Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Follow up to John Smeaton's "Do we live in a civilised country? .."

On 29th January, John Smeaton's blog carried an article headed "Do we live in a civilised country?.." He quoted Baroness Meacher speaking in the House of Lords. She argued that it would have been in the “best interests” of two children she knew with cerebral palsy to have been aborted: "My belief is that there are children, born at those very early ages, who are not viable people. It would be in their best interests to have been aborted."

When I first read John Smeaton's post, I watched again a short video "Jenny" that I have had since 2004. It is one of several video clips on a CD-ROM that was circulated to teachers by the British Educational Communications and Technology Association (BECTA). BECTA are a professional body promoting the use of computer and computer associated technology in schools. The CD-ROM was entitled "Creativity in the classroom using Digital Media", and contained the winning entries for the 2004 Digital Media Awards (BECTAs annual awards now exist in a very different format). Schools submitting entries had to produce a 2 minute video demonstrating innovative use of digital media.

The video "Jenny" was produced by pupils at a special school (ie a school dedicated to providing education for children with significant physical and/or learning disabilities). The acting, recording, editing and production of the video were undertaken entirely by the pupils, each of whom had their own responsibility within the production team. The lead role was taken by Jenny, who suffers from cerebral palsy. The video shows Jenny introducing her friends and then acting as a puppet dancing to music. One of the other pupils is shown as the puppet master. As the music comes to an end, she is "lowered" to the floor by the puppet master and the video freezes as she looks up from the floor to camera. It is a very moving video.

In the supporting video that explains how the pupils made their video, the headteacher of the school points out that, watched at normal speed, Jenny's movements appeared random and unco-ordinated (a result of her illness). When watched in slow motion, however, Jenny's attempts to control the movements of her body - ie a genuine attempt to dance - can be seen clearly. So the video made by the pupils shows her dancing in slow motion.

This is an interesting use of technology to allow pupils with disabilities to demonstrate an achievement that would otherwise have been impossible to see. Would that technology was always used in a way that supports the development of the person!

This video came first in an age group category, not in a category for special needs pupils. These pupils competed successfully against entries from able bodied pupils.

I have on occasion shown this video to pupils at school as part of an equalities activity. Not only have Jenny and her friends shown a considerable achievement, but that achievement has been shared with other children.

Would Baroness Meacher have considered Jenny and her friends to be "not viable people"?

[As I post, I have the CD-ROM sitting on my desk in front of me ... I had originally thought to post the video itself, but have decided against doing so. Though the video was circulated on CD-ROM amongst teachers, it does not appear to be in the public domain in the fullest sense. My attempt to track down a web presence of the school at which the video was made has also been unsuccesful; the school appears to have been closed or amalgamated as part of a re-organisation.]

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