 'otherly advantaged'  and would never be la creme de la creme of anything.  The cover was kept up well into the boy's early adulthood, and whenever she had a chance she touted his mastery of what just about everyone else took as a matter of rote, 

"If only that Potter woman would shut up", said a member of the wealthy side of the tracks who heard her banging away about dyslexia and ADHD every time he stopped at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.  She was loud, incessant, and bloody everywhere, he complained; but then again, it was but a hop, skip, and a jump back into his corner of Washington. 

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