Friday, August 22, 2014

The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal Book Review

(Photo Courtesy of Amazon Canada)

The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal by Jonathan Mooney was actually required for the start of my teacher education, but I think this is a book I would have picked up regardless due to my interest in stories of everyday people in all their diversity and wonder.

Jonathan is a former short bus rider. For those of you who don't get the reference, the short bus is a vehicle that often takes students with mental, physical, and learning disabilities to school. The short bus, for Jonathan, becomes a symbol of his (mostly terrible) school experience and the way he was singled out for being different. However, Jonathan is a success story... he overcame his severe dyslexia and went on to graduate from Brown University, becoming a public speaker.

Jonathan has some unfinished business... In the Short Bus, he converts an old bus for his purposes and drives across America meeting people who are also considered different. Even Jonathan who is well-versed in the alternative has his views challenged and comes to greater understanding after getting to know the people he meets.

While in his story, Jonathan recounts several painful classroom memories, the most powerful one for me detailed a teacher treating Jonathan in a way that ostracized him from the rest of the class: she repeatedly referred to Jonathan as "not normal" or "different" implying that he didn't have a proper place in their classroom. As the students watched Jonathon being treated in such a way, they internalized what they saw and began to treat him exactly as the teacher did. This example encompasses two powerful themes of the book: how identity is shaped and the concept of normality in society.

To me, the discussion of normality in the book was one of the most fascinating parts of the book. The main question seems to be:
What is normal, anyway?

This is something a lot of people can relate to, not just people who are considered different academically in school. If I had a quarter for every time I asked myself if I was normal, I would be sitting in Southern France writing this article right now!

What's "normal" is defined by us as human beings, both individually and as a society. What's normal to me, might not necessarily be normal to you and vice versa. Jonathan suggests that everyone is normal, just in different ways. As he meets people with different ways of being, his own presumptions about them and about what is normal change. For example, before Jonathan meets Ashley, a deaf and blind 12 year old girl with Juvenile Xanthogranulomas, he was apt to believe that she was abnormal because she was "missing two of the five senses, which hampered her ability to make sense of, and navigate through, the world around her." This information would likely promote a similar diagnosis from many of us without experience with the disabled.

Jonathan writes about his introduction to Ashley: "I didn't know if I could truly value a body that was so damaged. Ashley also challenged some of my ideas about intelligence. If Ashley couldn't hear, speak, or see, how could she learn? And if Ashley couldn't learn, was she a fully functioning member of the human race?" But after spending the day with Ashley and her family, talking with her mother, viewing her intensive sign language class, and having dinner with them, he fully realizes the humanity in her: her potential to learn and grow, her kindness, and her sense of humour.

If you read this book, the results will be incredibly beneficial not only to yourself, but everyone around you. It would be hard to finish this one without being a more compassionate, benevolent, and considerate person.

Keep Reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blogging tips