After our a group of students brought up the idea of children’s right to consent during our class discussion, I have been giving a lot of thought to children’s rights to consent in the classroom, specifically those with disabilities. Over the summer I work at the Lincoln Elementary Summer School Program as a teacher’s aide. This program is specifically set up for special needs children in the Scotia – Glenville public school district who would show retention in their learning unless they were to continue their learning throughout the summer. During the school year, my mother teaches at Lincoln Elementary as a speech and language pathologist and works with the same children I work with over the summer. I was speaking with my mother after class on September, 15th and I found it very eye-opening how some teacher’s view the consent of children.
According to my mother, the concept of consent is not only a big issue in colleges, but also in elementary schools. An example given to me was that, often time when a child says something to hurt another child’s feelings a teacher will step in and force one student to apologize to another. My mom described to me how she believes that teacher’s need to recognize the difference between saying, “Go tell Susie that you are sorry!” and, “Look at how Susie feels. If you feel comfortable, it might be nice to apologize to her.” I agree that this issue is very important. Why should teachers have the right to dictate students emotions by forcing them to apologize when Carlos might damn well not be sorry that he told Susie he didn’t like her lunch box?
This past summer, I worked as a one on one aide for a first grader with cerebral palsy. For the sake of this story I will call her Rachel to protect her privacy since I was not given consent by her or her parents to use her real name. Rachel is not her name. My job required me to help Rachel in the bathroom, help her in and out of her wheelchair, guide her when using a pencil, help her stretch her feet and aide her in moving to the carpet. Much of the time Rachel would get frustrated and yell out, “let me do it!” when I needed to help her. Seeing her other friends in the classroom being more independent with their movements and bodies was always difficult for her, as she made it clear that she wanted to complete these simple tasks on her own. This was very difficult for me to grasp because I knew she was not offering consent for me to help her, but for her own safety, I needed to continue to touch her or help her in a way that she was rejecting me from. After discussing this with my mother, I learned that she often struggles with these same issues during her job everyday. She says that the safety of the children is most important regardless of their comfort level. My mother said that she often has conversations with Rachel explaining why she has to do what she does, and apologizes for any discomfort it causes her.
This discussion really led me to think about who has the right to consent for young people? Should they only be able to connect for themselves or should a trusted adult be able to consent for them, specifically in a classroom setting?