Friday, March 27, 2009

Educating Peter

Wow. So I watched this on Sunday and...wow.

First off, I was blown away. It was like someone had gone into my head, took note of a lot of the fears I first had when Playette was born, and put them in a documentary with the express intent of both scaring the crap out of me and perpetuating the existing misconceptions and stereotypes about people with Ds.

In the past, I've read comments about Educating Peter (seen in full, but low quality here), but all I really remembered was, "At least it's better than Graduating Peter." So, yeah, I went in a little naive.

Jen reminded me of her post on this very topic from last summer. I remember reading that, but it's only now, after seeing EP, that it all makes so much more sense. I can understand more how she must have felt while watching in a room full of other people who do not have a child with Ds.

And then to have them laugh.

Laugh?!

I could barely close my mouth as I watched Peter grab the heads of other students and bang them together. As he writhed on the floor during lessons. As he mumbled unintelligibly. And otherwise attacked his classmates. I even noticed how it seemed like he wore the same shirt in almost every scene. I know that shouldn't matter so much, but it just bothered me. I was probably in over-sensitive mode, but still.

So, when I think about the people in Jen's class that day...people whom one would assume actually desire to become part of the support structure for children in special education...it hurts my heart.

And I know it hurt hers too. If you still haven't read her post, please do reconsider.

Ok, let me back up. I am so far ahead of myself. You may be wondering what I'm even talking about and I'm letting my emotions take me in 50 different directions.

In 1992, a boy named Peter was followed through his third grade year. He was in a full inclusion setting in his elementary school, located in Blacksburg, VA.

[Full inclusion is the term that I personally prefer over "mainstream" which essentially means that a student is placed with their peers and not separated out into another classroom that only includes children with disabilities. It's not for everyone, but it is a goal that I have for Playette. I want her to have that opportunity. If it doesn't end up being the best fit for her, so be it. We'll go another route.]

The film shows Peter, his classmates and his teacher struggling with the challenges posed by his having Ds. It ends with both students and teacher testifying to their own growth as a result of Peter's inclusion in their class.

The film ended up winning the Academy Award for best documentary short subject.

Now that that's out of the way...

It seems like a nice story, eh? Happy ending and such?

My recommendation to any parent new to caring for a child with Ds would be to avoid at all costs info that is more than 10 years old. EP fits this category.

It's not what I've seen to be true. Peter had issues that were more than simply what having an extra chromosome brings. It was as if he were never disciplined or socialized or any number of things that I can't pinpoint accurately because I've never been trained in counseling or education or anything close to it. I'm a parent of a nearly two year old daughter. That's my experience.

I wish there was an alternative to EP that played every so often on HBO or wherever more people are inclined to watch. It pains me to think that this is what people see when they're channel surfing. Because it's award-winning, I can see why it's stuck around, but it's not for me. My curiosity is satiated.

I wish I could say that I won't watch Graduating Peter, but I know myself and how I roll. I probably will end up even more appalled, but...I don't know. I probably just can't leave it well enough alone. It's already sitting on the TiVo waiting. We'll see.

18 comments:

Shelley said...

I actually first watched Educating Peter in my "Intro to SPE" class in college(I have a degree in SPE). That was in 1995. But, we watched it as an example of what NOT to do. Our professor talked about all the bad things in the video..and we actually had a very good discussion about the fact that this particular video is not a real example of inclusion.
I knew that then, and now as a parent of 2 kids with Ds, I still know it today. I really hope that if parents are being told anything about this video, that they're being told it's an example of what NOT to do!

datri said...

Oh, I hated those documentaries. I think Peter had/has other issues in addition to Down syndrome. I know a kid who lived down the road with Down syndrome and autism who behaves pretty much as Peter did.

Jen said...

Oh man. I'm still having nightmares about that film. I have not seen GP yet. I'd like to, but we don't have cable or Tivo or any of that, and you can't get it on Netflix.

Yeah. I don't know. This whole inclusion thing is hard. As Evan is facing the possibility of public school preschool or a private preschool with typical kids or the developmental school he goes to now, I'm becoming a shivering anxious wreck. I just don't know what to do. And this is just preschool! I am SO not looking forward to elementary + up.

You should watch Including Samuel. He does not have DS, but cerebral palsy, I think. It's a really good movie, and much more current.

(and thanks for the multiple plugs, by the way! there were some good comments on that post...Elizabeth's, especially, lightened my heart. She has a sister with DS, so she's lived it.)

sheree said...

FINALLY! Someone who hated that movie as much as I did.

I happened to catch BOTH of the documentaries a few months back and I wa sleft feeling really disturbed and "doomed." I definitely had to talk some sense in to myself and give myself a friendly reminder that we have come so far since the filming of EP and GP.

But yeah...GP is pretty depressing too. Just an FYI.

AZ Chapman said...

I want to see GP what channal is it on so I can tivo it. Incudeing Sam looks better it has a kid with DS in it as well as cp and autism

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your perspective. I am not a teacher and was horrified by watching Peter. I continued to say why is he permitted to just walk around disrupting the class? What price are the other children paying for Peter? Why would anyone go into teaching? Maybe this is a film to prove why this process does not work! I think of the children with DS and they all have been so sweet. I now sit back and think he is not typical. He seems much more learning disabled then most, and had obvious serious behavior problems. Not to mention his mother did not ever seem to discipline him. No child should ever be permitted to go around hitting like he did.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have a 3 yr old boy with Down Syndrome and we watched this film for the first time last night. I appreciated the film for what is was in 1993, a documentary about first steps taken by Peter, his parents, teachers and classmates, towards inclusion and acceptance. I agree that there should be an updated film on the same subject. Many other countries outside of the US haven't even taken those first steps. For us who live in one those countries, this film remains relevant.

Vouts said...

I will agree with thw comment above.
I came across Educating Peter while looking for documentaries to project at a festival we are organising with a group.
My country Greece is still behind in inclusion and disabled rights

I would like Shelley above or someone else to say what are the negative examples you see in this film.
I also noticed that Peter seems to have bad manours, but I was thinking it may have to do with the fact that he was before in a special school (where children may have been less disciplined) .

That said, I have to say that I found Graduating Peter depressing and exploitive.

Looking forward to hear your opinions

Dimitris

Anonymous said...

Still find this program frustrating. Every teacher I have asked about inclusion is very much against it. They usually say " that is why I am retiring " I really cannot blame them. If he is supposed to be " regular" then he should behave that way. No other child is permitted to go around hitting other children, disrupting the class, eating paper etc. His mother is putting his needs above all of the other children. Who are they paying attention when he roams around the classroom? Not the teacher. I truly feel it is unrealistic and unfair to put disruptive students like this in a regular classroom. It is not appropriate . It is clearly detrimental to all of the other students. And horrible for the teacher .

Unknown said...

I did not like the fact that because he was profoundly undisciplined or controlled that teacher was forced to take in such a violent child who didn't belong in those surroundings. The child did not fit

Jan said...

I did not like the fact that because he was profoundly undisciplined or controlled that teacher was forced to take in such a violent child who didn't belong in those surroundings. The child did not fit

Anonymous said...

The thing that broke my heart about both documentaries was the mother's obsession with "normal." Peter needs to be encouraged to do things within his abilities, not dumped into a mainstream setting where he can't possibly keep up. Watching the mom harass him about how to put on his Boy Scouts neckerchief and snapping at him about tying his shoes... let the boy wear his neckerchief any way he wants, and get him some velcro gymshoes he can learn to fasten himself! And while it may be easy to have love and compassion for Peter, building real friendships in a mainstream setting is not going to happen. Mrs. Gwazdauskas' obsession with Peter making friends in that setting was the catalyst for Peter's depression. She set him up to fail.

Maybe she's overwhelmed, and just desperate for respite from the demands of caregiving. However, there are moms who have a lot fewer helpers than the Gwazdauskas family enjoys, and seem more willing to love their child where he/she is at, not where they wish their child would be. We all respond better to encouragement for the things we can do, than to wither under unrealistic expectations.

Raphiroo said...

Please let me give you another perspective. I have a twelve year old son with Down syndrome and we also live in Blacksburg, Virginia (as Peter still does). The film is not at all representative of the education my son had received in the same district. My son has always had the same behavioral expectations as the other children, as well as full-time assistance one-on-one. He is only removed from the classroom for speech therapy and music therapy, and this year (7th grade) for a new job skills class. He participates fully in social studies, science, and art/music. For English and mathematics he is in the back of the room whenever possible since he is working at such a different level.

My profoundly disabled daughter actually attended school with Peter two years after the film was made. The special education teacher told me the transition to public school had been very difficult for him, but he was doing much better in fifth grade. Full-inclusion was very new for Blacksburg at that time as well and the district definitely went through a learning process. I also meet Peter and his parents a few days ago. My impression of him, as someone in contact with many individuals with Down syndrome, is that he is functioning at a low level in the range that occurs with this condition. It isn't clear how much this is due to possible other conditions, possible parenting contributions, changes in available services, and his own experiences before public school. I hope that helps put both films in context.

[Posted using my older son's account.]

Raphiroo said...

There is a film about a younger boy with Down syndrome, but I can't remember it's name at the moment. A new one covering school-age children would be very helpful.

Raphiroo said...

I can maybe give you some perspective by suggesting you read my comment to the post below this. Also please realize that he was switched from a claim with other children who had various disabilities to this one and was in all likelihood very confused. He also was unable to express himself due to his communication difficulties and was probably much more physical and disruptive as a result.

Raphiroo said...

I can maybe give you some perspective by suggesting you read my comment to the post below this. Also please realize that he was switched from a claim with other children who had various disabilities to this one and was in all likelihood very confused. He also was unable to express himself due to his communication difficulties and was probably much more physical and disruptive as a result.

Raphiroo said...

There is a film about a younger boy with Down syndrome, but I can't remember it's name at the moment. A new one covering school-age children would be very helpful.

Raphiroo said...

Please let me give you another perspective. I have a twelve year old son with Down syndrome and we also live in Blacksburg, Virginia (as Peter still does). The film is not at all representative of the education my son had received in the same district. My son has always had the same behavioral expectations as the other children, as well as full-time assistance one-on-one. He is only removed from the classroom for speech therapy and music therapy, and this year (7th grade) for a new job skills class. He participates fully in social studies, science, and art/music. For English and mathematics he is in the back of the room whenever possible since he is working at such a different level.

My profoundly disabled daughter actually attended school with Peter two years after the film was made. The special education teacher told me the transition to public school had been very difficult for him, but he was doing much better in fifth grade. Full-inclusion was very new for Blacksburg at that time as well and the district definitely went through a learning process. I also meet Peter and his parents a few days ago. My impression of him, as someone in contact with many individuals with Down syndrome, is that he is functioning at a low level in the range that occurs with this condition. It isn't clear how much this is due to possible other conditions, possible parenting contributions, changes in available services, and his own experiences before public school. I hope that helps put both films in context.

[Posted using my older son's account.]