Last semester, I wrote an 18 page research paper about what role the internet plays in the identity formation in a person with autism. At one point in the paper, I say that autism is a culture with shared practices and ways of communicating.
Now, I want to bring up the idea of special education. In special education classrooms, most of the focus of instruction to students with autism is social skills. What are social skills? Well, social skills are a culturally defined entity that maintain that there are behaviors that are normal and there are behaviors that are abnormal. The social skills that are taught to the student is an attempt to “normalize” them and make them like everyone else “normal.”
I wrote that and an immediate correlation came to my mind. Native American boarding schools. In case you don’t know the history, after the civil war, the American government began to fund schools where the sole goal was to “kill the Indian…save the man.” The following article tells the haunting story of how Native American children were torn away from their communities (kidnapped, if you will) and put into classrooms where they were taught how to be a white man. Everything that connected them to their culture was gotten rid of by beatings and punishment.
One of the stories that haunted me the most in the article is where a young man comes back home after many years at one of these boarding schools. He sees his grandma and she begins to talk to him in their language. He tells her that he doesn’t understand her and she asks him, “Then, who are you?”
However, because of his skin color, he could not be a white man. He could act like a white man, but was not a white man. He looked like a Native American, but could not act like one. What did these schools effectively do? They marginalize the population they are trying to “save.” The Native American children who came home did not fit into the white culture or the Native American culture.