Tuesday, May 08, 2007

In which Earthbound Spirit asks for CC's righteous indignation and gets it.

From Earthbound Spirit's latest post:

I recently heard a UU say “our children are all incredibly bright and gifted and sensitive,” and I was reminded of Garrison Keillor’s line about Lake Woebegone being the place where all the children are above average. My heart broke a little when I heard this person say that.

There are kids in our collective UU Sunday school classes who have learning disabilities, attention problems, physical disabilities and mental illnesses. Unfortunately, I think some of us believe all our children – and all our adult members – are (or should be) above average. Folks, I think this runs absolutely counter to our Universalist religious heritage of inclusion. When we fail to be inclusive, we fail to recognize the gifts that average, or even below average, people bring to a faith community. In a similar way we fail to recognize the gifts that children bring to a faith community.

As a former hyperactive child, I question her assumption that the way to be welcoming to those below-average learning disabled children she told us about is to force them to sit quietly for an hour or more when they might be highly uncomfortable doing so.

If this post about those of us who are below average (as I think the equating of learning disabled and below average that I'm seeing is pretty clear) is an example of the sympathetic UU adult's ability to think about someone else's needs and learn by doing so, consider me unimpressed.



Anonymous said...

What do you suggest?

Chalicechick said...

For the hyperactive?

1. Use a sound system to make the service audible from outside the sanctuary so I can walk around and listen if I just can't sit.

2. Put playdough in the center of every conference table during committee meetings. I like to sculpt roses. It helps me pay attention if I can do something with my hands.

3. If I am in the service, look me in the eye from the pulpit occaisionally. I know it's a lot to ask when I'm one of 200, but it really helps.

4. No souls are saved after the first ten minutes of sermon, I swear. Make your point with short readings and song choice, then hit the high points in the sermon, but keep it brief. I know, you can't. But it would help.

5. I know a greeting of peace makes the most sense 1/4 of the way through the sermon, but 3/4 of the way through is when I need it.
If there's another excuse for getting up and walking around for a second, I appreciate it.

6. Something other than caffiene and carbs at coffee hour would be helpful. Mostly I eat breakfast on my own before church, but again, you asked...


Anonymous said...

I think maybe you missed her point. There's a big difference between welcoming reasonably-behaved children in church and in forcing children to sit in church.

My kids, from the ages of 3 and 6 to the present, like to sit in the service and sing the hymns, and yes, even listen to the sermon (or just snuggle with me while I listen). Just because you didn't like to as a kid (or an adult for that matter) doesn't mean that all kids don't or aren't capable of doing so.

The best situation is the allow for the kids and parents to make choices about how they will participate in their church's worship life. Make it possible for them to sit in the service AND supply alternative activities.

PG said...

I find the suggestion, that treating children differently from adults is comparable to discrimination against the disabled, to be completely insane, but that's probably just the law student in me talking. Said law student also finds it wildly offensive to compare disabled adults who choose whether or not to attend services, with children who are too young to make the decision and get dragged by their parents.

Maybe I'm just missing the point of the discussion about "wholeness," but I don't think other people exist in order to make me somehow better. They are ends in themselves (and now the Kantian in PG has shown up...). The primary value in having a disabled person in my church is not what it does for me, but what it does for that individual. I'd be furious if someone in, say, the Federalist Society (an organization in which there are relatively few women or people of color) spoke as though the most important thing about my participation is how good it makes other people feel about their inclusiveness, rather than what it does for me intellectually and socially.

Chalicechick said...


I don't doubt that your children fall into the above-average category that Earthbound spirit was talking about.

My guess is that a six year old who would rather sit in church than play outside with his/her friends is the exception, though, and not the rule. I don't think I've ever said that I want children to be "not allowed" in church, though people keep wanting me to have said that.

I do believe in a community standard of letting kids be kids and learn in their own way and I don't believe most kids get much of anything out of attending the service. If some kids are exceptions, that's fine.


Ps. PG's response is the one I meant to write. I just got distracted by the whole "learning-disabled = below average" bit.

But yeah, both equating the handicapped with kids and putting the collective feeling of community smugness at the service's inclusiveness over the service's value to the individual are creepy themes.

Ellis said...

You know, I think one of the issues here is teaching children what worship is like, and how to enjoy it. Haven't we all heard (or felt) what it's like to move from youth worship, sitting in a circle around a candle, to "adult" worship, sitting quietly in rows? I know that transition has been hard for me. That doesn't mean, though, that kids should have to sit through an adult worship. My girlfriend's Catholic church has a children's worship during the service, rather than Sunday School. I think that's a good idea, as it lets them experience a worship that's geared to them but still similar enough to the main service.

Anonymous said...

Number one sounds like a great idea -- a lot like that "crying room" mentioned before. Number two -- also a great idea -- lots of us bring handicrafts to meetings to keep our hands busy. Playdough is good. I tend to crochet. Or take notes. Number three -- Yes, I certainly try to make eye contact if I am speaking. I had no idea it helped particularly with hyperactivity, I just like it. (I have recently discovered that the size and spacing of my notes makes a huge difference in my ability to raise my eyes while reading!)
But number four is a problem: Not all of us are hyperactive. While your point is well-taken that those who do not share your state have trouble understanding it, it is also true in reverse. People with short attention spans do not understand those of us who like a long, developed, sermon. I suppose it is also true that the Playdough some people would find distracting.
Number five -- fine with me.
Number six -- yes. We often have other stuff -- carrot sticks and dip. Not much protein stuff. It isn't a meal, just snacks. Sometimes we do have a lunch, often soups. But, then, we have a great caterer in our congregation, who loves doing it.

Anonymous said...

What do you think causes people to be hyperactive or to have short attention spans?

Chalicechick said...

Well, a therapist might have some theories, but I don't know. I've had trouble sitting still and focusing on things as long as I can remember.

Actually, I've improved a lot.


PG said...

I feel like I'm becoming ADD as I get older :-( Either that, or the stuff I force myself to learn (e.g., tax) is getting more boring. But I find myself having trouble focusing even on things I used to find interesting -- like right now, I'm reading blogs instead of writing about habeas and the Military Commissions Act, which is a *fascinating* issue that even non-legal people seem to have an easier time focusing on than I do :-(