What good are the retarded?
America has done much to improve the lives of the “intellectually challenged,” the currently acceptable designation of those who were designated “mentally retarded” when I was a child, as “idiot” when my parents were children and “moron” when my grandparents were children. No doubt, we will have another euphemism in the next generation when we have used up the current one, when the disdain from the old term has been fully transferred to the new term.
Since the mid-seventies the “Intellectually challenged” have undergone mainstreaming in public education, being placed in classes based on their abilities rather than a global classification of intellect. Whether this has improved the education of the ninety-and-nine normal children in the class was not considered important by the social experimenters in that age of the triumph of Science (All Science, mind you). Each new wrinkle of advance which could generate a pilot project and its attendant grant money, was embraced as timeless educational doctrine.
Not surprisingly, the cost per capita of public education has skyrocketed, almost doubling (in inflation controlled dollars) in thirty years (1970-2000). This is during a time when the college board scores fell precipitously, even requiring a “resetting” of the score in the mid-1990s, and high school graduation rates fell. With little to show for the policy of mainstreaming, one wonders why it has continued, save for inanition and momentum.
Last Saturday, I went shopping at a grocery story. It was relatively crowded and there was a fair amount of backing and filling of cart to allow people to navigated up and down the narrow aisle of the Schnucks Store of Alubus, Missouri. I started down an aisle and noticed that another man and cart were coming my way. I pulled over and motioned for the man to come on. He did it clumsily. The reason for this was that on his arm was teenage girl.
The man was small, slim, and middle-aged (as opposed to my own age, bordering on the elderly) dressed in a neat button-down plaid shirt and slacks. On his arm was a girl, taller than he by perhaps three inches, overweight, lumpish and drab … except for her face, which smiled at me as she turned the corner.
“I going shopping with my daddy,” she said to me as our eyes met.
“Yes, you are!” said I. “How lucky for you,” I thought.
I looked back at the duo as they proceeded slowly up the narrow aisle past me, stopping every once in a while to look at one thing or another.
I was mostly done and checked out almost immediately. Carrying my few purchases across the front of the store toward the exit, I looked back to see if I could find and capture the eyes of the girl who was shopping with her daddy. I did and waved to her. She did not see me, having eyes for her father. Her father did see me and waved back at me. When I got to my car I wept, for no great reason.
Our care for the disabled, our love for those who may never be able to pay us back in kind, seems to me to be assessed wrongly. We do not do it for them so much as for ourselves, to remind us all that our selfless care is a boon to all mankind and a joy to the hearts of us all.