People in relationship with Blitzen quickly recognize that she’s brilliant in many ways — curious, creative, quick to make connections, adept at learning new skills with her body, a divergent thinker, a problem solver. Carrie and I don’t spend much time talking about her intelligence; it’s taken for granted by all who know her, and we move on to the important stuff. Where do mermaids swim? When do you feel joyful? How do you make cartoon characters? How do you be a friend? What do you do when you feel really angry? How do you make Dolphin Cove into a real island? What makes a family? How do we change patterns of behavior? In the book Ingo, why does the sea call to Sapphire?
Blitzen and the wonderful folks in her life are wrestling with those questions every hour. That’s the work, that’s the joy. We’re Team Blitzen and this is what we do.
Yesterday we received a Department of Education evaluation by email. It came in upside down, but it can be read if you print it out or stand on your head. It’s filled with numbers and clinical-sounding words designed to distance and intimidate. The word deficient is used a lot.
Reports like that shouldn’t matter. Blitzen’s brilliance is an ontological reality; her intelligence and glee exist whether or not they’re acknowledged. My instinct, as a privileged, educated white man who does well on my culture’s bubble tests, is to ignore the upside down email and channel ee cummings:
While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?
The problem is that our measuring is not benevolent. The systems of dominance embedded in our education and child welfare institutions are have consequences in the lives of kids like Blitzen. Evaluations like that have the effect (and, I’d argue, the intent) of separating undesirable kids from their peers and offering them an education with less creativity, less critical thinking, less joy, less humanity and less possibility.
This disproportionally affects traumatized kids, kids of color and kids in foster care. (If you’re a footnote type, 40% of kids in care are in special education and 50% of kids in care don’t graduate from high school.)
Blitzen and those of us lucky enough to be on her team won’t have the privilege of kissing, singing and swimming in Dolphin Cove without spending time, energy and creativity in the soul-sucking battle against the measuring instruments that prop up systems of inequity.