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Wisconsin’s Teacher Protests: What the Protests are NOT About

  • Posted on February 26, 2011 at 3:07 AM

Earlier this week, I wrote about the protests in Wisconsin that hit the national news feeds so hard.  It was the kind of political post that I try to stay away from on this blog.  However, I felt it necessary to post about what the protest were about, before I posted about what the protests were NOT about.

In the United States, we spend more to educate consumers about what products to buy than we spend to educate our children.  This fact provides a disturbing illustration of US priorities when it comes to education.  We do not pay teachers enough to hire and retain the high quality teachers our children deserve.  We do not devote enough resources to providing our children with the high quality learning environments they deserve.  We do not devote enough resources to develop the best methodologies for teaching our children, nor do we train our teachers in the existing best practices as our children deserve.

Imagine if parents, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders protested our country low prioritization of education.  Imagine if it happened in just one state.  The way the protests in Madison have spread, we could raise awareness to new heights.  Instead, teachers protest over their union rights, their pay raises, and the amount they must contribute to their benefits packages.  If the protesters in Madison are to be believed, union rights are sacrosanct, but our children’s rights to a high quality education are not.  If teachers have to be let go, if classes have to be shut down, if services for students with disabilities need to be pared back or eliminated—well, that’s fine.  Just don’t touch their union rights. 

Our public schools are in trouble.  Unions do not help the situation.  It seems like nobody is really helping the situation.  Our priorities haven’t changed.  Our country still wants to provide students with an assembly-line style education for as little money as possible.  As much as special education rights represent a dramatic shift from that mentality, that shift has only gone so far.  Too many people argue that special education deprives “real” students of the resources they need.  Providing those “real” students with individualized education isn’t even on the negotiating table.

Why not?  Why aren’t our children our highest priority?  Why is it so easy for education budgets to be attacked?  Why do we, the voting public, tolerate the federal government’s inadequate support for federally mandated education, while our politicians vote for pork barrel spending to buy off their constituents?

I’m a fiscal conservative.  I believe the government should live within a balanced budget.  But I also believe that our spending priorities have to benefit the people—not just some special interest groups, but all the people—first and foremost.  Few things satisfy that priority like providing our children with a high quality education.  But that isn’t our priority because the voting public, the protesters, and the lobbyists do not make it a priority—so our elected politicians do not have to either.

There are a lot of things worthy of protest.  There are a lot of things that are worth my time and energy.  Protecting union rights are not.  Once upon a time, when workers were systematically abused by their employers and unions fought against those abuses, the unions were worth fighting for.  Now unions are a political force unto themselves, answerable first and foremost to themselves, and then to the workers they represent.  Like any other special interest group limiting information or disseminating misinformation is their stock and trade, a means of influencing their base, and they are good at it.

The irony is that if our present day workers—including the college-educated teachers who are currently teaching our kids—had a better education, then these tactics wouldn’t work nearly so well.  But, that’s not really ironic at all.  It’s the whole point.  Why would decision makers provide their constituents with a high quality education when doing so would require them to meet higher standards of political discourse and legislative action?  It’d be like shooting themselves in the foot.

Offending Autism Speaks

  • Posted on October 26, 2010 at 2:16 AM

Okay, so I didn’t intend to take a break from my bullying series until I’d finished with it.  But, I think this is worth it.

For those who don’t know, I am a professional writer—a professional writer at the beginning of my career, but a professional writer nonetheless.  I write full-time.  I make money.  I have been professionally published.  I’m writing two novels and a non-fiction book, along with many other shorter projects.  I market my skills to local businesses (and sometimes not-so-local businesses) and I get paid well for my work.

My point is that I have many interests.  One of the interests I’m resurrecting, after years of studying business, is my fiction.  I’ve neglected my fiction sorely over the last decade of child-bearing, autism-diagnosing, and degree-getting.  Now it’s time for that passion to be re-born.

While I make some effort to keep my variety of interests separate, there is some overlap.  The main character of one of my novels is rather Aspie-ish.  (Though, I’m not going to call her an Aspie—if, for no other reason, then because she’s a fairy.)  My other novel, which is being co-written by a friend of mine, has strong “outsider” themes.  My non-fiction book melds my interests in autism and business and confronts one point where those interests overlap.

Then, there are other, less pleasant, intersections.

I receive many newsletters for writers, including Writing World.  I scan the articles and choose which ones I’ll read in detail.  One I chose to read in detail was about dark fiction markets, written by C. M. Saunders.  This article recommended The Dark Fiction Spotlight as a token-paying market that publishes dark fiction.  So, I checked it out.  As I was scanning pages on the website I found a sub-tab called “Anthology for Autism.” 

Hmm, I thought.  Now, that could be cool!  I have an idea of for a short story that is both dark, science fiction and involving an autistic main character.  The story isn’t written; it’s one of many projects that has been postponed due to time-constraints.  But, I figured if there’s actually a market for it…

So, I started reading about this anthology, and it starts with:

About Autism Speaks:

Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism. Since then, Autism Speaks has grown into the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We are proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and look forward to continued successes in the years ahead.

Oh, dear.  It didn’t look quite so promising any more.  But, I kept reading.  Maybe they’re open-minded.  But, then…

I repeat:

Anything that will offend Autism Speaks will offend me and will not be considered.

Honestly, my story would definitely offend Autism Speaks.  And, frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I remember trying to interview someone at Autism Speaks once.  It didn’t go well.  It wasn’t even an advocacy piece, but that didn’t matter.  Even a piece designed to inform parents of their information options offended the Autism Speaks representative I spoke with.  They were only willing to participate if they had full control over what I wrote, which is an ethical no-no in the journalism world.

So, I took a break from my bullying series to warn my fellow speculative fiction writers and autism advocates that The Dark Fiction Spotlight or Lady Luck Publishing might not be publishers you want to patronize or write for.  As much as I hate to write off potential markets, I won’t be pursuing any opportunities with them.

* * *

For those who read this blog and don’t already know, this last part provides reasons why such an affiliation with Autism Speaks requires me to boycott this company and it’s zines.

In a sense, all of this is about bullying. 

Autism Speaks claims they exist to advocate for families with autism, but only 4% of the donations goes to those families.  They fund research, and one of their major projects seeks a way to diagnose autism in utero, which is a form of eugenics.

That is why I disagree with Autism Speaks’ agenda.  But that, in and of itself, does not warrant boycotting (though it is why I would not donate to their organization).

Autism Speaks goes even further than this.  Autism Speaks is an organization that intentionally spreads fear and despair.  They use advertisements that amount to hate speech against autistics.  They encourage parents to fantasize on camera about killing their autistic children, and use this as a reason why autistics should be eliminated from society.

They use “Autism Speaks” as their name to claim that they speak for autistics; they don’t.  Autistics can and do speak for themselves, like these protesters.  On the site for the anthology, there’s this branding slogan: “Autism Speaks. It’s time to listen.”  Autistics, in return, says: “Autism Speaks needs to listen.”  Instead, Autism Speaks actively tries to silence those not in agreement with their eugenics agenda.

If this wasn’t bad enough, they engage in unethical business practices.  They mislead donors as they raise funds for their research.  They try to control media elements, as they did when I tried to interview one of their representatives.  And they bully their way through politics and the social landscape.  Their message is clear:  If you don’t feel bad (or even homicidal) about having an autistic child, then there’s something wrong with you, because autism has stolen your child’s soul.  (Yes, the soul-stealing is paraphrased, but with their very words one of their representatives has used.)

As an organization, Autism Speaks is a bully—a well-funded, politically powerful bully that believes that eugenics is the solution to autism.  And that offends me.  They use their size and their wealth to attempt to stomp out disagreement.

And they create anthologies where one point of view is all that can be expressed, because they don’t want their audience to become aware of differing points of view.

That offends me.  Autism Speaks offends me.  As a business person who believes in ethical business practices and as a parent of three children with diagnoses of autism, Autism Speaks offends me.  And I cannot write honestly and not offend them in turn.

I wouldn’t change that even if I could.