December 10, 2007

Apology

As you'll see when you finally get a chance to read SCHUYLER'S MONSTER, I don't shy away from talking about my own shortcomings as a father. No one's perfect, and sometimes I feel farther from from that perfection than most. And today, I need to address something.

I owe an apology. To Schuyler.

The first time I wrote an article for PajamasMedia.com, I wasn't completely aware of just how conservative their readership was, but if I had gotten a better feel for the site, I probably would have written for them anyway. My own liberal outlook doesn't mean I'm closed to conservatives and their beliefs. One of Schuyler's most adamant and consistent supporters, going back for years, is standing out on the very leading edge of the right wing, his toes dangling happily in the wind. Julie's parents are pretty conservative, and few people do more for Schuyler on a daily basis than they do. One of the themes of my first essay on PajamasMedia, and a big chunk of the book as well, addresses how wrong I was to prejudge the conservatives of Plano in the first place. I don't believe that the issues surrounding special needs parenting fall into partisan ideological areas, any more than the monsters that stalk these kids do so according to how their parents vote.

Nevertheless, after some of the personal comments left on that first essay, I wrote a second essay with some hesitation, and sure enough, the reactions were incrementally worse. I wasn't bothered by the personal attacks this time, either, although I did make an attempt to clarify a few things and also to defend myself against one particularly dishonest remark. (And a reminder to the kids: RESPONDING TO TROLLS IS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS A MISTAKE.) I was accused of being bitter and rude, as if the opponents of inclusion would happily invite our broken kids into their kids' classrooms, if only we'd just ask politely. I was accused of ignoring the plight of kids whose problem is that they are too gifted for their public schools, which is absolutely true. I certainly don't oppose the same kinds of programs for exceptionally gifted children as for those with disabilities. Not one bit. Why would I? It's simply not my fight, and it's not an issue that I know much about, so I didn't take it on. And best of all, I was even accused on one site of being a wealthy, pretentious snob, mostly because I have a hyphenated last name. Everyone knows that hyphens are plated in gold. I keep mine in a special vault.

But when someone posted at length last night about how my "feeble minded" child was destroying the schools for the rest of the kids, it bothered me. It bothered me even more when PajamasMedia deleted the comment today. The comment was rude, and it was vile. But it wasn't obscene and it wasn't threatening. I feel like perhaps they cut it because they were embarrassed by having one of their readers say something so ugly about a little girl, but I can also accept that they chose to delete the comment because they felt responsible for exposing Schuyler to something like that.

But they're wrong. They're not responsible. I am.

This blog and the upcoming book are going to open the door for all sorts of experiences for Schuyler, and while I expect most of them to be positive, we're prepared for the occasional ugliness as well. But in the case of PajamasMedia, I chose to go back into an arena that I knew from experience was likely to be hostile, and I took her with me. My only excuse is that I didn't think it through, and once again I underestimated the capacity for people to become animals when sitting safely and anonymously behind their keyboards.

Schuyler is a warrior, and she gives her monster a thorough beatdown on a regular basis. I suspect that if she were old enough to understand the worst of what was being said about her online, she'd simply fire up her Big Box of Words and send a two word response (hint: not "happy birthday") before going off to live her life, loudly and unhesitatingly.

Nevertheless, I invited more monsters into her home, and for that, I can only say that I was wrong to do so, and I am very, very sorry.

28 comments:

Amy Lynn said...

Rob, I think what you are doing by sharing Schuyler's story is very brave, and I think she will, when she's old enough to realize more about life, thank you for it.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what it is like to be in your shoes. As a parent, however, I can understand feeling regret for having exposed your child to hurtful comments. It is a fine balance. In the end, I hope that this becomes something which educates others and might even, through others' awareness, be impetus for change somewhere -- even small change is better than no change at all. At the same time, I hope it doesn't cause you or anyone in your family to be hurt in any way.

I would have probably shared your opinions, had I ever been faced with or thought of these issues before. The truth of the matter is that I haven't but now I do think about it and if I'm ever in a position to discuss or get involved in issues related inclusion, I feel I've benefited from the education I've received through you. Thank you for that.

Kathryn said...

"I underestimated the capacity for people to become animals when sitting safely and anonymously behind their keyboards."

Comes with the territory, unfortunately, anytime you put yourself out there. There's always going to be assholes aplenty. You did your best by writing the book. You do your best for your girl everyday. You can only protect her from the world so much. Your intentions are good.

jennifergg said...

Ah well. I don't know a parent who DOESN'T need to apologize to their children, every once in a while.

I admire your tenacity, and I hope a few eyes were opened over there. At the very least, it prompts a good discussion of how we can improve our schools for ALL of our children. I really think we can do better. I shall ponder that, and other world problems, while emptying the dishwasher...

matthew said...

I, and everyone else who has once been a child, know exactly how evil and horrible people can be. You've written about heartless playground encounters, and I've seen my toddler end up on the receiving end of some other kid's power and control obsessions too many times to be even remotely surprised that people have these tendencies in them.

Tom Brokaw, speaking at a commencement recently, noted that adult life is not, as many people expect, like high school. Nor is it like college. It is, in most ways, like junior high. But as a veteran blogger, you're well aware of this.

The difference, as you noted, is that now your daughter is involved, and I definitely feel for you there. But your message is far too important to let the assholes shout you down. And from what secondhand knowledge I have of your daughter, I don't think she would want you to let them silence you.

No good deed goes unpunished, and no struggle comes without scars. You're fighting the good fight, and to hell with those who are so blind that they can't step into someone else's shoes and realize the world doesn't revolve around them. Take a page from Chris Hedges and stay on the mic, no matter how angry the mob gets. Maybe I'm naive, but I think your daughter will be proud of you.

Rob said...

Yeah, I know. I just need to be a little more discriminating as to where I step.

matthew said...

I did think it was odd that you were posting at PJM. I figured you either had cajones of steel or just thought that people wearing pajamas couldn't be all that terrifying.

Oh, and if you get a call from someone working for a certain person named O'Reilly, hang up immediately. Nothing good can come out of that.

Anonymous said...

You have to understand that they are attacking Schuyler to hurt YOU. They know that is the only way they can. One day Schuyler will relish in the idea that she will get a chance to step in the ring and fight a few monsters FOR you. You have fought so many for her. Trust me. I'm an only child, and broken in my own way.

Liz Ditz said...

Rob, sometimes I am put off by blogging parents and how much they reveal about their kid(s) -- I stopped reading Dooce for that reason-- but I've never felt that you have betrayed Schuyler's privacy.

What I find interesting about the discussion at Pajamas Media (both your first post and the second) is how unwilling the commenters are to think about objective data. For example, yes, SpEd accounts for about 20% of many schools' budget, but the vast majority of that 20% is spent remediating kids who will go onto be productive citizens.

Unless people like Paul Orfalea (founded Kinko's), John T. Chambers (Cisco Systems) etc. etc. aren't productive citizens.

Schuyler's future--well, wherever her adventures take her, having as much education as she can hold is certainly better than institutionalization, which is what would have been her fate in the bad old days before IDEA and its predecessors.

Inclusion or mainstreaming may not be the right choice for every special-needs kid. (see the discussion at Austism Vox for an example. But there's a feature to inclusion that isn't often written about: it challenges the special-ed teachers to make sure that their students are mastering as much of the gen.ed. curriculum as possible. It raises the stakes. And I think that's good for all children.

Special Needs Mama said...

Well, you never know until you try. I think it's hard to know when to fight and how to fight, and of course our kids almost always get brought into the mix (although personal attacks on a kid as cute and smart as Schuyler seems just wrong). I agree with your readers who stop to remind you that all parents make mistakes. Maybe going back in for a second round wasn't the best idea, but don't beat yourself up for trying. Now go back to be the Mr. Fancy Pants we all know and love.

watchwhathappens said...

I'll Say I'm Sorry Now / Shawn Colvin

I'm gonna let you down
I know that now
Make you cry, I know I will
Why should you believe
I would never leave
Or that I love you still
For all the by and by
Hard as we try
The boughs breaks and the cradle falls
For everything I do
That will tear at you
Let me say I'm sorry now
So you can sing your song
You can get it wrong
You can kiss the rock of ages
In your wildest dreams
You might see between
The liars and the sages
You can walk a while
down the mystery mile
You can beat the drums of freedom
And in love and war
Through the rush and roar
You just call 'em like you see 'em

Anonymous said...

I did read the comments as well as the one which you say has been removed. I was stunned by the intensity of many of the comments but the one that has been removed was vicious. I am not familiar with the site at all and only went there from your link. I won't be going back. Sadly, that is the downside of the internet and I am carefully selecting the sites I visit. Even our small newspaper comment section goes way over the top.

You are correct, however, now that Schuyler's story is out there you will be a target. Yet so much good will come from telling your story and this ugly incident won't even be a blip on Schuyler's screen of life. Keep up the good work, you have tremendous support.

It is not about liberal vs. conservative but it is about human decency. And just wait till they see you on Oprah as her Book of the Month Club choice.

Emily said...

Rob, for every asshole who feels the need to put you in your place for daring to want the best for your daughter there are a hundred, a thousand, other people who have learned more about this, who have changed their minds about what kids deserve, and who have been educated by you and by Schuyler. You should never feel guilty for being a part of that, and for helping her story get out there.

There's a little girl in Texas who is changing people's lives, and that's because of you.

Rahnee said...

Rob, my son is a man now. Struggling with the same problems that have been present since birth, as well as a few more that cropped up over the years. You know, bullshit things like depression, frustration, never feeling good enough. I am so proud of the way you and Julie keep fighting for Schulyer. I didn't fight hard enough for my son, I believed the school knew what "was best" for my kid. By the time I realized they were never going to get it right, his chance for a half-assed education were gone. And I did attend the IEP meetings, all of them. I kept in touch with his teachers. But whenever they "gently chastised" me for being such a worry wart, and suggested I was expecting way too much from him, I allowed it to happen and questioned myself instead of demanding from them what he was entitled to. What I knew he was capable of if they would just try it my way. He reads because I taught him myself, phonetically, even though he is severly hearing impaired. I was told he would never be able to read, would never speak, but he does both. Mostly because of his family, not because of the school system he was in. All I really meant to say, is don't ever relent when it comes to what you and Julie do for Schuyler. And those slimeballs out there that seem to think only the "norms" and "genius" kids deserve our tax dollars for education---screw em. They have the option of magnent schools, scholarships, all kinds of money for higher education that broken kids will likely never have offered to them. Don't you ever feel wrong for fighting for Schuyler. Sometimes idiots say things to provoke mayhem. They don't do it to provoke thought. My son has passed every section of the GED except math. Because I could never figure out a way to teach it to him at home, and no one at his school expected him to be able to add and subtract, much less multiply and divide..he bought into that and it stuck. Self-fullfilling prophecy. So don't let the bastards get you down. You and Julie Rock as parents

Susan said...

Rob, I don't intend to ever have children, so by all rights, inclusion is an issue I shouldn't even need to care about.

But you have definitely opened my eyes to the dire need for inclusion, and I would fight to the bitter end for it for all children (not just Schuyler, although I'd be there for her too).

I suspect you went back to PajamasMedia hoping to open a few minds, and I hope that somewhere along the line you did.

I just wanted to let you know that the comments from that monster hurt me to read, so I can't even imagine what they did to you.

I understand you feeling that you opened the gate for that to come in, but your intentions were good, and I'm sorry there are such sick, sad people in the world.

Anonymous said...

Well -

As the editor at Pajamas who commissioned both articles - I've been reading Rob for years - I still don't regret doing it at all.

I feel badly about the comments (and Rob, you can't say you weren't warned about them - multiple times) but they are the price you pay if you don't want the Internet/blogosphere to be an echo chamber where you only read things you agree with. That, I think, only leads to more polarization.

I have warned several lefty bloggers I've asked to write for us about the comments - some of them choose not to read them.

As for the one that was deleted, we are big on moderating comments if they cross that hazy line of obscenity and gratuitious personal attack. I didn't see that particular comments, but I imagine it slipped through and was caught later and deleted.

I'll still ask Rob to write - though maybe not about Schuyler. What do you guys think he should write about?

Allison

Rob said...

(and Rob, you can't say you weren't warned about them - multiple times)

Well, yeah. Thus, my apology to Schuyler.

Anonymous said...

Rob,

I just wanted to say that people who dont' want special needs kids mainstreamed are missing out on so much for their children in terms of learning about the world.

My daughters' school has a mainstreamed group of student who are moderately to severely impaired with autism.

When we were recently on a family trip to a museum there was a child there with some sort of disabilty which caused him to scream and kick. While other children cowered in the corner (literally) mine went about their bussines standing in line behind the boy. When some dad asked me if my kids were just "pretending it wasn't happening" my 12 year old said "No, it's just no big deal. We are used to this, it's like this at school." The dad was schocked. But doesn't it disturb their learning? Nope said my kids.

One time I was in the school cafeteria and there were no lights on and there are no windows in our cafeteria. I asked a kid what was going on and he said "autism". Huh? "AUTISM" he said like I was stupid. "you know, the autistic kids sometimes get so freaked out they turn out the lights" He and the rest of the student body continued eating in the dark...nobody seemed to mind.

My kids interact with children with disabilites regularly and are able to see past it and get to know the child, not the disability. Why would anyone object to their children having such an experience.?

S. Bear Bergman said...

Rob-

People give me this particular "but what about the thing /I/ am totally obsessed with!? You have erased it!" business with some frequency. My reply (steal freely) is that they should imagine that I have written a book about backyard grilling. The whole book, all about backyard grilling. This would not mean that I disapprove of boiling, braising, steaming, or any other form of preparing food for humans - pickling, say. Just that I have a lot to say about backyard grilling.

Pen said...

Hey Rob,

That nasty poster also forgot that children with high intellectual abilities in some areas can also have impairments in others. You don't deserve an education because of how smart you are, you deserve an education because you are a child. Thanks for fighting the fight as strongly as you are.

shua d nedy said...

I for one am glad that you posted on pajamas media so that I came across your blog and can read about your incredible daughter. Conservatives such as myself tend to have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the word "socialism" - though I've found that word tends to mean different things to different people. I think mainstreaming is a worthwhile idea, and I don't see it as any more socialist than our current public schools are in general. And as far as that goes, I believe that all of our children deserve better than so much of the impersonal bureaucracy endemic to public education.

Rob said...

I'm glad you're here.

In theory, I agree with you completely about the state of education in this country. In reality, however, this is the educational system we have, and Schuyler is the eight year-old that *I* have. I have to make it work, you know? I think that's what a lot of the people sputtering over on PajamasMedia don't bother to consider.

Anonymous said...

Going to toss this in for what it's worth. If you, editor, ask Rob "not to write about Schuyler", are you not then asking him to take her out of the mainstream?

If Rob CHOOSES not to do so, that's his choice. But to be asked "not to"? Rob has a strong voice which needs to be heard; I sometimes disagree, but his writing is powerful. Else why would it stir this much emotion?

If it makes 100 people uncomfortable, maybe it makes 1 person THINK.

I envision Schuyler impatiently pushing Rob out of the way and standing in front of him with her sword. The caption: "Move over Dad, I'll HANDLE these monsters."
Pat in Austin

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -

No, I'd love Rob to keep writing about Schuyler. But if he doesn't want to, I respect that.

I really do think putting his stuff on Pajamas reached and probably touched a lot of people who didn't necessarily leave comments.

Michelle said...

Er, I didn't see anyone say anything about asking Rob not to write about Schuyler. I saw "ask him to write, maybe not about Schuyler," which I interpreted as "ask him to write, because he's good at it, but maybe not about Schuyler, because having done so is something he regrets and out of respect for that it's well within his rights to tell us he won't do it again."

Just thought I'd throw that out there in the name of attempting to be a little more thoughtful and less eager to take umbrage than, say, the average conservative blog commenter (ba-dum-bum! didn't mean it, Allison; I come from a long line of Republicans, somehow).

Anonymous said...

I'd be happy to have Rob continue to write about Schuyler on PJM - was just respecting his desire not to.

Just so you know, PJM is not some kind of conservative-only zone.

Yes, it undeniably leans right, particularly on security issues, but among our network bloggers listed on our sidebar are people like John Cole of Balloon Juice - far from right-wing.

As sites like Kos and Huffpost know, you can't judge a site solely by the nastiest of their commenters...

Allison

Anonymous said...

Whoops, sorry for double commenting. Thought the first one didn't go through...

Allison

stan's computer said...

Pajamasmedia may be conservative, but the hostile comments would (as you mentioned) be described as from "trolls". There is plenty of bias on both sides of the political spectrum.

Take for example Hillary's alignment with someone who described wanting to drive her autistic daughter off the George Washington Bridge, description of autism as an "epidemic" and declare her intent to "prevent and cure anything along the autism spectrum."

While this could be characterized as interest on her part, those comments directly stigmatizes the people she wishes to "prevent and cure" as unworthy. The offensiveness has been publicized and she has unfortunately never refuted it.