The YMEJ graduate year-long seminar ended this week with an exhibition in Russell Library. Each member of our course conducted a year-long inquiry through participation in the course and a mentoring experience. Lalitha, one of the members of the teaching team, wrote a note to us on the course blog entitled, Becoming… which focused on our continued growth and development during the course and beyond. In the text, Arts, Media and Justice co-edited by Lalitha Vasudevan and Tiffany DeJaynes, Vasudevan quotes Maxine Greene “I am what I am not yet”. Though I am at the end of my experience in the YMEJ course, I do not see the work as finished and I look forward to building upon my experience as I continue my doctoral career. Since I began my course work at TC I have begun to look more deeply and pay more attention, one area that YMEJ helped me hone was my attention to media and the different types of media that are produced, specifically around issues of court involved youth.
In my own work, I am sinking myself into disability studies in education and the possibilities this stance provides for thinking about teaching and learning for all young people. Therefore, when I saw the recent print advertisement for New Alternatives for Children (NAC), I felt it was a perfect connection between the YMEJ course and my own interest in disability studies. New Alternatives for Children is a “child welfare agency child welfare agency exclusively devoted to serving children with severe disabilities and chronic illnesses” (http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1854796).
The recent ad campaign (both print and televised) is produced by Grey New York and is titled, “Rethinking Foster Care” and geared at educating (or perhaps re-educating) New Yorkers about foster care in the city and especially for those young people with labeled disabilities. First, how do we as recent participants in YMEJ seminar ourselves involved (and for many committed to) in re-thinking or re-imagining space for court involved youth analyze a video spot, such as the one for NAC? Their campaign is called, “Rethinking Foster Care” but based on the video, I do not think they are rethinking the experience of foster care for young people with labeled disabilities. Instead, I would argue they are perpetuating deficit-based conceptualizations of the young people the organization aims to serve. This is a difficulty and beauty of interdisciplinary work. As terms or ideas stretch across different ideologies and philosophies, it is up to the people using them to make an attempt at conversation, collaboration and shared understanding. Difficult work and that is also messy.
My first viewing of the television spot brought me back to something Cris Beam (2013) writes about in To the End of June when she discusses the different reasons people adopt children. One reason Beam discusses is altruism. Mary, a participant in her book states, “People should do it because the kids need. Otherwise, they are going to be disappointed” (p. 94). I think advertisements like the one for NAC complicates this statement because of the way people with labeled disabilities are positioned throughout history. Often seen as the neediest of the needy, in fact, sometimes this is referred to as narcissism (Siebers, 2008) and becomes an albatross for a person with a labeled disability who requires help and support. But not due to vanity or self-love, as it is sometimes positioned in society. And it is true, kids do need and the NAC commercial makes this clear. It also has an underlying savior mission.
Since the disability rights movements in the 1960’s and 70’s and the development of the scholarly field of disability studies people have been analyzing and theorizing about the disability itself. Many disability studies scholars view disability as a socially constructed and note that the environment in which a person with a disability lives is disabling. This takes the concept of disability outside of the person, moving away from a medical model that maintains disability as a problem within a person that should/could be fixed. While the NAC commercial does not position youth in foster care with disabilities as needing to be fixed, they do use the term special several times. Making the claim that a special child needs a special parent. Furthermore, the article states that many young people with disabilities live in hospitals or other long term care facilities because their parents are unable to care for them http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1854796).
I wonder (as Beam discusses in her book) what types of supports and structures should be offered to birth families to support care for all children? Also, what do we learn from the distinction made between types of children and how they are positioned through foster care/adoption? How does this support thinking about our own definition of re-thinking or re-imagining? Finally, as we (the YMEJ graduate seminar students) are becoming how do we continue to use this class to inform our future teaching, research, and ways of being in the world?
Here is a link to the television spot: http://vimeo.com/92176294
More information of New Alternatives for Children: https://www.nackidscan.org/what_we_do/index.php
Information on the advertising agency: http://grey.com/us