21 Jul


Dear Ms MacSween.

I am writing about your comments on Weekend Sunrise last week (11th July, 10) about the teacher claiming compensation for damage to her larynx after shouting at a class – which included several students with ‘special needs’.

In case you need reminding, here’s a link to the video

I would just like to clarify a few of the points you made:

You said:

“These special needs kids should not be in a class with kids that don’t have special needs for a start”

“we need to throw more money at the education system, make sure that these kids are properly administered to”

“What about the kids who are quite normal and adequately able to understand. They’re being held back.”

“It’s like girls going into school rooms with bloody boys. Boys are so retarded, they keep them back.”

“I mean I honestly think that we need to make sure that we have these special needs kids put somewhere where they are properly trained and then slowly, once they are in a capacity of being able to-“

I’d just like to confirm with you that you believe:

  • Children who have special needs should be separated from those who are ‘normal’.
  • These children should be ‘put somewhere’.
  • These children hold back the education of the ‘normal’ children.
  • All boys are ‘retarded’.

Is that right?

I have a few further questions.

What exactly do you have in mind when you suggest that children with special needs need to be ‘properly administered to’ and ‘put somewhere’?  Where do you think they should be ‘put’? What happens in this place? How exactly do they get ‘trained’ (and why not ‘taught’) ?

Also, I know you didn’t get the chance to finish your last sentence, so please enlighten me: just WHAT do ‘these kids’ need to be ‘properly trained in’? Being ‘normal’?

And I suppose the real question is: Do you think that all children fall into just two categories: those who are ‘normal’ and ‘adequately able to understand’ and those who are not? Seriously? I think maybe you need to go back to school. And realise that in a class of 25 children, there are 25 different kinds of ‘normal’.

Speaking of sweeping false generalisations, you also described boys as ‘retarded’ (and you can’t back away from this one either. Watch the video again! You repeat the assertion right at the end!). Are you suggesting that all boys have an intellectual disability? What’s more, are you aware that this is an offensive term, even discouraged by those who have/or advocate for others who have an intellectual impairment? May I suggest you have a look at the ‘ban the R word’ website – and perhaps even go so far as to take the pledge to “support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

In case you are wondering why I care about any of this:

My son is 5. He has cerebral palsy. He is counting down the days until he starts school next year. Mainstream school. I am excited too. But a little nervous. Not really about how he will go at school. I know he will do great. But more about how others might view him. And actually, I wasn’t even really feeling those nerves until I saw your segment. After all, he’s been at kindergarten this year and it’s been brilliant.

So I was shocked and saddened listening to your words. All I could think was: REALLY? People REALLY think that?

You did get a few things right. You were right about more money needing to go into the system. But you were wrong about money being ‘thrown at’ the system. Rather, funds need to be carefully targeted so there is sufficient support for all staff and students to provide for the inclusion of children with special or additional needs, meaning there is quality education that is equitable for all. I think equality in education is pretty important, don’t you?

To get back to the original issue, I could maybe even be in support of the teacher making the claim (although I’d question that shouting is every going to be the most effective way to deal with problems in a classroom, but that’s another story). I’m also a teacher and I know how difficult it can be to teach a challenging class if you are not appropriately supported. But you’ve painted the wrong villains here. The problem is not the children. Many children with special needs are not disruptive. And many children without special needs are. And in any case, the teacher herself was not making a claim against the children, but the lack of support she was given.

So I repeat, the issue isn’t the children. It’s the provision of adequate funding and support for ANY teacher to teach ANY class, regardless of who the students are.  Because EVERY child has the right to an education, right, RIGHT??

In case you think I’ve misconstrued your words here. That maybe extra support is just what you were advocating for, then could you just explain this for me: Paul Murray (who was sharing this discussion with you) said “What they need is two teachers in the room to be able to make sure that there’s one who can cover the gap”. You responded by saying “No. I’m sorry I don’t agree with you.” So. If you don’t think that even with support all children can be in the same classroom, I am thinking that you pretty much are advocating for complete separation of any child who is, in your words, not “normal”. Is that right?

A mainstream setting is not best for all children. We do need the wonderful Specialist Schools that are available. BUT even these schools are not places for children to be ‘put’ and ‘trained’.  Rather, they provide quality supported learning environments for the students. It depends on the individual needs of each child. The fact that we have the choice is wonderful. We carefully considered the choice, and we’ve chosen mainstream.

So why do I want my son to have a mainstream education?

Because I know it will be the best learning environment for him. I want him to gain an education alongside his peers so that later he will be able to work and socialise alongside them too. I don’t want him to be separated and definitely not “put somewhere” because he has a disability. When he grows up, I want him to be an ACTIVE, EARNING member of society. For me, I think that means it’s a good idea for him to be part of society from the word go. Wouldn’t you agree? The school that has accepted his enrolment certainly agrees.

The idea that other ‘normal’ children could be ‘held back’ by having my son in their class is a total fallacy. I encourage you to spend some time visiting schools where children with ‘special needs’ sit alongside those without. I encourage you to see just how these environments are enriching absorbing places of learning FOR ALL.

You are probably aware there’s a Facebook group with over 2,500 members urging you to make a public apology about your comments. I think that’s a good idea. The comments were insensitive. They were hurtful. They were ill-informed. They were wrong.

But, I’d like you to go just one step further. I would love to see you advocate for further funding for inclusive education and support of ALL children with special or additional learning needs, wherever they choose to study. With your PR background you’d be well placed to help work towards improving everyone’s educational opportunities. If you think the system needs fixing, why not be part of the solution!

One last thing, and I really don’t want you to think I’m picking on you here. But I’d like to give you some advice.  I read your response to this issue in the paper yesterday and I think you should do some reading about ‘people first language’ I think you should know that the phrase ‘Down Syndrome boy’ is actually not the best way to describe a person with Down Syndrome. Firstly,seeing as he was employed in your office, I don’t think he was actually a “boy” (maybe a teenager? Or a man?). Secondly, it’s best to put the person first – like this “a man with Down Syndrome”. See how much better that sounds? Now you’re seeing the person first. Not the disability. Don’t you think that’s a good idea?!

I look forward to hearing your response.


  1. Lucy July 22, 2010 at 12:30 am #


  2. Jessica Norris July 22, 2010 at 12:42 am #

    Extremely well written.
    You articulated the issues perfectly.
    Well done!

  3. Jacqui July 22, 2010 at 3:51 am #

    Great post Di. Reading all the comments on the newspaper article just makes me want to cry.

  4. bron July 22, 2010 at 4:30 am #

    Di, you are truly wonderful. Bron

  5. Sarah July 22, 2010 at 6:06 am #

    Fantastic Letter!!!

  6. mandy July 22, 2010 at 7:15 am #


  7. Ally July 22, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    Brilliant Di. Absolutely brilliant. xx

  8. Belinda July 22, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    clap, clap, clap, clap x 10. Brilliant! xxxx.

  9. Monica July 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm #

    Hi Di, what a fantastic well put together letter to this ignorant woman. Allison told me to read it, glad I did. So many ignorant people out there. Well done and all the best when S starts school next year :-) Monica

  10. marika // july 23 ,2010 at 2.43pm July 23, 2010 at 5:16 am #

    What a wonderful letter , so many good points it really touched my heart .

  11. Kara July 23, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    Wow. This letter is perfect. I hope that she will read it and think about some of the important points you make. It certainly makes me sad that people, especially such prominent people in the media (even though I don’t know who she is, not being from Australia) believe and say such things.

  12. Karen Grose July 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    I have a brother who has dissabilities and because he was educated in mainstream schools he has made us proud of him for his achievements. Jamie started a dissability support group, a motor nuerone support group and recently was voted in as a councillor for his town, what would have happened to him if we all didn’t believe that he would fit in with so called normal people, what is normal anyway??? I love your letter and say,You go girl.

  13. Alison July 24, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    Great response Di!!

  14. David July 24, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Well written.
    I hope at some stage there is an acknowledgement that what was said was inappropriate. The media should avoid using commentators that have such prejudice.
    To see she is in public relations defies belief.

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