Parent of child with Down Syndrome writes open letter to Czech tabloid waging anti-inclusive education campaign
Tomáš Hečko, the parent of a child with Down Syndrome, was approached by the tabloid daily Blesk in the Czech Republic for an interview on the topic of inclusive education and decided not to give them one. "Your newspaper has abandoned the pretense of even attempting to appear objective and instead of providing information is leading a campaign - a campaign against several thousand children with mild mental disability who are exercising their right to an inclusive education (or who want to do so in future) in the mainstream primary schools. You are also waging this campaign against us, the parents," he wrote in an open letter to the Blesk reporter.
News server Romea.cz publishes that open letter here in full translation:
Dear Ms Vetkovská,
On 11 March you contacted me to ask whether, as the parent of a child with Down Syndrome, I would be willing to give an interview to the Blesk daily on the topic of inclusive education. I admit that the decision whether to speak with your media outlet in particular was difficult for me, because I do not read your paper. Because I like to make my decisions on the basis of verifiable information, I decided to find out how your paper has been informing the public about this very complex topic.
On 22 February you published an article by your Editor-in-Chief, Radek Lain, entitled "Blesk Editor-in-Chief Has His Say: Stop Harmful Inclusion" and you also introduced a rather depressing graphic to go with it depicting an isolated, unhappy pupil in the middle of an empty classroom. You have used this graphic to accompany all of the articles on the issue of inclusive education you have published since. In and of itself that is rather absurd, for two reasons. In the first place, children in the Czech Republic have already had the right to inclusion - i.e., to be educated at a mainstream school in their catchment area even if they are living with a disability - for the last 11 years (with the exception of situations where the capacity of the catchment area school is full). In the second place, inclusion does not mean exclusion and isolation, but the opposite - the natural involvement of the child with his non-disabled fellow pupils.
As of Friday, 18 March, you have published 23 such articles, and I have read them all with interest. I have briefly summarized their headlines and topics in the attached graphic. To discuss the amount of imprecise, misleading, one-sided or outright false information they contain would far exceed the space of an open letter (and at the end of the day, these articles have been repeatedly refuted elsewhere). Out of 32 articles, 31 are worded negatively, against inclusive education, and only one (a commentary about statements made by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka) is worded neutrally.
In short, your newspaper has abandoned the pretense of even attempting to appear objective and instead of providing information is leading a campaign - a campaign against several thousand children with mild mental disability who are exercising their right to an inclusive education (or who want to do so in future) in the mainstream primary schools. You are also waging this campaign against us, the parents. I don't know whether your motivation is readership or something else, and it's all the same to me what your motivation is, but I must unfortunately state that your decision is one that is practically risk-free from both a commercial and a political perspective. You are attacking a small, vulnerable group of people who are defenseless in media terms and whose options for speaking up are, for many reasons, practically zero. I am not so naive as to attempt to change anything about your approach. You yourself confirmed to me that you would be writing about this subject "for several more months", and this open letter will only be read by a couple hundred people no matter what I do, while many hundreds of thousands will read your paper. Despite this, just for the needs of my own conscience, I will summarize here what the readers of your paper will never learn from you.
Your readers will never learn that in many places inclusive education is already working and that for those schools it is an absolutely natural component of the education and raising of all schoolchildren. They won't have the slightest clue about the brilliant special needs educators who are frequently therapists for our children, about the teachers, principals and assistant teachers who support inclusion and our children. They will never learn that as parents we do our best to accommodate and aid the schools because we grasp the complicated position they are in. They will never read that the decisions as to how to educate our children are very complex and that we make then after very thorough considerations. They will have no idea that we want inclusive education for our children not because we don't know how to cope with their handicaps, but because we are convinced that functioning in a healthy collective is the most important life skill they need to learn. Your readers will never learn that we respect all parents who decide to educate their children outside of mainstream education (who else but them can have a better understanding of their children's needs?). Your readers will never read about the parents of our children's non-disabled classmates who, after their initial disbelief, came to understand the benefit of inclusive education for the entire school collective. Your readers will never know that the methodological guidance and support that is so necessary for families is being arranged for us to no small degree by nonprofit organizations, while some educators and professional educators' associations view us primarily as a bother. I could continue in this vein for a very, very long time.
As you must have understood by now, I have decided not to contribute to your campaign. In my opinion, even for the conditions of the Czech media scene, which are not at all squeamish, your paper has crossed the line of what was previously conceivable. I personally cannot ever recall that at any time in the Czech Republic such an intensive, one-sided, targeted campaign against the rights of a small, socially vulnerable group of citizens, including children, has been waged by any kind of media outlet other than one that is openly extremist or racist.
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