My husband and sometimes my kids enjoy watching American Idol. And don't get me wrong, I'm all for the American dream and all. But last season they went too far and I know "they" say to never say never, but I will never watch American Idol again. During the initial auditions, a couple of gentlemen who were quite obviously "special" tried out. They didn't know each other, and each one seemed to truly think he had a wonderful voice. Simon, in true money-making Simon form, badgered the young men, even going so far as to make fun of their looks, saying one looked like a "bush monkey."
For more than fifteen years, I worked with children and teens with disabilities, both physical and mental. I know the struggles. And I know the ridicule. I know how cruel other students can be. I started a program called, "Students-Helping-Students" when I began teaching at the middle school. The program was designed to pair disabled students with their peers, so that both could gain a better understanding of one another. The program was successful in bridging the gap of understanding and compassion, at an age when peer acceptance is more important than anything.
One day, one of my peer-helpers ran into the classroom. Close behind her were two other peer-helpers on each side of Billy*. The story they told horrified me. Billy was autistic and non-verbal. People with autism display unusual behaviors when they are stressed or when they are excited. On his way back to class, three boys cornered Billy, literally. They barked at him, made fun of him and laughed when he flapped his arms furiously. When Billy started making the noises that usually accompany a "melt down", his peer-helpers heard him, and ran to his aid. They coaxed their freightened friend down the hallway to safety.
When I heard the story, I was so proud of the program that had helped to create such wonderful partnership. And I was proud of the girls individually for rescuing their friend. But I was also infuriated. In fact I was so angry that I got someone to cover my class while I went with the girls and the school counselor to hunt them down. Sitting in the counselors office, across from the idiodic boys, she offered that the boys should be suspended for a day. But I disagreed. I wanted them to spend their time in my classroom, and not just one day, but three. Parents were called and arrangements made. The bottom line is that during those three days the boys learned about Billy's struggles. They learned his language (sign language) and they learned that he feels bad and he cries just like anyone else. And a week later, I saw something that amazed me. Someone was making fun of Billy and one of those "idiodic boys" stood up for him, defended him and even educated the offenders.
This is and example of just one day, one moment in the life of a person with disabilities.
Now imagine that person standing in front of Simon. Simon's job is to be mean. His job is to belittle people and rip at their dreams. And I believe he enjoys it. In fact, I bet he was one of those kids who spent his time making others feel small so he could feel good about himself. But it's not just Simon. It's the spirit of the entire show. After being ridiculed by Simon, the two young men I mentioned above, went outside the door to be interviewed by Ryan Seacrest. One of them was clearly uncomfortable in front of the camera, but instead of using his interview skills and drawing out the young man, he stood there staring, waiting for an answer that he knew wouldn't come. Makes for good T.V. doesn't it?
I know the arguments. I know that a select few actually "make it" and become stars. And I know that other people saw what I did when the young men in question were on the show. They were treated to various perks, including being on a few talk shows. But in my mind, that doesn't change the fact that it should never have happened. And the truth is that the show was created and has evolved into a mean-spirited spectacle.
I'm going to hop down off my soap box now so I can go watch some nice safe crime show or something. ~Karen