What Pauline Hanson Doesn't Understand About Disability in Australian Schools

Globally, parents are engaged in a fight for inclusion — for our children to be recognized, encouraged and catered to within the school system and beyond, regardless of their disabilities. But this week in Australian politics has brought a heavy blow for all those who are fighting this fight.

One Nation senator Pauline Hanson spoke in the Senate in support of the federal government’s Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017, and her words have stirred upset throughout the Australian disability community.

Hanson, renowned for her and her party’s often controversial policies and ideals, spoke of children’s rights. She spoke of the rights of able-bodied and neurotypical children to education. Neither the Australian public nor the government dispute the educational rights of the children in our society, however as a nation, we must adhere to the rights of all the children in our school system, including those with different ability levels.

Senator Hanson expressed her concern with the attention of schools and teachers as it looked to children with higher needs, as she felt this might cause a deficit in the attention received by other children in classes. Ultimately this sentiment, while controversial, is not entirely misguided. As a country, Australia has a responsibility to its children, and to provide the necessary attention to all children in our school system. However, Hanson’s manner of addressing this matter left something to be desired.

In a world and a nation where we fight not for segregation, but for inclusion, Hanson’s comments that children with disabilities, particularly children on the autism spectrum, are causing other children to be “held back” in classrooms created widespread debate. Furthermore, Hanson said it was “no good saying that we’ve got to allow these kids to feel good about themselves and we don’t want to upset them and make them feel hurt,” which defied a basic want of our public, to ensure the happiness and well-being of all children within our country, including those on the ASD spectrum or with other disabilities.

Soon after these comments had been made, Independent Senator Jacqui Lambi stated that she didn’t “want to see the divide in this country made any greater than it already is,” and generated public support with her references to the positive outcomes of disability inclusion in classrooms for all children. The debate among Australians as a result of this controversy begs the answer to one question: What do we hope to teach our children?

Whether able-bodied and neurotypical or with a disability, we must think of our children as projections of our societal values. We must do all that is within our power to ensure the values these children carry into their adult lives are those we hope to be formative of the future of our world. We must not allow our children to hear us doubt the necessity of protecting the feelings of others, lest they be instilled with this same mentality. We must not encourage our children to segregate from those who are different from them, but instead encourage them to open their hearts and offer kindness and friendship. We must teach them the empathy and compassion with which we hope they will grow up to possess.

This is not a question of us versus them, or of children with a disability versus able-bodied, neurotypical children, because it is not a contest with one winner. We cannot pit our children against each other; they are not in competition. Together they will grow up to shape this world, and so together should be where they learn the skills they will need to do it.

We can give many a rebuttal to Senator Hanson and her argument, but ultimately we share one goal; to provide appropriate education to all children in Australian schools. Let us not forget that our children’s education stretches far beyond the rules of mathematics and English, that the most important lessons we teach them will lie in the morality we cannot afford to compromise.

Include our children and their varying levels of ability in minds, in schools, and in our world.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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