Person-first Language and Sarcastic Teachers and Behaviorists

I hear administrators, and behavioral professionals mandate person first language but freely mock students in front of peers and teachers.

I am sick of it. Words matter.

This is how a lot of teachers in both general education and special education classrooms “communicate” with their students. Snide remarks abound. Direct answers are not provided to direct questions. Sarcasm from teachers is rampant, but the same behavior is not tolerated from students.

Sarcasm is never okay. When we are sarcastic with students it fits both the CDC definitions for relational and verbal bullying.

We are harming the child in front of their peers and we are intentionally denigrating them.

What is sad is that even the when teachers said no to using sarcasm, they managed to miss the point entirely. They avoid it because they may get in trouble or because famous education researchers like Robert Marzano are emphatic in his appeal to why sarcasm is never appropriate. It strikes me as puzzling that so many people defend using sarcasm in their day to day life as a form of humor, but then immediately turn and say it is never appropriate for a students to be sarcastic back to the teacher. It is a behavior that is a non-negotiable from students.

Source: Students Do Not Deserve Your Sarcasm – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

Person-first language is problematic:

“People-first” language is meant to divide, it is meant to demean, it is meant to dehumanize, it is meant to pathologize, and yet, it is meant, as I said before, to make its users feel good. In that way it is ultimately destructive because it covers up the crimes.

Only when people get to choose their own labels will we get anywhere toward building an equitable culture.

If we convert horrid prejudices into pleasant sounding phrases, we diffuse those prejudices as an issue.

Source: Using “Correct Language” And “People First” by Ira David Socol – Bowllan’s Blog

I’m autistic, not a person with autism. Autistic is my identity.

I’m a disabled person, not a person with disabilities. Disabled is my identity.

Identity first language is common among social model self-advocates. When hanging out in social model, neurodiversity, and self-advocacy communities, identity first is a better default than person first. Every autistic and disabled person I know uses identity first language. The words autistic and disabled connect us with an identity and a community. They help us advocate for ourselves.

Disability’s no longer just a diagnosis; it’s a community.

There’s a language gap between self-advocates and the institutions that claim to represent us. There’s a gap between parents and their #ActuallyAutistic and disabledkids. There’s a generational gap in the disability movement. This is confusing for those trying to be allies. The articles below offer perspective and advice on identity first and person first language from self-advocates. At the end, I collect tweets from autistic and disabled self-advocates in a Twitter moment. Witness and respect these perspectives.

Source: Identity First – Ryan Boren

This is autistic life in the person-first cultures of education:

We navigate systems stacked against us to get access to what amounts to dog training-that dog trainers know better than to use-and a segregated “special” track through our systems that pathologically pathologizes difference and fails to connect with the communities it helps marginalize.

The specialists that serve this “special” track aren’t so much specialized in the lives and needs of neurodivergent and disabled people (managing sensory overwhelm, avoiding meltdown and burnout, dealing with ableism, connecting with online communities, developing agency and voice through self-advocacy) as they are specialized in deficit and medical models that pathologize difference and identity.

So heartbreakingly many can’t even bring themselves to use our language or educate parents about our existence. After autistic students age out of our care, we erase them again as adults.

Source: Neurodiversity in the Classroom – Ryan Boren

We hear the “abuse them now to prepare them for later abuse” line regularly at school. It is used to justify bad practices not at all in touch with the “real world”.

More than a few teachers have notified me that by being sarcastic – particularly with autistic students – they are preparing the students for sarcastic people in the “real world” and these teachers ardently refuse to “coddle” these autistic kids because they demonstrate difficulty with recognizing or learning social cues.

Source: Students Do Not Deserve Your Sarcasm – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

“Coddle” suggests a lot about the people saying it. It suggests they don’t have a structural understanding of our society. It suggests their framing is deficit ideology and meritocracy myths. It suggests they’re out of touch with the workplace and the future of work.

They’re not interested in designing for real life. They’re not allies.

Compassion is not coddling, and sarcasm from teachers and therapists isn’t comedy.

There’s been a lot of talk, of late, about laughter. Laughter as power. Laughter as luxury. Laughter as empathy. Laughter as beauty. Laughter as philosophy. Laughter as complicity. Laughter as division. The current political moment has been in one way a lesson in how easily jokes can be weaponized: Jokes can win elections. Jokes can insist that, despite so much evidence to the contrary, lol nothing matters. Jokes can contribute to the post-truth logic of things. They can lighten and enlighten and complicate and delight; they can also mock and hate and lie and make the world objectively worse for the people living in it-and then, when questioned, respond with the only thing a joke knows how to say, in the end: “I was only kidding.”

Source: Trump Mocks Christine Blasey Ford; The Rally Loves It – The Atlantic

“We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era.”

Source: The Cruelty Is the Point – The Atlantic

Suddenly, even the most powerful people in society are forced to be fluent in the concerns of those with little power, if they want to hold on to the cultural relevance that thrust them into power in the first place. Being a comedian means having to say things that an audience finds funny; if an audience doesn’t find old, hackneyed, abusive jokes funny anymore, then that comedian has to do more work. And what we find is, the comedians with the most privilege resent having to keep working for a living. Wasn’t it good enough that they wrote that joke that some people found somewhat funny, some years ago? Why should they have to learn about current culture just to get paid to do comedy?

Source: The price of relevance is fluency

A Change of Frame: From Deficit Ideology to Structural Ideology

When your kid is DXed as autistic, almost all of the professional advice you get from education and healthcare is steeped in deficit ideology. The unhealthiness, unhelpfulness, and disconnectedness of this worldview leads some to consult autistic adults. Then, you discover neurodiversity and the social model of disability. And then, maybe, intersectionality, design for real life, and equity literate education. And then you find yourself in the healthier framing of structural ideology that is better for your kid and better for the systems and institutions that you’re now trying to improve.

Reframe.

I used to tell my students that ideology never announces itself as ideology. It naturalizes itself like the air we breath. It doesn’t acknowledge that it is a way of looking at the word; it proceeds as if it is the only way of looking at the world. At its most effective, it renders itself unassailable: just the way things are. Not an opinion, not the result of centuries of implicit and explicit messaging, not a means of upholding a power structure. It just is.

Source: the shame is ours

Free, life-changing, and available to everyone. Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.

Public education and open source. Let’s help people get free, for free.

“Free, life-changing, and available to everyone” and “provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them” are ideas I steer by.

“Free, life-changing, and available to everyone” is what I and my peers in WordPress and open source work for. It’s what teachers work for in public education. NeuroTribes invokes this rallying cry for the commons in its introduction.

He told me that he wanted the code to be like Jesus in its own humble way: “Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.”

Source: Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (p. 2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The code mentioned above is Perl, an open source programming language I have a long relationship with, and the he is Larry Wall, creator of Perl and a big influence on me. I first read NeuroTribes when it came out in 2015. I was an undiagnosed autistic father with a newly diagnosed autistic son, and there on page 2 of the introduction of a book that changed my life and worldview are “free, life-changing, and available to everyone” and “there is more than one way to do it”, two ideas that, thanks to Larry Wall, have influenced my entire career.

On a bright May morning in 2000, I was standing on the deck of a ship churning toward Alaska’s Inside Passage with more than a hundred computer programmers. The glittering towers of Vancouver receded behind us as we slipped under the Lions Gate Bridge heading out to the Salish Sea. The occasion was the first “Geek Cruise”- an entrepreneur’s bid to replace technology conferences in lifeless convention centers with oceangoing trips to exotic destinations. I booked passage on the ship, a Holland America liner called the Volendam, to cover the maiden voyage for Wired magazine.

Of the many legendary coders on board, the uncontested geek star was Larry Wall, creator of Perl, one of the first and most widely used open-source programming languages in the world. Thousands of websites we rely on daily- including Amazon, Craigslist, and the Internet Movie Database- would never have gotten off the ground without Perl, the beloved “Swiss Army chainsaw” of harried systems administrators everywhere.

To an unusual and colorful extent, the language is an expression of the mind of its author, a boyishly handsome former linguist with a Yosemite Sam mustache. Sections of the code open with epigrams from Larry’s favorite literary trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, such as “a fair jaw-cracker dwarf-language must be.” All sorts of goofy backronyms have been invented to explain the name (including “Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister”), but Larry says that he derived it from the parable of the “pearl of great price” in the Gospel of Matthew. He told me that he wanted the code to be like Jesus in its own humble way: “Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.” One often-used command is called bless. But the secret of Perl’s versatility is that it’s also an expression of the minds of Larry’s far-flung network of collaborators: the global community of Perl “hackers.” The code is designed to encourage programmers to develop their own style and everyone is invited to help improve it; the official motto of this community is “There is more than one way to do it.”

In this way, the culture of Perl has become a thriving digital meritocracy in which ideas are judged on their usefulness and originality rather than on personal charisma or clout. These values of flexibility, democracy, and openness have enabled the code to become ubiquitous- the “duct tape that holds the Internet together,” as Perl hackers say.

Source: Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (pp. 1-2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them” is a recently acquired phrase. I picked it up from this HeroPress piece by Topher DeRosia, “Accessibility Where It Matters – HeroPress”.

One of the things that I’ve always loved about WordPress is how it provides things to people. It provides a living to those who have none, it provides community to those without one, and it can provide tools to those who need them.

Amanda Rush is blind, and navigates a world that is often hostile to blind people. WordPress developers work very very hard to make the WordPress software usable by people with no sight.

A wonderful by-product of that is that Amanda and people like her can build a career for themselves, without depending on a physically friendly workplace and a physically friendly transit.

WordPress provides Freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.

Source: Accessibility Where It Matters – HeroPress

Through WordPress (and by extension open source software), I’ve improved my circumstances, become more self-sufficient, and I’ve been able to assert some control over my life in general. It’s improved my employment prospects drastically, which means I no longer have to work whatever low-paying odd jobs I can find to keep the bills paid. I believe that it can help other blind people as well. We have an eighty percent unemployment rate in this community.

We’re still fighting discrimination in the workplace, and we’re still fighting for equal access when it comes to the technology we use to do our jobs. But the beauty of WordPress and its community is that we can create opportunities for ourselves.

With WordPress, we can make decisions for ourselves, and have all kinds of help along the way from the community. I urge my fellow blind community members to join me inside this wonderful thing called WordPress. Because it will change your lives if you let it.

Source: Finding Freedom in WordPress – HeroPress

“Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.” That is a clarion call for both open source and public education. I hear the social model, intersectionality, structural ideology, equity literacy, designing for pluralism, and designing for real life in these words.

Public education and open source. Let’s help people get free, for free. Let’s get structural, get social, get equity literate, and build an indie ed-tech that confronts injustice instead of amplifying it.

Free, life-changing, and available to everyone. Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.

See also,