... the title of this New York Times piece, in which the author relates his experience of suffering from what sounds like would be diagnosed nowadays as oppositional defiant disorder, and consequently being sent to a special education school in which he quickly stopped picking fights because the kids "fought like grown-ups. If you hit someone in the arm, he might hit you back in the face or the genitals." Despite the frequent violence from his peers and common apathy from "the system", he finds himself wondering about the value of the experience:
Was riding the short bus for three years a good or a bad thing for me? I’m not sure. When I graduated from high school, I could not find New Jersey or Connecticut on a map. But one incident that happened in that first tumultuous year in fourth grade makes special ed invaluable in my adult eyes.
I realized after I got on the bus one morning that I’d forgotten my lunch and that there wasn’t any place near the office building to get food. When lunch period came, I was fearful, not because I’d go hungry, but because any public mistake was routinely seized upon by the other kids. “Idiot forgot his lunch” would make great fodder.
While the others unwrapped their sandwiches and unscrewed thermoses, I waited silently, looking down.
“Hey, man, why aren’t you eating?” a kid asked.
“F’rg’t m’lunch,” I muttered.
A whisper was passed down the table; here it comes, I thought.
A rectangular object wrapped in shiny foil whizzed through the air and hit me in the chest. I opened it and found half a bologna sandwich. An apple rolled my way, followed by half a turkey on rye, which I caught in midair. A bag of chips was slid down to me.
I looked up and all at the table were smiling at me.
“What do you say, Josh?” the teacher asked.
“Thank you,” I whispered to the class.
“Don’t mention it.”
“You’re welcome, doofus.”
I held my breath in response to the sudden volcano in my belly and quickly shifted my gaze to my shoes, but it was no use. I knew how to squelch emotion in response to violence, but had not known mercy, kindness and warmth, and was not prepared for the waterfall erupting from my face. I sprang up from the table to run away and hide my feelings from the class, but was blocked by one of the teachers’ aides. I ran full speed into her arms, burying my face. She wrapped both arms tightly around me and maneuvered me quickly out into the hall, quietly closing the door behind her. She held me while I gasped and sobbed, my tears and snot staining her dress. She didn’t ask me what was wrong; she just held me. I looked up after a minute and saw she was crying, too.
In that moment I felt for the first time what it was like to be supported and accepted, taken care of rather than yelled at, punished or shunted off, which is how most people react to children who are violent or feral. Special ed got me directly in touch with a deeper place in the same way music would later on.
I think a lot of people see adult sociopaths and gate them and fail to see that they just happened to be born with that disposition with childhood experiences that triggered the development of those traits. I know that children with issues are easy to get angry at and to want to punish or scare straight. If those tactics worked, I would be 100% behind them too. But they don't. Not on these kids. So how can you justify treating a child like that? They may not seem as innocent as other children, but they can't help the way they are anymore than any other child can.