Sixth Grade Choir Photograph, Evidence of Discrimination?

May I safely assume we all know the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”? Good! Today I’d like to explore the idea of crying discrimination. The word “discrimination” often conjures up very strong emotions, which in return can prevent us from seeking the full story. Consequently, actions then get misconstrued. I believe this to be the case with a recent news item discussed by The Stir‘s Jeanne Sager.

Sager writes about the following photograph, posted to Facebook Tuesday, March 27th by Alex Pollard’s mother.

Alex Pollard at his choir concert Tuesday, March 27th

Cobb County School District describes the scene pictured above as a "regrettable oversight." Photo: Facebook

As I’m sure you accurately deduced, Alex is the sixth grader in the wheelchair off to the side. Outrage continues to spread across the Internet over the picture. While plenty of critics prove more than justified in their criticisms, others seem to be turning the situation into something it’s not. For example, take Sager’s comment,

“But for Alex Wilson, being different has come to mean being ignored.”

Initially the writer/editor within me screams out “FACT CHECK, FACT CHECK!” Yes, the last name of Alex’s mother is Wilson but according to 11 Alive News Alex’s last name is Pollard. Enough about pesky details though. I want to focus on the notion presented that Alex getting ignored proves reoccurring. A statement released by the school notes the following.

“(Alex) has been a member of the chorus for the entire school year and there have been no prior issues.”

The school went on to explain the person who usually wheels Alex onto the stage remained absent at the choir concert and calls what happened a “regrettable oversight.” I personally believe “regrettable oversight” serves as a gross understatement. However, I do not feel enough evidence exists to label the events at South Cobb High School Tuesday, March 27th “discrimination.” I consider what happened to Alex an inexcusable mistake, NOT an intentional action meant to exclude an individual with a disability from participating in an extra-curricular activity.

Now 11  Action News does report choir director Lars Grevstad claims to not have seen Alex off to the side. Alex’s mother counters this by saying the director personally welcomed her son before the performance started. I really can’t correctly debate this reasoning without first knowing what the mother means by “before the performance started.” Did the alleged welcome occur when Alex arrived at the high school? Or, did the director literally walk up to Alex, welcome him immediately before the singing started, and then walk back to the center? I find the latter hard to fathom.

Given my thoughts here you might wonder, do I condone what happened at South Cobb High School Tuesday, March 27th? No, of course not. Perhaps no comment demonstrates my point better than repeating my earlier words.

“I consider what happened to Alex an inexcusable mistake, NOT an intentional action meant to exclude an individual with a disability from participating in an extra-curricular activity.

In conclusion, we in the disability community should stay cautious about crying discrimination. This will help us avoid encountering the same fate as The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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13 comments on “Sixth Grade Choir Photograph, Evidence of Discrimination?

  1. K says:

    You leave a disabled kid out, it’s discrimination, by definition. You don’t get to excuse discrimination by blaming someone else for not including him. That’s pathetic. The teacher can’t push a freaking wheelchair?

    The choir director is also the kid’s regular choir teacher. How did he not notice that his own student — the one in a wheelchair — was missing from his own choir group?

    The only thing more pathetic than coming up with lame excuses for negligently insulting and embarassing a disabled kid is defending it.

    • K, thanks for your feedback. I guess technically you are right. Discrimination as defined by Random House Webster’s American dictionary is “to show partially” or “note a difference.” Technically though you are then also promoting discrimination by saying “How did he not notice that his own student- the one in a wheelchair- was missing from his own choir group?” Thinking of Alex as “the one in a wheelchair” is discriminatory.

      My main point is the discrimination wasn’t intentional. I fail to see how that makes my point “pathetic.”

  2. Lauren says:

    Hi,

    Um…just a fact check for you. The student and teacher were from Cooper Middle School.

    Thanks!

    • Thanks for reading Lauren. I do believe I never indicated the student and teacher weren’t from the middle school. If you are referring to my mention of South Cobb High School, please see the 11 Alive News article I linked to. The event occurred at the high school. 🙂

  3. Heidi says:

    Thank you for your article. Anyone who knows Lars Grevstad personally knows what a caring and compassionate man he is. This was an extremely painful situation, but clearly, there is no evidence of intent. Thank you for your thoughtful words.

  4. Brian says:

    Good, balanced analysis and rational call for moderation.

  5. emigrantka says:

    the mothers name is not Williams – it is Wilson – fact check

  6. Kay says:

    I am a school choir and band director. MANY times at concerts, there are just too many details going on for me to notice every student. I’m worried about how the music is going to sound, did we rehearse enough, is this transition going well or does the long pause make people bored, what about the Choir Boosters President who was supposed to be here to give a talk about the upcoming fundraiser but she never showed up and now I’ve gotta come up with something on the fly, there’s two parents who yelled and swore at me before the concert began because I scheduled it during a time when their family usually is on vacation, the principal is mad at me because he goes hunting and it’s during hunting season so he chose not to show up and told me I’d be reprimanded on Monday morning when he gets back for not checking his availability (so he looks bad by not being there, therefore I get written up)… I have truthfully had EVERY one of these situations occur during or immediately prior to a concert. It really is regrettable that the choir director wasn’t aware that Alex was off to the side. I honestly do not know of ANY choir director who doesn’t want MORE kids in their choir, participating, no matter how well they sing. I feel heartbroken for both Alex and the choir director who is now receiving such terrible publicity. His career and livelihood are likely over. Not many options out there for a guy who trained in teaching choir who can’t find a job… so sad for his family. I just wish people wouldn’t be so quick to assume offense. For the record, I don’t know these people; this blog was one of the first that popped up in a Google search.

    I am surprised at the people who assume the director meant to do this. Really? He must be incredibly, incredibly stupid to “intentionally” discriminate it IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE, INCLUDING THE PARENT(s). Not likely.

  7. […] mission so far accomplished. For instance, take the Off Balanced post from April 3rd “Sixth Grade Choir Photograph, Evidence of Discrimination?” Some users commented enraged at me for “excusing” what happened to Alex. Others […]

  8. Michael Giuseppe Mannozzi says:

    Very insightful Zach. I respect your willingness to look deeper and to do your research and understand your vocbulary before “crying descrimination”.

  9. […] “Sixth Grade Choir Photograph, Evidence of Discrimination?” 04-03-2012 Controversy stirred early 2012 when the photo to the right surfaced online. Outrage over what happened to Alex, the young man in the wheelchair, sparked great debate and the word “discrimination” entered the mix. After reading a couple different news stories on the event, I felt certain facts went overlooked. So I called attention to those on my blog, causing an engaging conversation in the post’s comments section. Triggering intelligent conversation on the controversy makes said post a memorable one to me. […]

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