We Are Still Victorians

Queen Victoria       

Of course no one means to be a Victorian except for some cats like John Boehner whose tears on 60 Minutes were entirely sentimental or perhaps Mel Gibson who would like to do some things to women and children that have largely been outlawed since 1920.

I know when I got up this morning I didn’t plan on living in Victoriana. Heck I felt contemporary. After all I own an IPad and a BlackBerry and sometimes I even listen to Dr. Dre.

Alright. I lied about Dr. Dre. But I did watch 45 seconds of his latest video before the misogyny did me in.

I think that when it comes to disability in higher education that even the best among us are still living with a rehabilitation model that is as Victorian as can be.

Special education is, by its own name, a fine example of this cultural segregation and taxonomy.

My own university which can’t provide restrooms that meet basic ADA guidelines and where the student disability office is hidden away in the basement of a dormitory—a location that assures people with disabilities won’t be able to get out if there’s a fire—my own university functions with a neo-Victorian segregationist sensibility, one that does little to champion actual faculty, staff, or students as integrated members of the campus community.

We imagine as the ghostly children of the old Queen that someone else takes care of these issues, someone in the asylum for cripples and mental defectives.

We imagine special education as a consortium of segregated educational activities—a model that largely flies in the face of new evidence about the breadth and range of how people learn.

We imagine that people with disabilities are easily re-engineered into quasi-normalcy without examining what Victorian spigots are still dripping wherever normalcy is spoken.

In general terms we can’t think about disability until we wrestle with the history of our cultural taxonomies and our eugenics driven antipathy to people with mental illnesses or who have communication disabilities.

In general terms we are still collectors of outworn classifications. We have lots of little boxes to put people in. Have you been to the basement of Burge Hall at the University of Iowa?

 

S.K.