Eric Henney applauds Stuart Chaifetz, the father who wired his 10 year-old son in order to record the abuse children were suffering in their special education classroom.
Stuart Chaifetz’s son, Akian, is 10 years old and autistic. He is enrolled at Horace Mann Elementary School, in a self-contained class for children with various learning disabilities. Contrary to what Stu sees as a playful and respectful demeanor in his son, Akian’s teachers started sending notes home about his disruptive behavior—hitting teachers, throwing chairs. After a meeting with both teachers and administrators, a behaviorist started shadowing Akian. During that time he did not observe, nor could he successfully incite replication of, the alleged behavior.
The cause of Akian’s behavior therefore remained a mystery to both his father and the behaviorist. So on February 17, 2012, in a move that remains morally murky, Stuart sent Akian to school with a wire. When he returned home, Stuart reviewed the audio collected, about six and a half hours in all.
He heard teachers and aides calling Akian and other children “bastard,” “tard,” and “damn dumb.” He also heard them talking to each other about their binge drinking and husband issues, and telling Akian to “shut [his] mouth.” (Akian can speak, but, like many autistic children, can’t always satisfactorily express himself.)
To understand what are perhaps their worst offenses, though—the offenses that most likely set Akian’s bad behavior off—you need to understand that Stuart is a single parent. Akian sees his mother every other week. So on weekends when he will see his mother, he will occasionally ask, “May I see Dad after Mom?”
That’s what is told to an emotionally fragile 10-year old whose parents are divorced, and who can’t always understand the structure of his custody. No.
Stuart quickly brought the tapes to the attention of Horace Mann’s administration, who fired one aide but reassigned the other teachers involved. Dissatisfied, he uploaded a video to YouTube and started Teacher/Bully to tell his son’s story. He isn’t out for blood, but he does want justice and transparency. I strongly encourage you to check out both the site and video.
There are a number of unsettling elements to this case. One of them is that most of the people who either harassed or were complicit in the harassment of students like Akian are still in the school district. Another is that this incidents like this occur far too often. (There have been at least 9 similar cases in the last decade.) Perhaps the most stubborn element is that prevailing sentiments toward children and adults with special needs usually deny their humanity by being either harsh and unsympathetic or infantilizing. There’s a ton to tease out of this story, and I’m interested in hearing what you all have to say.
Now I don’t want to seem like I am appropriating what is a truly terrible situation for our philosophical and social concerns here at GMP. But here’s the thing: Stuart Chaifetz is a good man. His methods are not perfect, and he is still trying to figure out how best to turn his situation into a rallying cause. We don’t want to forget that. But his sense of dedication and passion for the protection of his son’s right to be treated like a human being, and his desire to give voice to frustrated parents like him, make Stuart a damn good man.