“Don’t call me special.”

An instructor in New Jersey threatens a student, who records in on camera. Watch the video here, embedded at the top of the article. Trigger warning. Serious trigger warning. The student makes a simple request, and his voice is calm and polite throughout the entire video. The instructor, whose voice rises to dangerous levels, looks like he’s about to physically attack him. The instructor’s fists are clenched for the majority of the video.

Transcript:

“Don’t call me special.”

“What? Oh my God, fucking *** tard. Jules, just what do you think you’re in here for? What does the title on the front of that school say? SPECIAL EDUCATION.”

“Don’t call me special.”

“What would you like me to call you Jules.”

“Normal. Just don’t call me special.”

“Are …what’s the definition of normal?”

“Um—”

“You wanna be called normal but YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT IT IS! That makes a WHOLE LOTTA SENSE.”

(instructor walks toward board, then turns back around)

“What do you want me to call you Jules?”

“I don’t know. Just don’t call me special.”

“What’s gonna happen—?”

“Don’t call me special.”

“What’s gonna happen to me?”

“Don’t call me special.”

“Alright, what’s gonna happen to me?”

“I’m just telling you, don’t call me special.”

“I will say whatever I want about you. You don’t like it, OH WELL. You know what, the truth hurts. Reality hurts.”

“When I get out of this school, you ain’t gonna be calling me special no more.”

“You know what, Jules? I will kick your ass from here to Kingdom Come until I’m 80 years old.”

“Don’t threaten me.”

“What’re you gonna do? What’re you gonna do? YOU GONNA GET A CHOPPER AND CHOP ME? Like I’m scared. You’re never gonna be able to beat me ever. You’re never gonna be big. You’re never gonna be tough. That’s the real world. You threatening me?”

“I’m not threatening you!”

“You said when you get out of this school you’re gonna do something. What’re you gonna do—?”

“No, I didn’t!”

“–What’re you gonna do?”

“Get out of my face.”

“What’re you gonna do?”

“Don’—”

“You didn’t say that? You didn’t say when you get out of school—”

“Get out of my face!”

“—you’re gonna do something.”

“I didn’t—no, I said when I get out of this school, what’re you gonna say then. When I get out of this school—”

“When you get out of this school, I’ll be right there. You tell me where you are and I’ll call you anytime–”

“—I said when I get out of this school—then—”

“—there ain’t gonna be a stinkin thing you can do.” (student attempts to speak) “There ain’t gonna be nothin’ you’re gonna do. There ain’t gonna be nothing you’re gonna ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER, EVER, do!”

“Get out of my face.”

“What’re you gonna do? What’re you gonna do?”

“Just get out of my face.”

“I be where I want WHEN I want. What’re you gonna do? You won’t do a thing.”

“Get out of my face.”

“You don’t see me movin’ do you? Do you see me moving?”

“Get out of my face.”

“You ain’t gonna do a thing. NEVER.”

“Alright. Just get out of my face.”

“You ain’t NEVER gonna be big enough or bad enough. Never! That’s the truth. That’s why they *inaudible* You ain’t never gonna make it *inaudible* Life sucks. Reality sucks. Walk into the real world.”

31 thoughts on ““Don’t call me special.”

  1. Flint

    The best part is all of the commenters on the video who want “context” or want to know what this kid did to “cause” this situation. Granted, this is the internet, but it’s one thing to see people drop slurs because they think they’re being cool, it’s another to see them rationally defend why this might be or is probably okay, or that they’re a teacher/parent/caretaker too and it’s just “so hard.”

    I didn’t watch the video because I’ve been in special ed too, but I read the transcript. I’ve had at least one teacher make a similar tirade to me, if not this extreme. Most of the people I know who went through special ed have as well. This isn’t uncommon when power dynamics are that skewed.

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    1. (I just changed the linked article to a more detailed one from ABC, but the comments are predictably the same.)

      The “context” comments are absurd–it doesn’t matter what the student did beforehand, it’s inexcusable that the instructor lost it like that, and that said, the student obviously didn’t “provoke” him. If he had done anything prior to the incident, the instructor would have brought it up somewhere in the video.

      Also, they HAVE the context: I didn’t type it out in the transcript but right before the student says “Don’t call me special,” the instructor is on a rant for like a paragraph about how in the “real world” no one will care that he’s “special.”

      “Who’s gonna care that you’re special?”
      *student murmurs* “No one.”
      No one.”
      “Don’t call me special.”

      THAT is the context. The student did nothing to “cause” this.

      And the video submitted is a little under three minutes, but the original lasts ten.

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  2. This type of shit just pisses me. A similar thing happened to a girl in another state and when I went to the rad fem blogs, there was nothing about the disabled girl who was abused by her T.A. and teacher and rad fems say they care about women and girls. BAH!

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  3. Part of my work, which came about because of my own daughter’s K-12 experience in special education and because of the intellectually and learning disabled students I encounter in teaching university classes, is in critical pedagogy and intellectual disability. What I’ve found is that this sort of bullying is actually pretty common and I have some ideas as to why that is.
    1) Teachers (K-12 and higher ed [outside engineering, medicine, and other moneymakers]) are poorly paid and have almost zero support from administrators, which leads to frustration, too often vented on students.
    2) Education has become the undergrad major of slackers (right along with my own discipline, communication). Admissions standards for teaching programs are an absolute joke, drawing many directionless students who have no real desire to teach, but have heard that it’s an easy major and they’ll have summers off. So many of the people who end up teaching have no interest in the field and find that they hate it, again, taking it out on students.
    3) Special education teaching seems to attract a certain number of bullies and control freaks. What better way to give vent to their desire to dominate than to be put in charge of a captive and already marginalized audience?\
    4) Mainstreaming. When special education students are thrown, whether part-time or full-time, into the standard classroom (this happens at universities as well, because of inclusion policies), the special education students become frustrated because the material is not designed for them, which can lead to frustration and acting out, which in turn leads teachers to respond, often in inappropriate ways. Likewise, other students become frustrated because they feel teachers spend too much time on the special ed students, or they find the special ed students’ presence annoying after some time (they may, for instance, be asking too many questions, can’t keep up, or make inappropriate remarks) and these students become targets for non-special-ed students. Thus the mob mentality, which often includes teachers, takes over. And finally, teachers who are not qualified to teach special ed students find that they’re in the classroom anyway, either through mainstreaming or because stubborn parents have refused to acknowledge their children need to be in special ed programs. The teachers’ limited resources are therefore divided yet again and they have to decide whether to devote a disproportionate amount of time to their special ed student, “teach down” to the rest of the class to ensure the special ed student can keep up, or, as usually happens, leave the special ed student to sink or swim without the teacher’s support.

    Please note that I’m not offering excuses, only pointing out the stupid, misguided policies that are in place that ensure that the bullying of special education students will continue.
    (Just noticed I’ve written a blog post on your post…sorry. This issue is so near my heart I just couldn’t stop myself.)

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    1. Flint

      Let’s not attribute this to mainstreaming. Students have a RIGHT to be included in the regular classroom unless they ABSOLUTELY CANNOT learn in that environment. This happens much, much less often than you might think. It’s so rare and difficult for disabled students to actually get into mainstream classes I doubt that being “thrown into the standard class” is even a thing–it’s much more common for everyone to be segregated and marginalized.

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      1. Being in an environment that is DESIGNED to meet one’s learning needs and protects one from vicious classmates and harried teachers does not equal “segregated” or “marginalized. And I will continue to blame mainstreaming because I’ve seen firsthand that very little good comes of it. Get off your high horse, throwing intellectually disabled students on the mercy of teachers who are not qualified to teach them is not helpful.

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      2. And by the way, students have a greater RIGHT to be in a safe environment that’s conducive to their learning. Mainstreaming does not fulfill this right. All it does is to allow everyone involved to feel smug about how “inclusive” they are. Really, mainstreaming advocates’ favorite phrase is that intellectually disabled students “teach us so much.” And while I’d hate to get all 101 on you, I’d like to point out that it’s never the duty of the marginalized to “teach” others.

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      3. Flint

        Hi Amatullah,

        I’ve spent several years in special ed classrooms and other learning disabled environments as well as severe behavior handicap settings due to a lack of appropriate disabled settings. There was a constant flip-flop between putting me into a violent, unsafe environment and putting me into a safer one that didn’t teach anything educationally worthwhile. I also wrote the short bus my entire high school career until I decided to start walking home, and had an aide follow me to perform all social functions for me in class, even after I requested for this not to be the case. None of this is really your business, but I just wanted to demonstrate that you aren’t capable or qualified to give me a 101 lecture.

        Mainstreaming was, obviously, a better fit for myself personally, and I believe my life suffered into my twenties for skills I did not have a chance to learn in school, but I’m not just speaking from personal experience here. An environment DESIGNED to meet one’s learning needs? Have you ever BEEN in a special ed classroom? Go read my other posts on this thread. Special ed rooms are designed to 1) remove the disabled individual and make disability “go away” so the able people never have to see it, and 2) facilitate the students’ training, as a group, so that they can farmed into sheltered workshops as adults where they will be paid near-slave wages ranging from (that I know about) 85 cents an hour to $2-3/week.

        Moreover, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which you may or may not be familiar with, requires mainstreaming UNLESS the individual absolutely cannot learn in mainstream settings. This is very rarely the case, and it requires testing. This is the law, it’s been the law since 1975, and there’s probably not a school district in the country that actually follows it because there are no consequences for treating disabled people like a commodity. In the video Nahida linked, during the teacher’s tirade, I saw what looked like another adult entering the room. This is not done discreetly or in secret, because nobody cares it’s going on and the educational system is going to protect its own when accusations come to light. The school I went to as a 5th grader, for example, persisted 6 years after I left with rampant abuses of students because of the ongoing collusion of all the adult staff, until a new teacher finally blew the whistle.

        Safety is another reason these settings are inherently toxic to disabled students, but really they’re also just inferior. Most special ed rooms are already in violation of the law so it’s no surprise they don’t bother to distinguish between students’ abilities and teach them based on their needs rather than the convenient practices (labor) the school wants to teach them. If mainstream teachers are not “qualified” to handle disabled students then they need to fucking get out of their job, because we’re everywhere and they shouldn’t expect a disabled-free workplace.

        I’m all for having discussions about how to improve the conditions for disabled people as I volunteer a lot of my time as a disability rights advocate, far too much of which is spent fending off able caretakers who want to run the movement themselves, but I’m really not interested in “debating” whether we actually should be invisible and whether or not disabled kids who go to school should expect an education or just ways to be useful to able capitalists.

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      4. (Sorry, I’m actually replying to Amatullah76 responses to Flint, not to Flint, but there’s no reply link to Amatullah76’s comments.)

        How about you get off *your* high horse, Amatullah76. Like Flint, I’m autistic. I also have ADHD and I am trans. How about you listen to people with developmental disabilities before you make prescriptive statements about the one true way to handle “special needs” kids.

        I was in a “special needs” school for two years (fifth and sixth grades), and the only thing that I learned is that I’m worthless and hopeless. That message was drummed into me every day by staff. One teacher twisted my arm up behind my back so high that my shoulder was sore for days – why? Because I refused to go to gym class after being repeatedly bullied by other students while the teachers did nothing. Another time, a teacher encouraged another student to kick me in the solar plexus, then screamed at me “Breathe! Breathe!” while I lay on the ground utterly unable to breath.

        I was mainstreamed the following year (for 7th grade). The “special needs” school had done absolutely ZERO to help me make the transition. Indeed, all the “special needs” school ever did was take what little self-esteem I had and rip it to shreds, before dumping me utterly unprepared into a public schools where the bullying continued, with the encouragement of the teachers and administrators.

        I believe that each child / family has the right to decide what is the most appropriate education setting for their child, and they have the right to demand decent treatment in whatever educational setting the child is in.

        And I’m not keen on listening to temporarily-able-minded academics tell the people who actually have to *live* this @%#$ what’s right and proper for us.

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      5. I mentioned that I am trans, because as a student I was affected by a nexus of cissupremacism and ableism. My treatment by fellow students, staff, and administrators was all the worse because I refused to be a proper “boy”. Authoritarian gym teachers especially saw it as their duty to beat the girl out of me.

        This nexus still affects me – I haven’t had full time work in three years. During a recession, no one wants to hire an autistic trans chick.

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      6. Riven

        agree. My severely disabled daughter is in mainstream, where she should be, not in a segregated place. The teachers who do this are bullies and would do it anywhere. Segregation is not the answer. Decent funded education with inclusion, correct support and proper training is.

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  4. I wish this were surprising to me.
    When I was young, I was in a gifted program, and for budgetary reasons, we had to share our Shop and Home Economics classes with the special-ed students from the school that hosted us for those classes (our school had no facilities). It was an inspired choice, and we all made friends that lasted beyond the classes’ end. But it was also instructive to see how the teachers we liked and enjoyed and trusted, who taught us so much and so well, were regularly abusive and just…mean…to our classmates.

    When people from my class made safety mistakes, we were gently corrected, the problem explained, and we were set back to the work.

    When our classmates made the same mistakes, they were shouted at, punished, and given time out for the rest of the class – if they didn’t finish the project, well, who cared, right? The teachers saw it as basically make-work, a way to keep them out of trouble. Ironically, the very skills they were teaching, or supposed to be, were the ones most likely to be directly useful to people looking at a probable career in manual labour of some sort.

    About halfway through the year, we got together and approached our teachers at our own school, and asked if we could use a buddy system, and the buddies would be responsible for each other’s safety and compliance to procedures and such. Because we were the privileged, the gifted, and it was the 70s (so a very new idea, gifted programs), they told us to write up a proposal, and they’d clear it with the board.

    Eventually, we got it approved, and spent the rest of the year working in pairs at our various tasks and projects. Our classmates learned a bunch, and so did we.

    And probably in every other class, and every year after that, they were treated like this. So we didn’t make a whole lot of difference. But we each got a pretty eye-opening look at “not being privileged”.

    Thanks for writing about this, it’s really important.

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    1. Flint

      It’s pretty intentional (I can’t tell if that’s the conclusion you were drawing). Special ed students go right into sheltered workshops where they make as little as $2-3/wk doing manual labor.

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      1. Absolutely – there’s one (a workshop like that) not far from where I used to live in my town here in Canada, actually. We used to always take the same bus, so I got to know a few of the workers there, always lovely to interact with.

        But it bothered me, I think, that this was the single pair of classes by far the most likely to prove useful to my classmates, and good instruction was being denied them because they were “different” – really, a thing that could make their lives eternally worse.

        It pissed us off, I guess. We were used to being singled out for difference ourselves, most of us victims of schoolyard violence of a systematic nature too, even if we were privileged within the system.

        I was really glad that we made the proposal, and that they took it, and as far as I know (that was my last year at that school, and I left the program only a year after that) they kept it up. It was great for all of us, because there’s no way better to really learn something than to help teach it to someone else.

        I wish I had the patience and extroversion needed to work with the special needs population today, but I know I don’t, so I put in my support in other ways – the last thing they need is more unqualified and ill-suited people in direct support.

        Thanks for your reply, and your passion.

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  5. Just a correction – I should have said “even though we were privileged in the system.” There’s no “if” about it. We had carpeted classrooms, a darkroom in one of them, a small but well-equipped science lab (for 12-year-olds), two televisions and a brand-new Video Tape Recorder and camera to use for projects, flexible scheduling, just all kinds of privileges.

    I apologise for the error, and to anyone I offended or hurt.

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  6. Really, even the phrase “special needs children” just rankles me. Our “needs” aren’t “special”. Every student has unique needs and strengths. Some struggle with history and are brilliant at math. Some struggle with math but are brilliant with gymnastics. Some struggle with attention deficits but are totally history wonks. But only the last group gets labelled as “special needs” and shunted off to *over there* to get us out of the way.

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  7. I couldn’t reply above, but this is in response to the replies to my original comment. Autism is not the same as intellectual disability, as I’m sure those who responded know. One may experience both, but they are not the same thing. So, while mainstreaming may work for a limited number of people with autism, in the case of intellectual disability, which is quite specifically what I said, it’s very rarely a useful option and causes far more harm than good.
    I get that those who responded are speaking from their own experiences. However, the experience of an autistic student is very different to that of an intellectually disabled student.
    Overall, I think the conversation here is moving toward the ways in which students are classified “special needs.” That is, the funneling of all students, whatever their needs, who don’t respond to standard teaching methods, into the special education system under the one-size-fits-all system.
    As for your dismissive comment, Galla, “And I’m not keen on listening to temporarily-able-minded academics tell the people who actually have to *live* this @%#$ what’s right and proper for us.”
    Keep in mind that while you may be in a position to self-advocate, many, including my daughter are not. I am not simply speaking from some disinterested academic standpoint, but from lived experience. But do you suggest that parents and allies of intellectually disabled people who are not able to be self-advocates just sit down and shut up? Are you going to speak for my daughter when her experience is 180 degrees different to yours? She doesn’t read and her speech is limited. She’s interested in cartoons and coloring books. Should I shut up and stay out of it, or should I advocate for her? It’s odd that you ask others not to speak for you, but seem alright with speaking on behalf of others, deciding who gets a voice and who doesn’t.

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    1. Flint

      Wow, how many dismissive tropes can you fit into one comment? It’s FASCINATING that you think GallingGalla and I can ONLY speak from our own experiences, and yet you, the noble able caretaker, are able to rise above it all and speak of the whole picture. One would think you were more experienced with ableism!

      If your daughter can make her needs known she can self-advocate. In fact you just described it. She’s made her interests in cartoons and coloring books known to you–speech is not really relevant or necessary for self-advocacy and you have no idea how much GallingGalla or I can speak in person. Obviously as her parent it’s important you advocate for her to the best of your ability but it is grossly inappropriate for you to assume you are better able to advocate for us as a group than a disabled person can–and for the record autism is a developmental disability which can include or be perceived to include intellectual disability.

      Your original reply to me was dismissive but came from a place of ignorance–you could have apologized for your assumptions and we could have had a discussion about the content of your words. You’ve since moved into the realm of being an asshole. You are behaving in a deliberate ableist fashion by dismissing the lived experiences of GallingGalla and myself, by presuming that your status as a parent and/or an academic makes you qualified to talk about the bigger picture while GG and I can only talk about ourselves, by crying tone argument, and by playing the old “if you disagree with me you can self-advocate and therefore I don’t need to listen to you” bullshit.

      I’m not suggesting that you can never talk about ableism ever, but yes, sometimes as an ally you do need to sit down and shut up. Our experience may be different from your daughter, but it’s closer than yours will EVER be. Obviously you know your daughter specifically and I’m not going to entertain any derailment that we think we know her better, but I would think someone who hadn’t bought into her own ableist supremacy would listen to how overwhelmingly negative the experiences of people who’ve actually been in special ed classrooms has been.

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    2. I think it might be important to remember that the incident of abuse recorded on camera took place in a “special education” classroom, not a mainstream one. So however you feel about mainstreaming, that wasn’t the policy at play, and were the classroom truly designed for disabled students the instructor should have been qualified to teach and had no reason to become “frustrated.” The victim has ADHD–which would not have prevented him from learning in a mainstream classroom. The article also states he has “emotional issues” …which is really vague; I’m not sure what that means, but I doubt it would make him a distraction in a mainstream classroom since he seemed very clearly responsive and calm both before and while the instructor lost it for no apparent reason except that he’s a total dickhead. In fact it was the instructor who derailed the lesson for ten minutes so that he could bully the kid.

      And it’s very possible to describe our own very different experiences without dismissing others’.

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  8. Riven

    sadly disablism seems to be growing among many non disabled sectors of society. In my own life as a disabled muslim feminist I am not welcome at mosques (there’s steps), at feminist meetings (more steps), demo’s (lets talk about access) and neither is my daughter who cannot move or speak. And then you get feminists justifying it or patronising disabled women and children. Pah

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  9. almostclever

    Spoke at length about this in one of my trauma classes today. Just sickens me. My brother has cerebral palsey and is in a wheelchair. He came home with many stories from school when we were kids, and it wasn’t peer bullying so much as adult prejudice against those perceived as less than.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Like

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