Alphabet Kids

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'Glee', despite 19 Emmy nominations, must stop bashing special ed kids

"Glee" must stop bashing special ed kids.

Glee might be Emmy nominated, but it must stop bashing special ed kids.

Glee, that very entertaining show about high school outcasts strikes a chord with many, as evidenced by its 19 Emmy Award nominations today. It has charmed the world with its underdog storyline, and with its Geek is Good mission.

But much has been at the expense of others, most of whom are old enough to take it, but the cheapest cracks are left for kids in special education.

There have been recurring jokes on the show about how low on the social totem pole the Glee kids are, a bunch of "losers" who have banded together through their love of music (or just breaking into song at any opportunity)--and those jokes have, too many times, expressed that the special ed kids were even lower.

Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is not the most sympathetic character on the show, so one wasn't surprised when she delivered this line: "I took the liberty of highlighting some Special Ed classes for you. Maybe you can find some recruits there because I don't think anybody else is going to want to swim over to your... island of misfit toys."

What do parents do, who are all cuddled up on a couch with their son who has Apserger's or a daughter who has a math learning disability, both in special ed, who were laughing and singing along with the show, and suddenly everyone's sitting in awkward silence after a line like that, not knowing how to respond. And if they missed that line, then there's the one about "the short bus." Or another about how low on the social chain special kids are.

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Ryan Murphy, the director, likes to shock, (c'mon, did you ever watch Nip/Tuck?), but he doesn't understand the sense of embarrassment, confusion or pain, he's causing the special needs kids who watch the show, and their parents? Children with disabilities, like their typical peers love Glee: They like the music, the production, the characters and the story line.

What they don't like is being made fun of.

Special education programs are comprised of a wide spectrum of children: popular students and outcasts; brilliant children and retarded children; kids with ADHD or profound autism. Some are on honor roll and others are hanging on by a thread. But the one thing they all have in common is how hard they work in school (harder than most of their peers) and their self-esteem, which takes a battering every single time a character makes fun of the academic program they are in, just for a cheap joke.

While Sue Sylvester seems heartless, it turns out she has a beloved sister with Down Syndrome. That is supposed to make the mean comments better? It doesn't, and almost seems a bit patronizing. It certainly sends a mixed, confusing message to the kids with disabilities who watch the show.

It's not funny, and it's not worth. And most of all, it hurts the most vulnerable part of its audience.

Alphabet Kids: A Guide to Developmental, Neurobiological and Psychological Disorders for Parents and Professionals.

 

Robbie Woliver is a journalist and editor. He is the author of the book Alphabet Kids.

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