the beauty of summative assessment; or why i love english class…

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.
– George S. Patton

The Archetypal Whore: Hemingway’s Women in The Sun Also Rises

Notwithstanding cameo appearances by waitresses, concierges and loud American tourists, only three female characters populate the pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. These characters, in order of appearance, consist of Robert Cohn’s fiancée, Frances Clyne; a “poulet” named Georgette whom Jake Barnes picks up on a Paris street; and Lady Brett Ashley, the woman whom Jake loves passionately but with whom he cannot consummate a physical relationship. Hemingway’s unflattering portrayal of these women ventures beyond his usual domineering harpy DOMINEERING HARPY?? INGRID, TRY TO AVOID STRONG, BIASED LANGUAGE (you mean, avoid the literary equivalent of fire-engine red, capital letters in your critique?) .  ALSO, YOU SHOULD EXPLAIN WHAT YOU MEAN BY “USUAL” BY REFERENCING OTHER TEXTS BY HEMINGWAY (YOU SHOULD ALSO NOTE, TOO, THAT THE CRITICAL READING OF HEMINGWAY’S PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IS COMPLEX), however, as he brands all three with that most damning of female epithets, the archetypal whore.

While the word ‘prostitution’ naturally conjures up cultural stereotypes of the nocturnal streetwalker, the concept itself is by no means limited to a romanticized vision of the Parisian red light district; prostitution can and does encompass any relationship in which sex is exchanged for financial compensation, whether that compensation takes the form of cash, rent, theatre tickets or fabulous emerald earrings.

Georgette, of course, is a prostitute in the narrowest sense of the word, “an actual harlot” who openly trades sex with strangers for cash. And while Frances and Brett are painted with warts of varying size and shape, they do share one basic common denominator with Georgette: all three women are portrayed not only as sexual objects, but as parasitic sexual objects. Coming from Hemingway, this is not a compliment; in Hemingway’s world, there is no “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” and the women in the novel are ultimately portrayed as selfish, self-serving and destructive to the men around them. YOUR LANGUAGE IS SIMPLY TOO HARSH FOR WHAT NEEDS TO BE AN OBJECTIVE CRITICAL DISCUSSION.  I AGREE WITH YOUR NOTION OF HEMINGWAY’S OBJECTIFICATION OF WOMEN, BUT YOU ARE STRETCHING THE HOOKER/WHORE ANALOGY TOO FAR.  ONE THING YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW IS THAT HEMINGWAY BASED HIS CHARACTERIZATION OF BRETT (AND OTHER SUCH WOMEN) ON HIS ACTUAL UNREQUITED LOVE AND ADMIRATION OF GRETA GARBO. (and this has what to do with anything? Greta Garbo was a hooker with a heart of gold?) YOU MIGHT ALSO NOTE HIS USE OF THE QUOTATION FROM GERTRUDE STEIN (CERTAINLY NOT SEXUAL OBJECT).  HEMINGWAY’S MISOGYNY IS A LARGE ISSUE IN CRITICISM OF HIS WRITING, SO YOU DO HAVE QUITE A STRONG CASE TO MAKE HERE.  HOWEVER, YOU NEED TO TEMPER IT WITH A LARGER READING OF THE TEXT ITSELF, NOTING THE WOUNDED NATURE (because a wounded nature justifies misogyny?) OF THE CHARACTERS THEMSELVES, THE POST-WAR EFFECTS OF TRAUMA, THE EVOLVING NOTION OF WOMEN’S INDEPENDENCE, AND ALSO SUCH THINGS AS THE NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE ITSELF (ALL CHARACTERS ARE PRESENTED THROUGH THE BIASED LENS OF JAKE—AND THIS IS CRITICALLY PROBLEMATIC (why, yes it is, which is why I refer specifically to it later in the essay…)

Consider first the light in which Hemingway casts Frances Clyne. On at least three occasions, he makes it crystal clear that Frances has pursued the hapless Robert Cohn for reasons that have nothing to do with love—or even sex—and everything to do with personal gain. He bluntly tells the reader that “Cohn had been taken in hand by a lady who hoped to rise with the magazine” (13). This sentence describes a woman who has chosen her mate for the singular purpose of furthering her career, and the use of the overtly sexual expression “taken in hand” is unlikely to be coincidental. When the magazine fails and Frances feels disgust for Cohn, she nevertheless pursues the relationship in order to “get what there was to get while there was still something available” (13). Frances’s intentions are clarified further when she finds her looks going and her attitude changes from one of “careless exploitation” to the determination that Cohn should marry her. Once again, Hemingway’s choice and placement of vocabulary underscore his meaning when he follows this information immediately with the sentence, “during this time Robert’s mother had settled an allowance on him…” (13).

Most telling of all, however, is the conversation Frances has with Jake after Cohn has ended his relationship with Frances: “…he’s got money, and he’s got a rich mother… And I haven’t got any money at all” (54). Although she is being abandoned after a three- year relationship, Frances is unconcerned with the loss of the man himself and her distress stems solely from her lost financial security. Shortly thereafter, her final scene with Robert involves a direct referral to his money: “I’m going to England… Robert’s sending me. He’s going to give me two hundred pounds” (55).

In a corporate setting, this would be called severance pay.

The most significant female character in the book, Lady Brett Ashley, on first examination appears to be the antithesis of the prostitute, sleeping with whomever she wants, whenever she wants, with no regard or consideration for her male counterparts, but this prima facie conclusion is misleading. While Brett appears to be motivated by an overactive libido, this appearance is undermined by the fact that she never sleeps with waiters or steer handlers or leather-faced Basque peasants. She sleeps with money and with roués who have the expectation of money. INTERESTING OBSERVATION (in the nicest possible way, of course) Even her bankrupt Scottish fiancé is “going to be rich as hell one day” (46) when he comes into his inheritance.

Consider her lovers: her ex-husband is rich and titled; Count Mippipololous is rich and titled; Robert Cohn is merely rich; Pedro Romano, who tries to give Brett “a lot of money” (246) is, at the very least, well-heeled. PARAGRAPHING

Hemingway clearly establishes that Brett has no money of her own. Her fiancé, Mike Campbell, states that “she never has any money” (234), and Brett herself confirms this when she summons Jake to Madrid because she “…didn’t have a sou to go away and leave him” (246). Despite having no visible means of support, Brett manages to trot around the continent in the lap of sybaritic luxury, primarily in the company of men who are more than happy to pick up the tab. Indeed, Brett’s very infidelity underscores her subtle sex-for-support mentality: that Mike fails to satisfy her emotionally and/or sexually is implicit in her string of affairs. Why then, is she engaged to him in the first place? Bankrupt or not, he foots the bill.

To dispute this proposition, one could argue that Brett’s refusal to accept money from her lovers on at least two occasions automatically excludes her from the prostitute archetype. Brett refuses the Count’s offer to go to Biarritz for $10,000 (41) and she refuses Romero’s money when he leaves her at the hotel in Madrid (246). What she is actually rejecting here, however, is not the role of harlot, but the label. She shrinks from being treated overtly as a prostitute, just as she shrinks from the notion of explicit solicitation involving a direct financial transaction. Indeed, Hemingway’s use of the concept of prostitution, as opposed to the word itself, is deliberately understated; he uses a finer paintbrush to portray Lady Ashley, but ultimately her picture is the same.

As real people, these three women would undoubtedly amount to more than the sum of their faults, but through the biased observations of his protagonist, Jake Barnes, Hemingway deliberately presents them as financially dependent social leeches.

GRADE:  80 (yikes, that’s barely a “B”)

YOUR THESIS IS BASED ON SOME LEGITIMATE CRITICAL EVIDENCE, INGRID, BUT AS I’VE POINTED OUT, YOU HAVE CHOSEN (bad girl) TO WRITE WITH EXCESSIVE VITRIOL (vitriol? really? Joan Rivers writes with excessive vitriol, this is just an English paper…), INSTEAD OF OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS.  THE PORTRAYALS ARE MUCH MORE NUANCED WHICH IS WHY THE IDEA OF HEMINGWAY AS A MISOGYNIST IS NOT A CRITICALLY-CLOSED BOOK

and that, boys and girls, is what you get for having an opinion…

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

References

Hemingway, Ernest. (1926). The Sun Also Rises. New York, NY: Scribner.

improvising with lamb shanks

 

Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?
– Julia Child

Today my husband unexpectedly came back from the market with lamb shanks. I order these regularly when we eat out, but I have never made them at home as they have never been readily available in my small town grocery store until now (this is, after all, the heart of cattle country). In the spirit of trying something new, here is my braised duck-leg recipe adapted for lamb shins, the cheapest, toughest and decidedly most delicious cut on the lamb.

To start, coarsely chop up a large red onion, 2 ribs of celery and 2 large carrots, and throw them all into a large oven-proof, flame-proof pot, preferably one with a lid.

Okay, this is the wrong kind of onion; it’s a Walla Walla, sweet and mild, too sweet and mild, in fact, for a long braise. Red onions have more complexity and flavour when caramelized.
Too bad…
It’s what I have.

And the baby carrots aren’t quite right, either…

Actually, “baby” carrots, the Hollywood-has-beens of the vegetable world, are not baby carrots at all, but mature carrots that have been nipped and tucked and plumped with filler (in this case, water) in order to masquerade as baby springs.

The magnum opus of California carrot farmer Mike Yurosek, (who grew weary of culling the two-thirds of his crop that failed to meet exacting consumer standards for root vegetable rectilinearity), this trend towards flawless orange vegetation started back in 1986 with a second-hand industrial green-bean cutter that transformed Yurosek’s crop of cock-eyed carrots into the diminutive, uniformly tapered glossy tangerine cylinders that we know and love today.

I buy these for one reason: my kid will eat them.  In my house, this is not trivial.

The extra water they absorb during processing, however, makes them less than ideal for roasting—or even imparting flavor to a braise—but does that mean I’m going to make a special trip to the store to buy unrefined, rudely proportioned garden carrots with their root hairs still intact?

Uhmm…

No.

But I digress.

Imagine that.

Using a small saucepan, squash 8 to 12 cloves of garlic to pop them out of their skins.

Why, yes, that is a lot of garlic; in contemporary post-Twilight pop-culture, one can’t be too careful…

Rinse the garlic off the bottom of the pot with cold water. While you’re at it, rub your hands over the pot’s surface, the molecules in the stainless steel will bind with the sulfur in the garlic and take the smell right off your hands…

Throw the garlic into the pot.

Speaking of pots, finding a covered pot large enough to hold six lamb shanks in a single layer had me in a bit of a quandary; they wouldn’t fit into my regular Dutch Oven and my turkey roaster is a little too flimsy to de-glaze on a gas flame.

So I raided my husband’s camping gear.

The enamelled (red, of course, because red is best) cast-iron Staub Dutch Oven holds four lamb shanks and retails for about $300. The matte black, cast-iron Camp Chef Dutch Oven holds six shanks and cost us less than $50 at our local camping store.

The downside? With the lid on, it weights 25 lbs.

Where was I?

Right. The vegetables.

This is what you have so far:

Throw in a sprig or two of fresh thyme and rosemary, liberally season the shanks with salt and pepper and set them on top of the vegetable mixture.

Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and roast the shanks, uncovered, in a 425 degree oven for 45 minutes, turning them over half-way through. Keep an eye on the vegetables; if they start to scorch add 1/4 cup of water to the pot.

Once the shanks are nicely browned on both sides, take the pot out of the oven and set it on the largest burner on your stove top. Temporarily remove the  shanks from the pot (another advantage of the Camp Chef Dutch Oven, the lid doubles as a shallow roasting pan, it’s the perfect size to hold the shanks, and it’s going to get dirty anyway).

Add half a bottle of dry red wine and 3 cups of chicken stock to the pot.

$9.98 $8.87 from Costco. And, as an added bonus, you can actually drink it.

Turn the heat to medium high and bring the liquid to a simmer, scraping all the brown bits up off the bottom with a wooden spoon.

Return the shanks to the pot (the liquid should come half-way up the shanks), cover the pot with a layer of aluminum foil (this will make a better seal), and anchor it with the lid:

Put the pot back in the oven, reduce the heat to 275 degrees, and braise for about 3 hours (or until the meat yields easily to a fork, which will vary slightly, depending on the size of your shanks). Turn the

shanks over half-way through cooking, and if the liquid gets scant (less than 2 inches), top it up with 1/2 cup of chicken stock.

Remove the pot from the oven, and transfer the shanks to a large, pre-warmed serving platter. Strain the remaining liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, (here we begin to see the disadvantage of a 25 pound Dutch oven; on the other hand, even straining the liquid out of a Staub is a four-hand endeavour that should require a double indemnity accident clause on your insurance policy), pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract every last drop. Skim the fat off the liquid, transfer it (the liquid, not the fat) to a gravy boat and pass it at the table with the lamb shanks.

Drink the remaining wine.

Ingredients

  1. 1 large red onion, roughly chopped
  2. 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
  3. 2 mature rectilinear carrots, roughly chopped
  4. 8 – 12 whole cloves of garlic, skins removed
  5. 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  6. 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  7. 6 lamb shanks, liberally seasoned with salt and pepper
  8. 3 cups chicken stock
  9. 1/2 bottle dry red wine

Method

  1. pre-heat the oven to 425°F; adjust the rack to the lowest position
  2. add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic in an even layer in the bottom of a large Dutch Oven; top with the rosemary and thyme
  3. liberally season the shanks with salt and pepper, set shanks in pot on top of vegetables. Roast for 45 minutes, turning half way. If the vegetables start to scorch, add 1/4 cup of water to the pot
  4. remove pot from oven, and set on largest burner on stove top; temporarily remove shanks from pot; turn heat to medium high
  5. pour wine and stock into pot and stir to de-glaze
  6. replace shanks back in pot, cover with foil, anchor foil with lid, and return pot to oven; reduce heat to 275°F and bake for 3 hours, turning shanks over half-way through cooking time. Add up to 1/2 chicken stock if liquid reduces to less than 2 inches
  7. remove pot from oven, transfer shanks to large, pre-warmed serving platter. Strain braising  liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid
  8. skim fat off braising liquid, transfer it to a gravy boat and pass it at the table with the shanks

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

taking the community out of community policing

No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.
– General George S. Patton

On August 10, 2012, Foothills Municipal District peace officer Rod Lazenby was beaten to death during the lawful execution of his duty on an acreage near the hamlet of Priddis, about fifty miles from my home. A 35 year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Lazenby retired from the RCMP in 2006 and for the  last three years, worked as a community peace officer where he often dealt with animal complaints.  Last Friday, Lazenby attended the home of dog breeder Trevor Kloschinsky regarding a complaint about the latter’s thirty-plus Australian Cattle Dogs, and in a bizarre series of events, Kloschinsky (allegedly) ambushed and severely assaulted Lazenby, loaded the injured officer into his own patrol car and drove him to the nearest Calgary Police Service office where he directed a CPS officer to arrest Lazenby for trying to steal his dogs. Lazenby was rushed to hospital with life threatening injuries and pronounced dead upon arrival. Kloschinsky has since been charged with first degree murder.

Recognizing that a peace officer had been killed in the line of duty, Calgary Police Service lowered their flags to Half-mast at all their districts. Local fire departments followed suit.

Not so the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The flags at the Duncan Building (RCMP Southern Alberta District Headquarters) in Calgary, as well as several RCMP detachments that actually operate within the Foothills MD remained staunchly upright this past week.

The reason?

According to RCMP provincial spokesperson Sgt. Patricia Neely, “because he wasn’t a serving member, we have no say on that…. That’s a decision made for the RCMP by the Alberta premier’s office. Besides,” she added, “ we have thousands and thousand of former members—our flags would always be lowered.”

Is that what’s known as thinking on one’s feet?

Because we aren’t talking about all former members of the RCMP (of which I am one), we are talking about Rod Lazenby, a retired member—with ten more years of service than the current commissioner, I might add—who was killed in the line of duty while working for a law enforcement agency that partners directly with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

As a municipal police force, operating out of a municipal building, Calgary Police Service has the luxury of making its own decisions regarding Half-masting in the wake of a peace officer’s death. As a federal organization, however, wherein the national flag is affixed to a federal building, the RCMP takes its directive from the Department of Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, and in the case of a non-federal peace officer such as Lazenby (who was granted peace officer status through the Alberta Solicitor General), the Alberta premier’s office must, on behalf of the RCMP, seek special dispensation to Half-mast the national flag at any Alberta RCMP detachment. The premier’s office obviously followed up with this, because the Department of Canadian Heritage recently posted their decision to allow all federal buildings within the Town of High River (population 12, 920 – how many can there be?), on August 24, 2012, the date of Lazenby’s memorial service.

Not only does this directive exclude Southern Alberta District Headquarters in Calgary, it prevents a handful of other RCMP detachments that actually partner with the Foothills Municipal District community peace officers from Half-masting their flag at any time, before or after the service.

This ridiculous chain of command through which the premier’s office in Edmonton must petition Ottawa on behalf of a federal law enforcement agency that is nearly four thousand kilometers away not only by-passes the interests of local RCMP Detachment Commanders operating within the physical boundaries of the Foothills Municipal District, it is symptomatic of the rusty federalism and disintegrating internal mechanics that plague the RCMP today. Deliberately handcuffing local and regional police agencies with bureaucratic inter-agency red tape not only strips RCMP Detachment Commanders of their right to make timely decisions regarding sensitive local community issues, it prevents members of the Force, regardless of rank, from publicly articulating what they intuitively know is wrong, to wit:

I’m not allowed to make opinions on policies.”
-Inspector Joe McGough, Commander, Rural RCMP Southern Alberta District.

And after reading the way in which RCMP Commissioner Paulson blasted a senior, front-line RCMP officer for actually having an opinion earlier this week, I can’t say I’m surprised. Rank and file members of the RCMP are deemed trustworthy enough to carry a sidearm and make intelligent decisions regarding the deprivation of personal liberty, but when they wish to implement an ethical, timely and appropriate public response to a tragedy within their own communities, they are straight-jacketed by Ottawa.

Talk about taking the “community” out of “community policing.”

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

refusing to admire the emporer’s new clothes

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Loath as I am to admit it, before I had children of my own, I identified with the precociously perceptive child narrators that litter English literary fiction. You know the type; those ubiquitous, dewy-eyed prodigies who contemplate the nothingness of being by the age of six and critically unpack political rhetoric before they cut their back molars. Back in my Lamaze days I secretly coveted such a child, and I didn’t immediately appreciate the irony when fate blessed me with a son who couldn’t string four words together by the time he got to kindergarten, and whose first complete sentence consisted of asking me in the line up at the bank—in those high-pitched ringing tones that only a five year old can muster—“mom, do you have a hairy vagina?”

Subject, verb, indefinite article… I should have been thrilled.

My son, you see, has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Back when I was Feng Shui-ing the nursery and gossiping over steam-fired decaffeinated ginger tea with my new-mother friends, I didn’t even realize that autism was a spectrum disorder. Back then, I just thought I was a bad mother.

“That’s it,” I said to my husband, the fifteenth time our toddler trashed his room. “We should skip the education savings plan and start a bail fund.”

Our son missed every milestone. We waited with baited breath for his first words, but they never came. When he finally started solid foods, he would eat only three things. He still eats only three things. He stripped off his clothes on a regular basis, and he couldn’t tolerate footwear of any kind. The day he woke to find our west coast yard covered in snow, he sobbed for the rest of the day.
Repeated trips to the doctor didn’t shed much light on things. Our kindly old GP would smile at me encouragingly and pat me on the back. “Don’t worry dear,” he would say, “boys develop slower than girls.”
Eventually I grew tired of meaningless platitudes and battered my own way into the local psychologist’s clinic.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Ms. Baier, but your child has autism.”

With those words, I took my first tottering steps towards relinquishing my hold on the idea of “normal.” And then a few more, three months later, when my daughter lost her language and her eye contact, and started walking on her toes. Here we go again, I thought, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly back to square one…

On we soldiered, naïve to the fact that the things you push hardest against have a way of pushing back.

With intervention, my kids began to close the gap between reality and representation. Together, we made the connection between a physical apple, and the spoken word “apple” although we paused on every single stepping stone along the way, bridging the journey with half an apple stuck on a piece of cardboard, a photograph of an apple, a painting of an apple, a line drawing of an apple, and finally, the written word “apple.”

Eventually—it felt like decades, although it was in reality just a few years—we made enough “progress” for both kids to transition from their respective special needs programs into the regular school system.
That was our first foray into the abstract world of religion. If I remember correctly, it was my decision to enroll them in the Catholic school. We had to jump through a number of hoops to accomplish this, the first of which entailed having them baptized in the Catholic Church. My daughter actually let me dress her up in scratchy white lace, a miracle in itself, but once we got to the church, the set of her lips eclipsed her limited language. She didn’t need syntax; the steely glint in her eye said it all. First came the flapping. Then the rigid set of the shoulders. Next, the screams. Rough translation:

…there is no way in hell the old fat guy in the black dress is going to stick my face in the water fountain, thank you very much…

The baptism coincided with an invitation for my husband and I to re-enter the church. We had wed years earlier on the beaches of Maui in a private ceremony where a vagabond we found sleeping on the beach agreed to be our witness. But it had been a civil ceremony (ie, godless), and not recognized by the Catholic Church, and naturally the priest took advantage of the baptism to try and strong arm us back into the flock.

(Baaahh, baaaaaahhhh…)

That’s sheep for “no thanks”.

I myself worship at the altar of red wine. It’s far more soothing on the psyche.

But I digress. Where was I?

It happens all the time since I had kids. I am like that dog in the Loony Tunes cartoons, endlessly chasing balls from a pitching machine,

(…awhere did it go, awhere did it go… there goes another one… awhere did it go…)

except that I am chasing my own thoughts, unable to pin any one of them down for more than a paragraph.

So.

Back to the Catholic school.

What a disaster. Ever tried to explain Jesus on the cross to a kid with autism? Allegory is lost on autistic kids. Where Christians see the resurrection and promise of life everlasting, my kids just can’t grasp the metaphysical concept of a crucified God—they insist on seeing what’s right in front of them: the gruesome reality of a medieval torture scene.

Easter that first year was the start of the “why” questions at our house. We had skipped the whole pre-school “why” phase, because for years, both my kids lacked the neural connections required to understand the complex linguistic concept of causality.

There was, of course, a plus side to this: for years I had managed to avoid that banal perennial catch phrase, “because I said so, that’s why.” We worked on “what” from age three to age five, and only tackled “when” once we got to kindergarten. So I missed the requisite training in handling “why is the sky blue?” or “why do the birds sing?” Instead, I got “do you have a hairy vagina?” in the bank. And by the time my son finally reached the “why” phase in the second grade, the questions had taken on a philosophical depth that had no answer, and certainly not an answer that could be couched in language accessible to an autistic seven year old.

“Why did Jesus get nailed to the cross?”

Because I said so, that’s why.”

But that is the nature of autism. What my kids see, by definition, is—must be—the way things are. I made the mistake, once, of buying my daughter a seven pack of panties with the days of the week printed on the front, each day corresponding to its own Disney Princess.

“Get dressed, kiddo.” I hand her yellow panties with a primping mermaid on the front.

Her eyes fill with tears. “But it’s not Wednesday.”

There is no other identifiable group in the world for whom getting dressed is a twelve-step program. But let’s face it, I have no one to blame but myself; I bought the panties. They were on sale.

But then something happened that I hadn’t anticipated: I started running interference in my children’s “therapy”. Psychologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and behavioral interventionists whirled through my house on a tornado of “shoulds,” leaving in their wake an acute feeling of inadequacy. Despite their well-meaning intentions, the message of all these professionals boiled down to one single idea:

Hey, kid, you’re doing it wrong.

I began to balk at the therapists’ repeated efforts to force my beautiful square pegs into proverbial round holes. I found myself actively countering their valiant efforts to turn my kids into paragons of the North American moral majority. I looked more closely at all the cool, quirky and creative things my kids could do, because of their “disability,” not in spite of it, and I began to value autism. I began to value diversity over conformity, uniqueness over homogeneity.

And I began to teach my children to do the same.

When, I asked myself, did the right to original thought become the exclusive property of those individuals deemed socially adept enough to “handle it?” In devising educational strategies for so-called difficult students, why did we divorce “how to think,” from “what to think,” along the fault lines of traditional intelligence?

Watching my children over the last sixteen years, I have come to realize that non-conformity is directly proportional to courage and conformity is inversely proportional to creativity. My kids simply don’t see the value in pretending to be someone else, and they refuse to admire the emperor’s new clothes. Not for a sticker. Not even for an “A”. For kids with autism, things don’t represent, they simply are. They incorporate Zen living into their lives without even knowing what it’s called, and it makes me wonder—who should be modeling who?

Yes, children with disabilities need to understand, to the best of their ability, the physical and social world that surrounds them, but when we insist they embrace that world as superior, we disenfranchise them all over again.

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved