No One Needs a Slab Class

The inclusive education community lost a legend this week. Here is one of his most memorable stories.

It’s hard to overstate how much of an influence Lou Brown had on my advocacy as an educator.

This week, it was announced that Lou Brown, co-founder of TASH, passed away.

The first time I heard Lou speak was at California State University Fullerton at an inclusive education conference during my teacher training. And he told a favorite story of his about the “slab class.” Fortunately, I don’t have to remember it word for word because a collection of his stories was published in 2016 on his website.

Here is an excerpt from the collection.

The Boy on the Slab by Lou Brown

Does all mean all? Did the United States congress really mean that one? Should every child have a right to a tax supported education? Legally, such questions are moot. This was not always so.

One year a student who was new to our district came to school attached to a slab. He had a halo brace fixed to his head and a stainless-steel rod down his spine. He was strapped to a padded plywood platform with four wheels. His mother used a rope to pull him down the hall and into the principal’s office. Many who witnessed this questioned whether we should allow such a child in public schools.

The principal convened an emergency meeting of her leadership team. She, a pediatric neurologist, a university professor, a psychologist, two therapists, a school attorney, the Director of Nursing, and the Director of Special Education deliberated and concluded as follows.

A slab class would be established. The consensus was that slabs and nonslabs could not function in the same classroom.

A teacher with a master’s degree in slabs would be hired. We could not find one.

Surrounding school districts would be scoured for slabs. Not enough for a slab class were located nearby. However, state department of education personnel identified six school aged slabs in the state. Attempts to arrange for the daily use of helicopters to transport the dispersed six slabs to the slab class in Madison each school day were unsuccessful.

A group home for slabs was the obvious solution. Then an old bread truck with those big racks in the back that could accommodate six slabs could be purchased. Of course, “Independent Living” would be printed on it.

Then the six slabs could go from the slab home to the slab van to the slab class to the slab van to the slab home to the slab…

Do environments affect quality of life? If you answer "No", you should not be in Education. If you answer "Yes", what environmental characteristics should we arrange? Educational environments should be rich, stimulating, colorful, varied and challenging. They should have good communication models; they should stimulate maximum engagement and facilitate the development of a wide array of social relationships. These characteristics cannot be produced in a slab class, a slab home or a slab van. Indeed, if you were on a slab, the last thing you would need or want would be to be next to five other persons on slabs all day.

What I love about this story is that it is preposterous. Who in their right mind would create a slab class? Except that educational systems create slab classes every day, except just substitute “slab” with any disability-specific classroom name. Among others that Lou used to tell, this story was integral for me as I moved from being an inclusion skeptic to an advocate.

In 2019, I had the privilege of interviewing him for the Think Inclusive Podcast about what supports for students with significant disabilities looked like before 1975 and the progress we have made since then. You can read the transcript here. My complete interview with Lou was over an hour-long, and I had always intended to go back and edit it, but I never did. If you are interested, I’ve unlocked it at Patreon so that it is available for everyone.

Later that year, I was having doubts about whether I could make any difference in noninclusive educational systems or if I even was doing the right thing; I reached out to Lou. He took the time to talk to me and provided some perspective.

I’m thankful for witnessing and experiencing Lou’s advocacy, and I hope that I can leave a legacy of inclusion that builds on his and so many others.

RIP Lou.

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