Sick and disabled friends and family are wondering how they will endure if the GOP destroys the ACA and Medicaid. The stress of fighting for these life-sustaining programs has been great. The stress of coping without even the basic supports we have now will be greater still. Our life force bleeds as this protracted insult to our dignity plays out.
Norms are being trampled in order to harm us. Those responsible should contemplate the disposition of direction of their souls. I lost my religion long ago, but if you believe in a Maker, consider this…
Our neurodiversity and disabilities are biological facts coded into our beings. Our differences are the beauty and the strength of our species. Autistic, Dyslexic, ADHD, LGBTQIA, Allistic, Neurotypical—our diverse wiring is of our Maker. We are expressions in the Maker’s Spectrum. Maker designed for variation so that we can be better, together, using our diversity to continue the making. We plucky Prometheans have made miraculous things together. Without the full Spectrum of minds and ways of being, we wouldn’t have achieved those wonders. We are more robust and resilient as a species and as a society when we embrace and support the biological and intellectual diversity Gifted to us.
You can choose hate and grievance, or you can look to light and behold the Spectrum. Protect us all, not just those who are white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, neurotypical, evangelical, and able. Monocultures are unstable, unhealthy, and contrary to our Making. Don’t suppress the Spectrum.
Forcing a vote on a secret bill that impacts so many, including my family, is an obvious wrong. I had issues with how the ACA was passed, but compared to what is happening now the passage of the ACA was highly ethical and transparent. The contrast between the passage of the ACA and the AHCA/BCRA is startling. I watched a video today of former President Obama taking ACA questions at a town hall. We have seen no such thing from President Trump or Republican leadership. Instead, we get insulting tweets from a detached POTUS who seems confused about the difference between health insurance and life insurance.
I see in the actions and rhetoric of the GOP a disregard for ethics, norms, and rule of law. I see also a disregard for life and dignity. We protested in massive numbers. We showed up with our wheelchairs and mobility aids to exercise our right to protest and petition, and we were dragged away. We shared our stories and bared our souls to offer testimony of our lived experiences as sick, disabled, neurodivergent, and dying Americans. The response has been cowardly and callous.
In autistic and disability circles, we say “Nothing about us without us.” Trumpcare has proceeded without us despite being very much about us. Bills drafted in secrecy by an unrepresentative group is not democracy.
The analysis I’ve read of the BCRA in the intervening days since it was decloaked are uniformly damning. Higher premiums, less coverage, and the wanton destruction of Medicaid. From my perspective as a parent of disabled kids, this bill is evidence of moral and ethical impoverishment and eugenicist intent. It directly contravenes promises made by POTUS during his campaign. Republican Senators have flat out lied about its effects.
I am an independent. None of the parties really represent me. One, however, has become something so dangerous and intolerable that I must change the way I vote. The party of the Southern Strategy, voter suppression, post-truth, and Medicaid destruction will not get any support from me. Instead, I will vote straight ticket Democrat in an effort to defend democracy from white supremacy, kleptocracy, autocracy, obstruction, and probable treason (quacks like a duck). The Democratic Party, with all its faults, cannot do worse than the intellectual, moral, and ethical bankruptcy–near enough to round down–of Trumpism.
In my family and circles, the GOP has lost support. To be with the GOP is to keep company with dedicated racists and post-truthers who have poisoned themselves heart, mind, and soul with grievance, supremacy, and the Southern Strategy.
It breaks my heart to see what some family members have become. The media they consume is an authoritarian diet of fear. Younger generations of white Americans mourn the loss of elders who have forsaken the expansive wisdom of years for narrow hate. Many of us have witnessed parents and grandparents become bitter, resentful, and incapable of civility. Instead of experiencing the world in its diversity and wonder, they experienced cable news and lost themselves in a false narrative of grievance and fear.
This is the legacy of the GOP. Poisoned generations of white folks are destroying the systems, institutions, and planet that support succeeding generations of all folks.
The word “special” is used to sugar-coat segregation and societal exclusion – and its continued use in our language, education systems, media etc serves to maintain those increasingly antiquated “special” concepts that line the path to a life of exclusion and low expectations.
This piece speaks to my experience as a neurodivergent father with neurodivergent kids. “Special” is non-inclusive, discriminatory language. It is a deficit and medical model euphemism that excuses segregation and exclusion.
“Special” is the language of patients captive to a disability industrial complex. Identity first is the language of agents. By replacing “special” with social model language, we can begin the transformation from patient to agent. Encouraging and developing agency and self-advocacy is one of our most important jobs as parents, educators, doctors, coaches, and therapists.
Although human diversity, the social model of disability and inclusion as human rights framework concepts are developing traction, for much of society the “special story” still goes like this:
A child with “special needs” catches the “special bus” to receive “special assistance” in a “special school” from “special education teachers” to prepare them for a “special” future living in a “special home” and working in a “special workshop”.
Does that sound “special” to you?
The word “special” is used to sugar-coat segregation and societal exclusion – and its continued use in our language, education systems, media etc serves to maintain those increasingly antiquated “special” concepts that line the path to a life of exclusion and low expectations.
The logic of the connection between “special needs” and “special segregated places” is very strong – it doesn’t need reinforcement – it needs to be broken.
Further, the “special needs” label sets up the medical “care” model to disability rather than the social inclusion model of disability. It narrows and medicalises society’s response to the person by suggesting that the focus should be on “treating” their “special needs”, rather than on the person’s environment responding to and accommodating the person – including them for the individual that they are.
There is another insidious but serious consequence of being labelled (as having or being) “special needs”. The label carries with it the implication that a person with “special needs” can only have their needs met by “special” help or “specially-trained” people – by “specialists”. That implication is particularly powerful and damaging in our mainstream schooling systems – it is a barrier to mainstream schools, administrators and teachers feeling responsible, empowered or skilled to embrace and practice inclusive education in regular classrooms, and accordingly perpetuates attitudinal resistance to realising the human right to inclusive education under Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In other words, the language of “special needs” leads to, and serves to excuse, a “can’t do” attitude as the default position of many general educators – it effectively deprives inclusive education of its necessary oxygen – a conducive “can do” classroom culture.
The label of “special needs” is inconsistent with recognition of disability as part of human diversity. In that social framework, none of us are “special” as we are all equal siblings in the diverse family of humanity.
It is also to acknowledge and discuss the fact that the disability rights movement has been having conversations about language and disability terminology for decades, and that many nondisabled people are (perhaps willfully) unaware of these conversations. They come up with complex and tormented euphemisms to talk about disability instead of just asking a disabled person if there’s an appropriate term. Many nondisabled people are shocked that many people with disabilities, including myself, view ‘special’ as a rank insult that is horrifying to encounter. This word makes me so angry. So angry.
Thus, when I say ”special’ troubles me,’ I mean ‘please do not use this term to refer to me, because I find it personally insulting, and I have an identity, that identity is disabled, please respect my identity by using the word I self identify with to refer to me’ and I also mean ‘I would vastly prefer that you consider not using it as a default/general term, but use it for self identification if you identify with it, and to describe other people who self identify with it.’ And, in return, if I know that someone identifies as special needs or with any other term involving ‘special,’ I will refer to that person that way, because I believe that respecting self identification is a critical thing. However, I note that I don’t personally know anyone who identifies with this term; I see it being used by nondisabled friends and family, applied as a label by others and not claimed as a self identification.
So, here’s what I, personally, don’t like about special: I feel like it’s an isolating word. I feel that the concept of ‘special’ stands in the way of full integration into society, and it also perpetuates some very harmful myths. It sets people with disabilities aside and stresses that they are different and alien. That using a wheelchair, for example, is ‘special’ and different and weird.
This word, to me, stresses a hierarchy of normality. And, thanks to the way that it has become twisted, it has become a singularly loaded word. Everything from ramps to quiet rooms for taking exams is considered ‘special treatment’ and sneered at. Nondisabled people think that we are pulling off some kind of giant scam here and that’s reinforced when we talk about, for example, ‘special education.’
The very idea that accommodations are ‘special’ stresses that they should not be expected. That they are a prize or treat. That you don’t deserve them. I want to see accommodations normalised. I want to see it assumed that everyone who wants to participate in something is able to do so, that no barriers are presented by other participants or the venue. I don’t want that to be ‘special.’ I want it to be ordinary.
Likewise, the idea of referring to human beings as ‘special’ is one I find troubling, not least because this term has become weaponised. I have trouble parsing whether it is being used as a celebration of identity or an insult whenever I encounter it.
The “special needs” language falls into normativity. There’s a “normal” and a “right” way to do things, and that way is how able people do it. If you don’t do it that way, suddenly it’s “special” because it’s different and scary.
“Special needs” is part of this dichotomy which is used to split able and disabled. Indeed, to alienate disability. Disability is different and “special” and hard and weird. “Special” is an isolating word, in fact, because it sets people apart, and not necessarily in a good way, no matter what the original meaning of the word is.
Think “special bus” or “special education,” both of which are used to isolate developmentally disabled folks from their peers, often under the argument that they are “hard to control” or “disruptive” or “upsetting” or, sometimes, just “gross.” People use “special” to push these folks away, to isolate them somewhere where they cannot bother the nice able people.
It’s one of the many euphemisms for disability which is used to create a veil of obscurity. Disability as Other. Indeed, “special needs,” a term which people often use because they are fumbling for something else to use, looking for the “right” way to say it, is intensely othering.
For one night, the special needs community will shine! And then the day after, they will go back to being ignored by much of their communities.
Here’s the real problem for me – why put this money behind isolated, segregated, events? I know Tebow et al. think they are doing good here, and I’m sure the people who go will have a good time. But it accomplishes nothing other than a brief moment of fake normality.
“Prom” didn’t matter to me, but to many people prom = normal highschool experience. So if people with disabilities are being excluded from such activities, if that’s something they want, then the solution is to put time and money behind making such events more inclusive and more accessible.
A segregated special event for special needs, no matter how well intentions, just reinforces the idea that people with disabilities cannot function in “normal” society.
There’s a social media campaign going on right now to #SayTheWord – it was started by Lawrence Carter-Long, the Public Affairs Manager for the National Council on Disability, and is an active Twitter hashtag. The word, of course, is disabled.
The importance of this campaign is driven home to me over and over again as I see people performing ludicrous and painful contortions to avoid saying it. Reminder that when I make a criticism the way well-meaning people interact with disability, I am not attacking the people (parenthetical reminder that I was immersed in ableism myself not long ago), but inviting people to think about things in a different way.
Instead of saying disabled, nice people say things like:
handicapable (yes, really)
It’s that last one, special needs, that I really want to take aim at, because I believe that seemingly innocuous phrase does serious damage to disability rights.
Every time someone says “special needs,” they reinforce the false notion that disabled people are asking for “extras” when we require accommodations, modifications, and/or support to access the same things that non-disabled people are able to access, such as education, public spaces, community involvement, and so on.
That’s the first problem, because access is not “special” for disabled people. It’s our right. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protects disabled Americans from discrimination, requires us to be accommodated in the workplace, and grants us equal access to public spaces and institutions. Other countries have laws in place to protect disability rights in similar ways.
The second problem is, the phrase “special needs” flies in the face of the social model of disability. The social model says, the disabled person’s inability to access things is due not to the disabled person’s failings, flaws, or deficits, but on the environment’s failure to provide access to the things. For example, a Blind person is not disabled because they can’t see, they are disabled because the world was set up by seeing people for seeing people and is made of many things that are inaccessible to non-seeing people.
My son, who has Down syndrome, is 10. By the time he was 3 (thanks in part to spending his first few years reading everything I could get my hands on), it was pretty clear to me that while he had particular needs, they weren’t all that special. He needs an education, safe housing, independence, meaningful community, health care, and basically all the other stuff that everyone else needs. Our means to get him there might vary and require specific techniques, tools, and resources, but it’s not because his needs are so “special.”
Moreover, as a euphemism, “special” has become its own brand of insult. Anecdotally, I increasingly see people substituting the word where they might have used the word “retard,” because ableism can always survive the shifting of norms. “Special,” appended before “snowflake,” was the “defining insult” of 2016, according to The Guardian. “Special” connotes both undesirably different and unjustly self-centered.
In fact, there’s a broad cross-disability movement dedicated to working against euphemisms like “special needs” or “differently-abled.” While the origins of the expression “special needs” are complicated and debated, Rebecca Cokley, executive director of the National Council on Disability, explained to me that it’s clear “the term was never chosen by our community; it was chosen by educators, family members, and other professionals who felt uncomfortable by the use of the term ‘disability.’”
It’s not just about law, either. Lawrence Carter-Long launched the #SayTheWord campaign in 2016 to get people to use “disability” or “disabled” rather than dodging the issue. He told me that in the past, “Disability was only a diagnosis, but it now equals identity, it equals community, it equals history, it equals constituency. So part of saying the word is the recognition of the evolution of what the word has become.” He’s equally opposed to special needs, as a concept, because, “A need isn’t special, if other people get to take the same thing for granted.”
The #NotSpecialNeeds video doesn’t say the word disability, but I don’t know that it needs to do so. It’s an impressive piece of work, chipping away at the euphemism “special needs” with hilarity, positing scenarios that would qualify as special, like needing massages from cats or celebrities to conduct wake-up calls (the latter scene features John C. McGinley, the actor from Scrubs, whose son has Down syndrome).
As Linton explains, “terms such as physically challenged, … handicapable, and special … are rarely used by disabled activists and scholars. Although they may be considered well-meaning attempts (by people without disabilities) to inflate the value of people with disabilities,” these terms “can be understood only as a euphemistic formulation, obscuring the reality” that disabled people are not “considered desirable.”
We predicted and observed that persons of all ages are viewed more negatively when they are described as having special needs than when they are described as having a disability or having a certain disability.
Our research supports many style guides (and disability scholars) who prescribe not using the euphemism special needs. In addition to its negative connotations, we argued special needs is imprecise; it can refer to groups as unrelated as minority and bi-racial children in the realm of child adoption; middle-age adults and persons without personal transportation in the realm of disaster preparedness; and pregnant women and people with nut allergies in the realm of airline travel).
Special needs also connotes segregation. Most special programs (e.g., Special Olympics and special education) segregate persons with disabilities from persons without disabilities. Special needs also implies special rights. In our research article, we pointed to an OpEd in The Chronicle of Higher Education that misconstrues legally mandated disability rights as special rights, as well as similar misconstruals observed in common vernacular.
We concluded that special needs has become a dysphemism, similar to lame (e.g., a lame idea),crippled,blind (e.g., blind to evidence), and deaf (e.g., deaf to reason). Our research did not explore whether non-disabled people’s use of special needs is intentional (although some instances clearly imply negative intentionality). Perhaps, as Simi Linton suggests, non-disabled people’s ambivalence about disability rather than sharp repulsion underlies their use of the term special needs. Regardless of speakers’ and writers’ motivation, our research recommends not using the euphemism special needsand instead using the non-euphemized term disability.
Although euphemisms are intended to put a more positive spin on the words they replace, some euphemisms are ineffective. Our study examined the effectiveness of a popular euphemism for persons with disabilities, special needs. Most style guides prescribe against using the euphemism special needs and recommend instead using the non-euphemized term disability; disability advocates argue adamantly against the euphemism special needs, which they find offensive. In contrast, many parents of children with disabilities prefer to use special needs rather than disability. But no empirical study has examined whether special needs is more or less positive than the term it replaces. Therefore, we gathered a sample of adult participants from the general population (N = 530) and created a set of vignettes that allowed us to measure how positively children, college students, and middle-age adults are viewed when they are described as having special needs, having a disability, having a certain disability (e.g., is blind, has Down syndrome), or with no label at all. We predicted and observed that persons are viewed more negatively when described as having special needs than when described as having a disability or having a certain disability, indicating that special needs is an ineffective euphemism. Even for members of the general population who have a personal connection to disability (e.g., as parents of children with disabilities), the euphemism special needs is no more effective than the non-euphemized term disability. We also collected free associations to the terms special needs and disability and found that special needs is associated with more negativity; special needs conjures up more associations with developmental disabilities (such as intellectual disability) whereas disability is associated with a more inclusive set of disabilities; and special needs evokes more unanswered questions. These findings recommend against using the euphemism special needs.
They are not “special” needs. They are needs I have because of disability. Saying it differently doesn’t change the fact. Saying it differently actually perpetuates the stigma around disability, increases the likelihood people will continue to see me as other and broken, and decreases the chance my needs will be met.
Too often proclaiming a person has “special needs” is the trigger for people to give up, asserting that sometimes there is “just no solution” and that the disabled person will have to “learn to cope” and “develop their skills” so they can “fit in to society” and “have a hope of getting a job and making friends”. When in fact there is always a solution that respects the rights of the disabled person, and we regularly live meaningful valuable lives as ourselves without having to change and fit in to societies unrealistic expectations and arbitrary rules of existence.
All people have needs. When their needs are met, all people live their lives well. All people receive help to see their needs met from time to time. Our society works on shared ideas, spaces and resources. Assisting a non-disabled person to see their needs met is not perceived as heroic, patient or inherently good. It is called living life in community.
During these 12 years, many things have changed, my vocabulary too. I don’t use the word “normal” anymore, I use “typical”; I don’t use the word “special” anymore, I use “disabled”; I don’t use the word “gift” and I don’t consider my daughter as a superheroine; I’m not a “special mother” and my daughter is a girl with Down syndrome who lives her life with the same need to belong as everyone else. Euphemisms are not helpful so let’s call things by their name – disability #saythewordit’s what disability activists ask for. To tell it like it is allows me to look at things without hiding, to face life in a direct way. And it allows Emma to do the same. I feel as if I am respecting my daughter more, as if I am giving her the chance to define her own identity over time, of which disability is part.
Adults with disabilities ask that you say “disability” and not “special needs” when you are talking about disability. As Louisa Shiffer said,
Disabled people should control the conversation about their disabilities, and the language used about them, not their parents.
“Handi-capable”, “People of all abilities”, “Different abilities”, “Differently abled” and “special needs” were made up outside of the disabled community, by people without disabilities. Their continued use, and the defense of their use by people without disabilities reeks of able-splaining; that is, people without disabilities explaining disability to people withdisabilities.
Then the word “disability” makes complete sense. Those of us living with a disability are absolutely living a dual existence: we move through the mainstream world which is largely inaccessible and not disabled, and we have our own experience with the fact of our bodies.
We see, hear, speak, think, learn, process, read, write, move, and/or feel in ways that are less common than most. We have a lot to offer, by dint of our experience with disability and where our interests lie. Our needs are not special, so please: say the word, as we are asking you to.
Why, oh why is this still such a common term? It makes no sense to me. By much the same logic that explains why “differently-abled” is inaccurate, it’s clear that “special needs” is too. If you are a human, you have needs. Everyone has needs. What makes mine so “special” just because I have a disability? Nothing.
My needs are not “special” just because they’re not met in ways identical to the needs of non-disabled people. I need a ramp; you need steps. Not special, just facts. I need a wheelchair; you walk. Not special, just facts. Moreover, the needs of non-disabled people certainly aren’t all met in the same ways. Just like every other living, breathing human being on this planet, I am a person who has needs that must be fulfilled in ways appropriate to my abilities.
Whether you’re disabled or non-disabled, I urge you to realize why euphemisms really aren’t a show of respect, no matter how well meaning your intent might be. They can be disempowering, patronizing, and even hurtful. So please, just call me a disabled woman, because that’s who I am, and that’s who I’m proud to be.
“Special needs” is a patronising euphemism. Special, by definition, means “better, greater or different from what is usual”. In reality, ‘special’ in the context of “Special Needs” is a disingenuous use of the word. What people seem to mean when they say ‘special needs’ is that people with impairments require more attention, they are more expensive to care for and are more difficult to provide for than those without impairments. So what is the result? A situation where people with impairments are excluded because they have “special needs” they are more difficult than those without “special needs”.
However, in reality, we all share the same needs. Everybody requires water, food, shelter and love, in order to survive. In parts of Africa, we have seen disabled young people who have been isolated. They have had no food or drink and no love. These people are not special, their needs are the same as all of ours.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of people (including me) use certain terms with the very best intentions, sometimes it is counter-productive. Merely labelling a group of people – disabled people – as “special” implies they are recognised as being far different from everybody else. The consequence of this is that they will be treated differently, ensuring that the stigma (which exists in all cultures to varying degrees) remains. This is the opposite of inclusion, despite the fact that inclusion is often the aim when using the term “special needs”.
Terminology and language are so important: once we separate people in discourse and our minds, we then start to separate people in practice. History shows us that this is a dangerous thing to do.
I believe that a reason why, as a society, we have not embraced children with disabilities as full participants in our schools and communities has to do with the limitations of our own mental models around disability.
We have moved from hiding and institutionalizing kids to a world where children with disabilities are seen as special and placed in special settings and given special services with special caregivers and they, and their families, have become disenfranchised from the community at large and they have become in fact their own separate community.
I believe that “special” has become a euphemism for “separate,” and when we separate kids and we place them in separate settings and give them separate services we are teaching them that their place is over there, with people like them and not as part of the full community, and when young, impressionable children learn that their needs are too great that they are too different and that they don’t meet our very narrow definition of what normal is, this has a life-long effect on their ability to contribute positively to society.
In my professional tribes, we hew to these codes of conduct.
We are committed to making participation in this project a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of level of experience, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, personal appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, age, religion, or nationality.
Inclusion is the new normal. Diversity and inclusion are how we build the teams that build the future.
LGBTQ+ folks are well represented at my company, Automattic. We hold events for our 500+ person company all over the world–but not at venues that discriminate against our own.
The norms of professional collaboration are not the norms of the Texas legislature, alas. Here in Texas, we are fighting bathroom bills that threaten inclusion in public schools. Public education should be free, life-changing, and available to everyone. Schools with transmisic bathroom policies break the codes of collaboration and the promise of an education available to all of our kids. Such schools don’t meet the standards for hosting WordCamps, WordPress Meetups, or Automattic sponsored events. They eliminate themselves from hosting meetups for many open source communities, something schools should be doing more of, not less. Phobic policies distance public education from the creative commons and the engines of modernity.
Howdy! We are an international company with employees who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. We believe that the more perspectives we embrace, the better we are at engaging our global community of users and developers. We want to build Automattic as an environment where people love their work and show respect and empathy to those with whom we interact.
Diversity typically includes, but is not limited to, differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, political and religious affiliation, socioeconomic background, cultural background, geographic location, physical disabilities and abilities, relationship status, veteran status, and age. To work on diversity means that we welcome these differences, and strive to increase the visibility of traditionally underrepresented groups. We see inclusion as the ongoing, conscious effort to celebrate difference and welcome people of differing backgrounds and life experiences, whether they’re current or prospective employees, partners, or users of our software.
In 2014 we started to work, as a company, on facilitating spaces for discussions about diversity at Automattic. And at the 2016 annual gathering of all of our employees from over 50 countries, we decided to share with the rest of the world what we are doing about diversity and inclusion here. Because we want you to think about working with us.
More diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns. This in turn suggests that other kinds of diversity—for example, in age, sexual orientation, and experience (such as a global mind-set and cultural fluency)—are also likely to bring some level of competitive advantage for companies that can attract and retain such diverse talent.
Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set (that is, bottom-quartile companies are lagging rather than merely not leading).
In the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.
The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business. This is not a direction in which states move when they are seeking to provide successful, thriving hubs for business and economic development.
The results are in. They’ve been in for so long, so consistently, that they’ve become old news: diverse teams outperform. Across industries and organization sizes, teams with more gender and racial diversity return stronger results to investors, retain top performers longer, and make better decisions. It’s not even a close call.
Unconscious bias isn’t a bleeding-heart liberal codeword, it’s a real threat to your business and your ability to find top talent.
Open Source, at its fundamental levels, is all about inclusion—it’s about always asking the question, “Who am I excluding?” or “Who have I excluded, and need to go back and include.” And then setting forth to make things right by thinking, and acting, as inclusively as possible.
As American entrepreneurs and business leaders, we believe that the historical commitment to civil liberties as set forth in the United States Constitution is a unique advantage for U.S. businesses — one that is inextricably linked with our global competitiveness and success. Any threat to fundamental civil liberties is bad for American business. It is incumbent on us as entrepreneurs, leaders, and patriotic Americans to speak up. We believe that the rights and liberties enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights are under threat and need to be safeguarded.
In Tech, we have an environment that celebrates the open exchange of ideas without regard to an individual’s background, religious practice, ethnicity or sexual orientation. This ethos has led to the creation of some of the world’s most admired brands — companies that have transformed the way in which the world lives, works, and communicates.
We are concerned about recent incidents of harassment in diverse communities that could lead to a brain drain of much needed talent. Rather than attract the best from throughout the world, we risk losing our edge. Whenever our employees and colleagues experience hostility and fear, we believe, as business leaders, we must support them, unconditionally.
There is a pragmatic reason for this support. Tech talent who are confident their government will guarantee their freedoms — and operate free of fear — are better enabled to create America’s future innovative products. Simply put, innovation in Tech thrives on trust and inclusiveness.
Our market is the world. Our audience is the world. Designing for the lived experiences of the full spectrum of human diversity requires working inclusively. Together, we will iterate our way through massive software-driven change. We will navigate disruption with compassion, finding opportunity and inspiration in the diversity of our shared humanity. We are humans making things for and with other humans, helping each other cope with sentience and senescence on our pale blue dot.
In conversation, I listen better when not managing the sensory flood that comes with eye contact. I often close my eyes to shut out the social and sensory distractions–the relentless barrage of cues and stimulus–and focus on the words being spoken.
Don’t force eye contact. Gaze aversion is a sensory processing tool, one necessary to managing sensory overwhelm. Dissociation is a tool for managing information and protecting ourselves. When an autistic person looks away, they are thinking and processing. They *are* paying attention. There is a lot of processing and parsing going on within.
We can either look like we’re paying attention, or we can actually pay attention, in our way, using our tools. We can either concentrate on your words or concentrate on making eye contact.
Don’t burden neurodivergent kids with neurotypical expectations of eye contact. They are not neurotypical, never will be, and don’t need to be. Forcing eye contact harms them and denies an important coping mechanism. IEPs and behavioral therapies should not make eye contact a goal. Such compliance rubrics are not in touch with their needs or the way their minds work.
A challenge I am continually faced with as an autistic adult is the misinformed presumption and resulting behavior of neurotypical people when I do not look at them the in way they expect, want or demand of me. It is challenging because society has put the onus on me to change. Often it does not matter to others why I am different. They just want me to stop being different. Recently I was told directly, “If you want to be treated like a real person then act like one!”
Eye contact can be hard for autistics for a variety of reasons. When I was a youngster I received too much bright, bold, painful sensory information from making eye contact. To guard against the intense physical pain I did not engage in eye contact. If my teacher demanded eye contact I obediently did so, but at a price. I would float out of my body, hover up near the ceiling and look down, watching the little girl of me (Endow, 2013).
Donna Williams says, “Dissociation is the ability to cut off from what is happening around you or to you. In its simplest form it is daydreaming. It is a skill all children have and which children with autism tend to overdevelop in managing a world they find overwhelming for a whole range of reasons” (Williams, 2013).
My sensory system has changed over time and eye contact does not produce as much pain as it once did. When I am well regulated I can manage the moderate pain I do experience from eye contact in my day-to-day life. However, avoiding eye contact is something I automatically do to minimize the amount of incoming sensory information and thus cut down on pain. I have to remain on high alert so as to catch when I am automatically moving into this eye contact shut down mode or I will not even know when it is happening.
Yet, even when people know eye contact can be painful and that we will not pick up much social information, we are STILL expected to perform the feat for the social comfort of others. Each time we don’t perform the socially expected eye contact people assign negative character attributes to us such as shifty, sneaky, untruthful, disinterested and hiding something.
Imagine how you might feel if you were asked to stop looking at people – to cease all eye contact. Now imagine how much more difficult that would be if each time you did manage not to engage in eye contact you felt physical pain and the only way to relieve that pain was to look at the person even though you knew it would make others unhappy. This is often what we put autistics through when we insist they go against the way their brain does business by forcing them to use typical eye contact” (Endow, 2013).
Educators have been taught that it is essential to get individuals’ attention before beginning instruction and to recapture attention to task when peoples’ demeanors suggest that their attention is waning. To accomplish this task, teachers often first attempt to get attention by cuing “Look at me.” They also often assume that they have individuals’ attention when they “get eye contact” and that those who do not conform cannot be paying attention. Thus, when individuals who have autism seem to avoid looking into the eyes of teachers and others with whom they interact, the strategy that comes most naturally and is often pursued quite intently is the verbal cue “Look at me.” If an individual who has an autism spectrum disorder fails to respond within what is viewed as a reasonable length of time, the cue may be repeated more forcefully. If the person still fails to look as directed, misinterpretations of why the person isn’t “complying” may fuel futile power struggles that only frustrate everyone concerned and further thwart the abilities of individuals with autism to respond. Whether requesting eye contact is a wise approach to focusing attention depends both on the person who has autism and on circumstances surrounding the expectation.
Sometimes getting an individual to “make eye contact” becomes a high priority that falls under the rubric of “compliance and direction following” training. Individualized education programs often include objectives such as “will make eye contact when requested 80% of the time”. Some goals and objectives seem to be stated in context of assumptions that students with autism spectrum disorders have sufficient understanding of social conventions to make routine judgments about where, when, and with whom eye contact is appropriate and expected and/or that they are consistently able to spontaneously initiate and selectively maintain eye contact in social situations. As an example, consider an objective that states, “Will increase eye contact when in social situations with peers. Student will make eye contact X number of times every 10 minutes when involved in shared activities.” Folks who write and strive to achieve such goals and objectives may be as naive in their understanding and interacting with individuals who have autism as individuals with autism are naive at understanding and using social conventions. We need to re- examine assumptions that undergird choices among instructional/interactive strategies, to define purposes that we hope to accomplish, and to candidly assess whether hoped-for outcomes are being met. While attempting to maximize adaptive behaviors on the part of individuals who have autism spectrum disorders, we too must adapt when observed responses clearly indicate that our purposes are not being achieved.
“If you insist that I make eye contact with you, when I’m finished I’ll be able to tell you how many millimeters your pupils changed while I looked into your eyes.”
In addition to difficulties with attending to and interpreting information that is embedded in social context, some have great difficulty with attending to and coordinating two sources of sensory input at once. For example, astute teachers often observe that a student with autism “looks out the window all the time, just doesn’t appear to be paying attention at all, but then can tell me everything I said.” It appears likely that the described student has difficulty with coordinating listening and looking behaviors and, perhaps, with receiving and processing information coming in from multiple sensory channels. Insisting that he make eye contact might well render him unable to take in and store auditory input. Or… he may be able to coordinate looking and listening in some situations but not in others. Educators who are relatively unfamiliar with autism are often understandably perplexed by inconsistencies evident in an individual’s response patterns. There appears to be a natural inclination to assert that, “if he could do it in that situation, I know he can do it in the other…”.
We may not look the interviewer in the eye, especially when it’s our turn to talk. We may look at the conference table surface, the floor, or the framed art just above your head on the wall behind you. Please don’t take that the wrong way. As mentioned, we’re (often extremely) engaged and enthusiastic. Focusing on someone’s eyes may feel like staring (either we’re doing the staring or someone is staring at us, either of which is uncomfortable), which can interfere with our ability to concentrate. Focusing on something other than someone’s eyes allows us to concentrate again. For me, it’s akin to “taking the pressure off”. Again, it’s nothing personal, nothing specific to the interviewer themselves.
A popular and stubborn misconception says that this indicates dishonesty, lying, or otherwise hiding something. This is absolutely not true. Over 40 years of research has completely debunked this myth. It’s also nothing personal against the interviewer (or to whomever else with whom we’re talking); we’re not trying to avoid the person or express disinterest, dislike, or any other negative emotion. It’s simply a matter of discomfort, and this generally applies widely; for those of us who are more uncomfortable making eye contact, we will generally experience this discomfort with almost everyone, maybe except for a few very close family members or friends (if that!). Therefore, please don’t take it as a personal affront, sign of disrespect, sign of disinterest, or “evidence” of dishonesty.
For instance, a big focus of Evie’s therapy was “making eye contact.” I couldn’t understand why this was so important. Finally, I said, “I really don’t care if Evie makes eye contact. I want to find a way for her to communicate what she needs.”
Who does eye contact REALLY help? Does it help Evie when it seems aversive to her? Or does it help other people feel more comfortable with Evie?
Looking away from an interlocutor’s face during demanding cognitive activity can help adults answer challenging arithmetic and verbal-reasoning questions (Glenberg, Schroeder, & Robertson, 1998). However, such ‘gaze aversion’ (GA) is poorly applied by 5-year-old school children (Doherty-Sneddon, Bruce, Bonner, Longbotham, & Doyle, 2002). In Experiment 1 we trained ten 5-year-old children to use GA while thinking about answers to questions. This trained group performed significantly better on challenging questions compared with 10 controls given no GA training. In Experiment 2 we found significant and monotonic age-related increments in spontaneous use of GA across three cohorts of ten 5-year-old school children (mean ages: 5;02, 5;06 and 5;08). Teaching and encouraging GA during challenging cognitive activity promises to be invaluable in promoting learning, particularly during early primary years.
I can remember the overwhelming experience having eye contact with others sometimes had on me as a child. Too much bright, bold, painful sensory information was received when directly looking into someone’s eyes for a sustained period of time (see paintings below: Look Me In the Eye, Buzzing Bones, SIZZLE POP and STRIKE ME). Coping came by disengaging from the experience. I would hover up by the ceiling and watch the girl below who was me. When the girl looked into the eyes of people I would use the too much information she got to fashion alternatives to those eyes that would cut down on the overwhelming sensory information (see paintings below: Eye Fish, Eye Trees, Eye Land and Eye Tulip).
According to the study, looking someone in the eye can result in unpleasant overstimulation of the brain for people with autism.
“The findings demonstrate that, contrary to what has been thought, the apparent lack of interpersonal interest among people with autism is not due to lack of concern,” said Nouchine Hadjikhani, a study author and a Harvard associate professor of radiology. “Rather, our results show that this behavior is a way to decrease an unpleasant excessive arousal stemming from overactivation in a particular part of the brain.”
In other words, when people with autism don’t look others in the eye, it doesn’t mean they don’t care, said Hadjikhani.
“It’s because it’s too much for them,” she said.
“Forcing children with autism to look into someone’s eyes in behavioral therapy may create a lot of anxiety for them,” Hadjikhani said.
I sometimes close my eyes to better parse the speech coming at me. I swim in sensory overwhelm. I must pick a firehose. Eyes front preserves the illusion of compliance, so I’ll stop listening. I’m not interested anyway.
The global view about liars is that they look away from you (avert their gaze) when they are lying. This is a false belief, which can be backed up with 40 years of research. What you will often find is that liar’s will often consciously engage in greater eye contact, because it is commonly (but mistakenly) believed that direct eye contact is a sign of truthfulness.
For these reasons, no relationship exists between eye gaze and deception.
As a hacker and writer, I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. It is a place for moving around blocks and tinkering with parts. It is a place to explore my mind and write it the way I want it to read. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Text editors are extensions of mind that facilitate thinking.
All of this happens in beautiful, wonderful plain text.
I love that with plain text the focus is on the words, not the formatting. I love that it’s portable and can be used anywhere and everywhere, in any piece of software that edits or displays words. I love how easy it is to create beautifully formatted documents when needed. Most of all, I love how fast it is. I simply work more efficiently since switching to plain text.
With blogs, plain text editors, and team chat, we have a wide selection of often free tools that enable the cultivation of authentic writing for authentic audiences. Instead of ELA rubrics that kill the joy of writing with remediation and formulaic prescriptions, students can write about what they care about and share that writing collaboratively with real audiences. Relax control over the writing process. Encourage revision and tinkering without the red ink of assessment. Don’t define and model students into the stilted, joyless unreadability typical of rubric writing. Get out of the way, let kids write, and write alongside them. Let them write not for grades, but to share their lived experience, share their passions, and affect their worlds.
Keyboards, spellcheckers, and assistive tech encourage writing and editing. Let students fill their toolbelts and start writing without shackles.
Below are selections on writing in education, writing for authentic audiences, writing for empathy, writing for English language learners, and writing as a means of accommodating neurodiveristy. At the end are selections on plain text and markdown flow. Plain text + Markdown is my favorite flow, but the important part is writing, collaboration, and connecting with audiences, no matter the tools.
Writing in Education
“I’ve had a fair number of kids that were traditionally disengaged— The most common complaint: ‘I don’t like to write, so I don’t like school.’ When I said, ‘Well, you can type it. You don’t have to write; you can type. And you can use the spell checker, and you can look up words.’ All of the sudden they say, ‘Oh, OK. I’ll do that.’”
“If you’re not a good writer, sitting and writing on a piece of paper is hard. But when they have a computer that can help with spelling, and with grammar, and they can go online and look up words and the pronunciation, and they can hear how it’s said, and they can write it down correctly. Now they feel good about themselves because they’re not getting a paper back with a thousand red marks all over it, correcting grammar and spelling that they don’t necessarily understand in the first place.”
High school students are often reluctant writers, especially when assigned to produce work that is uninteresting and unrelated to their personal lives. However, writing is a vital part of the help desk. Apprentices, both on and off the Communication Team, regularly craft articles for the support blog. My team offers starter ideas, but the apprentices select most topics based on their interests and the support needs of their peers. In this setting, writing feels less stilted, less pedantic, and more authentic. Writing for a real-world audience is vastly different from a traditional school writing assignment where a single teacher is a sole spectator.
Literacy in North America has historically been focused on reading, not writing; consumption, not production.
while many parents worked hard to ensure their children were regular readers, they rarely pushed them to become regular writers.
We are now a global culture of avid writers.
As Brandt notes, reading and writing have become blended: “People read in order to generate writing; we read from the posture of the writer; we write to other people who write.” Or as Francesca Coppa, a professor who studies the enormous fan fiction community, explains to me, “It’s like the Bloomsbury Group in the early twentieth century, where everybody is a writer and everybody is an audience. They were all writers who were reading each other’s stuff, and then writing about that, too.”
So how is all this writing changing our cognitive behavior?
• • • For one, it can help clarify our thinking. Professional writers have long described the way that the act of writing forces them to distill their vague notions into clear ideas. By putting half-formed thoughts on the page, we externalize them and are able to evaluate them much more objectively. This is why writers often find that it’s only when they start writing that they figure out what they want to say.
Poets famously report this sensation. “I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind,” Cecil Day-Lewis wrote of his poetic compositions. “If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. . . . We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”
Culturally, we revere the Rodin ideal— the belief that genius breakthroughs come from our gray matter alone. The physicist Richard Feynman once got into an argument about this with the historian Charles Weiner. Feynman understood the extended mind; he knew that writing his equations and ideas on paper was crucial to his thought. But when Weiner looked over a pile of Feynman’s notebooks, he called them a wonderful “record of his day-to-day work.” No, no, Feynman replied testily. They weren’t a record of his thinking process. They were his thinking process.
Before the Internet came along, most people rarely wrote anything at all for pleasure or intellectual satisfaction after graduating from high school or college.
The explosion of online writing has a second aspect that is even more important than the first, though: it’s almost always done for an audience.
When you write something online— whether it’s a one-sentence status update, a comment on someone’s photo, or a thousand-word post— you’re doing it with the expectation that someone might read it, even if you’re doing it anonymously. Audiences clarify the mind even more.
Blogging forces you to write down your arguments and assumptions. This is the single biggest reason to do it, and I think it alone makes it worth it. You have a lot of opinions. I’m sure some of them you hold strongly.
When you move from your head to “paper,” a lot of the hand-waveyness goes away and you are left to really defend your position to yourself.
But studies have found that particularly when it comes to analytic or critical thought, the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to think more precisely, make deeper connections, and learn more.
When asked to write for a real audience of students in another country, students write essays that are substantially longer and have better organization and content than when they’re writing for their teacher. When asked to contribute to a wiki— a space that’s highly public and where the audience can respond by deleting or changing your words— college students snap to attention, writing more formally and including more sources to back up their work.
“Often they’re handing in these short essays without any citations, but with Wikipedia they suddenly were staying up to two a.m. honing and rewriting the entries and carefully sourcing everything,” she tells me. The reason, the students explained to her, was that their audience— the Wikipedia community— was quite gimlet eyed and critical.
We asked our building leadership teams, and we asked those Principals and Assistant Principals to ask their teachers, to experience a bit of “writing for empathy.” Medical educators have discovered that when doctors write from the point of view of their patients, empathy increases and the quality of care increases. We thought it might be worth seeing if this applied to our educators as well.
So we began, and told them not to be limited by structure – choose any writing mode you’d like – or grammar or spelling or where or how to write – on the floor, standing up, on paper, on phone, on computer – to just find the emotional path and write.
We so often stop our students from writing… we tell them that everything from how they sit to how they spell is more important than communication… and we thus raise children who hate writing.
This became powerful. People not only chose every and any place to write, every and any device to write on, they chose modes from poetry to an email exchange between high school students in class, from narrative to internal monologue to dialogue in the corridor. From tweet and text to song.
It is remarkable what happens when you stop telling people how to write and start encouraging them to write.
“Our kindergartners and first graders are natural writers,” one principal said, “and then we tell them to stop and worry about handwriting and spelling and punctuation, and they never really write again.”
And then we asked these leaders to share with another, and it became magical. The excitement of reading to each other, of listening, of wondering. People leaned into each other, with genuine smiles – smiles of recognition – and heard. The room was filled with the kind of excitement that – yeah – is mighty rare at Principal Meetings, that is – sadly – often rare in Language Arts classes.
First, students need to be writing constantly. Learning to write well, like any other skill, takes many, many hours of practice. Second, students need to write for a real audience and to receive regular, structured feedback from their audiences. Other than looking at the grade on the front of the paper, students are usually totally indifferent to the teacher’s opinions of their work. But when they are writing for or presenting to an authentic audience, which has been asked to assess the work being presented— whether it is their peers or someone outside of school— they work much harder to polish their work, and they seek and pay attention to feedback. Writing for a real audience, and writing about things they know and care about, are central to students’ development of an authentic voice in their work.
The problem with the way writing is currently taught, then, is the same problem that we have described throughout this book. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time teaching the mechanics of writing— parts of speech, grammar, spelling, punctuation— without giving students any reason whatsoever to want to write, because that’s the way we have done it since 1893. And in the last ten years teachers have spent less and less time assigning and grading students’ writing because they must prepare students for meaningless tests that tell us absolutely nothing about the competencies that matter most.
What little writing that gets done in high schools today is almost always practicing short answers to test prompts and memorizing the mechanics of the standard five-paragraph essay, and nothing else. We are told that the new Common Core tests will require more writing, but it will only be more of the same kind of writing.
Computational resources are now affecting aspects of English classes in significant ways. Students type or dictate essays and benefit from embedded spelling and grammar tools. Granted, autocorrect software has a mind of its own. But when it’s almost impossible to write a word like receive, the days of memorizing rhymes like “i before e, except after c, or when sounded like a, as in neighbor and weigh” are over.
In many ways, the story of dyslexics— in school and life— is the story of U.S. education. Driven by standardized tests, schools focus on low-level capabilities (e.g., memorizing the proper spelling of words). High-potential kids (e.g., dyslexics, smart creative types, rebels) get “down-graded” and left behind. Advances in automation shine light on the fact that these low-level tasks (e.g., spelling receive correctly) are incidental to, not essential to, a person’s life prospects.
I wrote this book to help you remedy problems that many young writers face when they confront empty screens and pages. These writers experience frustration and even defeat as they strain against contrived procedures with intangible tools. Over time, these tensions propagate a quiet trauma: Children begin to believe that they can’t write, and then they stop trying. How many adults might be able to advocate for themselves or for justice in their communities if negative early experiences with writing hadn’t silenced them? Many children and adults will tell you that writing is beyond their grasp. They can’t wrap their hands around their ideas, and since they learn best by tinkering with things physically, writing remains literally out of their reach. Maybe the problem isn’t the writer. Maybe it’s the way we’re defining and teaching writing.
Many writers need to move, and they need their writing to move as well. They need to write while out of their seats and on their feet, spreading their ideas across whiteboards and tables, lifting pieces up with their hands, cutting them apart, randomizing them, and tacking them into new and completely unpredictable forms. These writers need access to diverse tools and resources— far more than paper, laptops, and iPads. They build their stories using blocks and boards. They blend plot lines using sticky notes and grids. It’s not enough for these writers to study mentor texts. They need to tear them apart— physically. They need to use their hands to play with text in order to become adept.
Making writing requires dynamic spaces, collaborative cultures, specialized tools, and a commitment to using our words to make a meaningful difference for others.
To teach effectively, we must pay attention to how individuals write and respond to what we observe rather than allowing our personal passions, expertise, and assumptions to drive instruction.
Give writers the permission they need to explore writing using diverse tools and processes. Help them discover how they write. Making is an invitation, not an expectation.
Given similar tools and conditions, I’ve noticed that most adept writers will happily tinker with their writing in the same way people tinker inside maker spaces.
Too many have been taught that everything they need to know will be defined and modeled for them.
Ultimately our diagnoses and the subsequent attempts at intervention allowed people to blame us, two powerless kids, for our failure instead of turning a critical eye toward the environment. It took us fifteen years of personal and academic struggle to stop blaming ourselves, to stop believing that we are inherently defective like “they” thought, and to come to realize how profound an effect the environment had on our inability to succeed. Only as time went on did simple interventions like the ability to get up out of our seats, the use of a spell checker, and progressive ideas like project-based learning and other modifications to the learning environment allow the pathology to slip into irrelevance and enable us to be successful. Our hard wiring is a simple cognitive difference. We all have them. But an oppressive educational environment that blames children for their failures caused us to grow up with the stigma of pathology.
He starts by asking students to “think about writing a paper around a question that they really want to find an answer to.” Elliott teaches that first step in constructing a semester-long paper is “gathering information about a question you are passionate about.” He adds: “I usually do the research and writing right along with them. They see that I’m doing the same thing they are doing. That’s an old schoolteacher tool — one of the best I’ve run across for sharing power with students.”
We are not usually so obvious in our stated biases, but every day in schools I see students punished for their voices, punished for their culturally ingrained reading styles, punished for refusing to over-simplify, because we teach reading and writing in the same way the English like to teach tea drinking.
And so I wonder, (a) where does my communication fit into your school? your Common Core? your library? your classroom? and (b) where does that democracy of voice fit in? How do we embrace that and not squash it?
The world is a place of constant reinvention. If we all follow the rules, the paths, nothing changes. There is a reason the books of the colonials so often fill the Booker Prize shortlists, there is a reason Irish fiction and poetry are prized so much more highly than that of the English or Americans.The rules have never fully taken root away from “the Queen’s English,” and the paths begin in very different places, and it is the uncommon, not the common, which has extraordinary value.
Likely the sole act of sitting in a classroom writing an assignment for a teacher is not going to inspire a unique and developed voice for any student. It lacks meaning and urgency. If they don’t understand the purpose, the writing will mirror the effort.
With today’s society shifting to technology, writing and publishing has become immediate and public. Students don’t have to only write for an audience of one. From their phones they can write whole blog posts to share with an authentic global audience whenever they want from wherever they want. Our job now needs to be to hone their unique voices and inspire deep levels of reflection on their terms, not ours.
There are many platforms that are free and easy to use and made age appropriate for all levels of students. Whether using a Google account with Blogger or starting with Edmodo or Edublogger, teachers can use the right platform to help students express thoughts publicly.
Publishing is no longer just for scholars and established authors. We can all be authors and encouraging a public space to develop the subtle intricacies of writing makes even the novice writer empowered.
If our end goal is to get students writing more, then we need to allow for some of that writing to be less structured. The mere act of thinking and communicating in writing, often, improves the way we think, even if the writing isn’t terribly good at first. More importantly, writing becomes a habit of mind, one that students enjoy doing as they manipulate their blogs and real people share feedback and comments about their thoughts. It’s less about the correctness and more about connection.
Teachers can model good blogging behaviors by writing their own blogs and using them as a tool to share with students. The more authentic we can be in what we teach, the more likely students will be to hear us. Create a space that is truly yours to share ideas, reflections, experiences and then experience the power of an audience to validate them all. Blogging connects us in a way writing in a classroom never can and that’s why we need to be using it.
Blogging is a way to document, reflect, and share pedagogical strategies and teaching tools used in the classroom. With the benefits of blogging as a reflective teaching tool, why not use this tool with our students in the classroom? Teachers are integrating blogging as a communicative storytelling mode for students to share stories, thoughts, ideas, responses, discussions, and many other types of communication in the classroom.
Blogging is limitless in terms of structure. As a result, a blog can be an image or video with a thought-provoking caption. It can be a beautiful quote with thoughts strung to it. It can also be a digital story that moves the reader to think, reflect, and feel. A study conducted by Advanced Placement and The National Writing Project found that three-quarters of teachers believe the use of Internet and digital tools has an “overall positive impact” on students’ research habits and communication skills (Purcell et al. 2012). Another study on the impact of digital tools on students’ writing also found that “96% agree that digital technologies ‘allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience’” (Purcell, Buchanan, and Friedrich 2013). Clearly, exposing students to different modes of technologies can play a huge factor in developing and shaping their thoughts and ideas. By providing the opportunity for students to communicate in a framework of multiliteracies, we can even begin to see improvement in their research, writing, and critical thinking skills (Purcell, Buchanan, and Friedrich 2013). Blogging needs to be seen as a “formal” mode of writing because it provides an opportunity for students to engage in reading and writing and in turn to strengthen communication skills. Digital writing for English language learners (ELL) can provide students the platform, space, and opportunity for social, cultural, and communicative support.
Digital writing—including blogging, microblogging, writing on social media platforms, and tweeting—also allows students to gain access and control of their own learning. Students who communicate their learning online can see the wide opportunities that are available to them, and in turn, they start to value those opportunities. Research suggests that allowing students to write digitally empowers them by providing them a choice.
Blogging helps students to see that the language is a tool to communicate with other people in social settings. It can also help them to recognize that their writing is a form of interaction in the digital world. This realization will help them in the long run when building their professional learning portfolio online. By using blogging as a communicative tool, students are embracing digital communication, which in turn opens different pathways and opportunities for them.
How often do we tell students not to use I or me in writing? We tend to steer them clear of first-person pronouns in writing for many reasons: It takes away from the strength of their arguments, it makes a statement subject, it does not sound professional, and many other reasons. However, when it comes to blogging and English language learners, encourage them to use the I pronoun. This will help them with the flow of their ideas. For example, many students feel comfortable starting a sentence with “I think” or “I believe” or “In my opinion.” It is perfectly fine for them to do that because blogging is a self-reflective mode of writing.
Communicative practices have a real-life purpose, and as a result, when assigning blogs, make sure that they have a purpose and a connection to communication practices that we do in the real world.
Social and cultural support for English language learners can come in many forms, and digital writing can help with this. Blogging, specifically, opens pathways for students to learn about one another’s social and cultural norms, and more importantly, students end up connecting with one another. The big question remains: How do we leverage blogging as a tool to connect the teacher and students socially and culturally? As previously stated, blogging helps students to develop an understanding and appreciation of each other’s social and cultural practices. It also helps to break down barriers between different cultural beliefs, and even more so, it helps to shatter stereotypes that we often have about different societies and cultures.
When students blog about their learning, they also inherently discuss their takes on the lesson and what went on in the classroom that day. This helps the teacher to see and identify areas to help students meet their individual learning needs. More importantly, this feedback is vital to improve the teacher’s pedagogy. By seeing how students benefited or didn’t benefit from the lesson, the teacher can implement changes in her teaching style and methodology in the next lesson, ensuring that each student’s learning needs are being met with personalized pedagogy. Blogging can bridge the communication gap between the teacher and students. Many students, especially English language learners, have a hard time sharing their learning progress or lesson reflection with the teacher. Blogging can also merge face-to-face communication with digital communication. If a student is not comfortable having a face-to-face conversation because of a lack of confidence in his or her oral skills, shyness, or cultural barriers, then the teacher can encourage him or her to write a blog post to reflect on how the lesson went.
This standard supports digital writing for English language learners, as collaboration is also one of the key practices that helps English language learners to learn better. Ferlazzo (2016) states that “collaborative writing has been found to be particularly helpful (PDF) to English-language learners (ELLs) in lowering anxiety and increasing self-confidence and motivation.”
“Blogging is immensely valuable for ELLs. While we can expect it to produce significant writing gains, blogging also helps learners grow their listening, reading and speaking skills when incorporated with other activities. Blogging involves a great deal of reflective thought, enabling students to develop thinking skills in English. Furthermore, blogging gives them a voice, validating and celebrating their place in this world. The most rewarding aspect of blogging, however, is when students read their older posts and are able to see their growth.”—Anabel Gonzalez, who has been teaching since 1996.
Ditch That Textbook provides examples of how to use blogs and team chat in the classroom. Chapter 3, Use Technology to Defeat Insecurity, offers good insight into the neurodiversity friendliness of backchannels, something familiar to tech workers. Written communication is a great equalizer and an important part of our culture.
A backchannel is a separate, often text-based, discussion students engage in while they’re receiving information via a lecture, a movie, a television show, or a PowerPoint presentation. Students use a digital device to participate in a behind-the-scenes chat so as not to disturb others trying to listen.
Backchannels provide the perfect outlet for students who have something to say but refuse to open up in class discussions. When everyone participates in the conversation, no one feels singled out. As a result, inhibitions about sharing decrease and the courage to speak up increases. Plus, when everyone types at once, the teacher spends less time calling on students one by one.
I personally believe that the backchannel is the greatest unharnessed resource that we as educators have available to us. It does not threaten me nor bother me that you learned as much if not more from the backchannel the other night — in fact, it makes me feel great that I facilitated the connection.
And that’s not even touching on the ways this kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.
Written communication is the great social equalizer.
Remember this if you start to fear your Autistic child is spending too much time interacting with others online and not enough time interacting with others face-to-face. Online communication is a valid accommodation for the social disability that comes with being Autistic. We need online interaction and this meta-study demonstrates exactly why that is the case.
I couldn’t help wondering, since the study showed the durability of first impressions and the positive response to the written words of Autistics, with all visual and auditory cues removed, could we mitigate childhood bullying in any way by having a class of students meet first online, in text, and form their first impressions of one another in that format before ever meeting face-to-face?
Getting online was revolutionary and may have saved my life.
But when I got online, no one could see (or smell) that about me. All they could see was my words and ideas, and that was what people judged me by. For the first time in my life, I was not found lacking. I made friends of all ages. I was respected and liked. The difference between offline and online communication could not have been more dramatic.
A big part of the problem is that we’re often using the wrong default tool to create our words. When ready to write, the majority of computer users will open a word processor like Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages rather than a text editor like Notepad on Windows or Text Edit on the Mac. We do this even if we’re simply drafting an email or jotting down notes to ourselves. The problem actually lies in the name. A word processor, while capable of being used for the creation of words, is actually optimized for formatting text in order to be printed or read. Whereas a text editor is more focused the creation and editing of your words.
Where a graphical Word processor might boast that “what you see is what you get,” a text editor can boast “what you see is what is there.” Nothing is hidden.
For this reason, plain text documents are much more stable and sustainable through the process of composition and revision than word processor documents. That doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with word processors. What it does mean is that word processors are the right tools for the job when the job is formatting and processing complex documents, and not necessarily the right tools for the job when the job is writing.
The basic idea behind a plain-text workflow is that you do your composing with a text editor in a sustainable, universal format, and then, only when your text is ready to send somewhere–say, to a journal for publication–do you worry about formatting.
Text editors are tiny pieces of software compared to word processors, so they start instantaneously, load documents almost instantly, and run like lightning even on old hardware. Nothing gets between you and your words.
Plain text writing (and marking up text elements for later formatting) is simple. If you’ve been socialized in Word (like me), you may disagree at first. But I believe that if you try plain text writing, you’re likely to change your mind and come to enjoy its purity and simplicity. As for myself, I think now that text processors are actually cumbersome, and many writers just got so used to this fact that they don’t question it anymore.
So writing plain text means to separate writing from formatting for the sake of productivity. The essential structural elements of a text are marked up while writing: You can write headings of various levels, add emphasis, add lists and more. What you can’t do: Tweak margins, or choose your first order headings to be 24 pt, and red-colored. All the layout tasks that have nothing to do with the content you’re trying to compose. Take care of layout later. This first instance should be about writing, and writing only.
If you want to publish your text more than once, but in different formats, plain text is very effective – thanks to the use of markup, you can easily convert it. Ulysses, as an example, can use one and the same text to create a formatted PDF, an e-book or standard HTML – with just a few clicks.
Once you start working with plain text documents, you realize the power of their infinite portability and compatibility. You can edit them anywhere, on just about any device, and never break anything. It’s addicting.
The popular Markdown syntax is valuable for text editing because it allows you to add formatting while maintaining this portability and compatibility. You might think that formatting text by typing special characters is nerdy and distracting. Nerdy maybe, but in practice it’s quite the opposite of distracting. Markdown keeps your hands on the keys. It keeps you typing. Screenwriters know the value of this. It’s the butt in the chair that gets the words on the page.
Unlike cumbersome word processing applications, text written in Markdown can be easily shared between computers, mobile phones, and people. It’s quickly becoming the writing standard for academics, scientists, writers, and many more. Websites like GitHub and reddit use Markdown to style their comments.
Formatting text in Markdown has a very gentle learning curve. It doesn’t do anything fancy like change the font size, color, or type. All you have control over is the display of the text-stuff like making things bold, creating headers, and organizing lists.
Plain text doesn’t change. Fifty years from now, you’ll still be able to open a plain text file. Until we all have squiggly tentacles on our faces and communicate telepathically, plain text will be a thing.
What about conversion software? Let’s say a tiny black hole swallows up every Markdown converter on the planet. You still have nice, clean plain text.
Walk into a room of coders and ask what the best tools of their trade are—keyboards, text editing software, etc,—and you’re bound to start a war.
But in a world where programmers are fanatically divided, advocating fiercely for their favorite window managers and text editors, there’s one thing many engineers agree on. It’s called Solarized, and for four years, it’s reigned supreme as the color scheme of choice for many coders and the text they have to stare at all day.
After all, coders have, well, rather extreme thoughts about things like color schemes and text editors.
“This is close to people’s hearts,” Yale Spector, a senior developer for WeWork, told the Observer. “People take this shit real seriously.”
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why, why do these people care so much about the most minute details?” It’s because coders, who are also just very particular in nature, have no other tools of their trade but their computer and their mind.
“Text editors are where we live, where we spend so many hours in our day,” Mr. Spector said. “It’s so personal to us, it’s our home. When you get a house, you spend time making it comfortable, because you’re going to be there a long time.”
And, as Mr. Brocken puts it, it’s not just hot rodding—or tricking out your equipment for the sake of ostentatiousness. No, this is about building the perfect tool.
Developers may be overly opinionated, but they are also, by virtue of their work, obsessed with efficiency. For programmers who are building programs and designs right from their imagination, every additional advantage in their work environment is one less barrier between their mind and the machine.
“It may looks ridiculous to the outside observer, but it’s about eliminating that invisible barrier between you and the tool that you’re using,” Mr. Schoonover said. “It’s the carpenter making his own work bench.”
Briefly, plain text is a great format to use because (1) it can be read by any computer or device; (2) it’s future proof, since computers will always be able to read it; (3) it can be synced to all your devices; (4) it can be converted to virtually any format.
Plain text is ubiquitous. It works on every operating system, and on every mobile device, regardless of who makes it. A wide variety of apps can read it. You’ll never run into file compatibility errors. You can take what you write from one app to another without a thought.
Likewise, plain text will never change. Where an app might get updated with new features and a new user interface, plain text is pretty much always plain text. I will never open up an app to find a new design that I hate, or a new user experience I have to learn. Text editors may change, but there’ll always be another, and they’ll never all go subscription-only. This is really important to me. I use plain text every single day for simple tasks. I don’t need anything getting in the way of me capturing text as quickly as possible.
I love that with plain text the focus is on the words, not the formatting. I love that it’s portable and can be used anywhere and everywhere, in any piece of software that edits or displays words. I love how easy it is to create beautifully formatted documents when needed. Most of all, I love how fast it is. I simply work more efficiently since switching to plain text.
Authors and writers of all stripes can learn a lot about creating and managing words from computer programmers, beginning with an appreciation for the simple, durable efficiencies of plain text. Anybody running Unix, Linux, or BSD already knows all about text, because it’s the third prong of the Unix Tools Philosophy:
Write programs that do one thing and do it well;
Write programs that work together;
Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.
The geeks who made Unix nearly 40 years ago made plain text the universal interface because they believed in economy, simplicity, and reliability.
If Unix is the geek Gilgamesh epic, it’s a tale told in plain text.
Since its introduction in 2004, Markdown has enjoyed remarkable success. Markdown works for users for three key reasons. First, the markup instructions (in text) look similar to the markup that they represent; therefore, the cognitive burden to learn the syntax is low. Second, the primary arbiter of the syntax’s success is running code. The tool that converts the Markdown to a presentable format, and not a series of formal pronouncements by a standards body, is the basis for whether syntactic elements matter. Third, Markdown has become something of an Internet meme, in that Markdown gets received, reinterpreted, and reworked as additional communities encounter it. There are communities that are using Markdown for scholarly writing, for screenplays, and even for mathematical formulae. Clearly, a screenwriter has no use for specialized Markdown syntax for mathematicians; likewise, mathematicians do not need to identify characters or props in common ways. The overall gist is that all of these communities can take the common elements of Markdown (which are rooted in the common elements of HTML circa 2004) and build on them in ways that best fit their needs.”