An Interview with Dr. Lou Brown
The unintended consequences of "pre"
Produced in 1987
Dr. Lou Brown: We've been in the same town now for almost 20 years, so we had a chance to look at what we were doing and seeing the outcomes. And so, in fact, empirically, what happened was the longer we would spend trying to get these kids through normal development stages and phases, the more retarded they'd become. See, everybody else is learning to be 16 and 17 and 18 and 19, and we're teaching these people who are 16 and 17, 18, 19 to act like 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. And at age 21 when school ended, their differences... See, when they started, the differences between them and normal people were very small. But as time went by, they just became accentuated. And we said, "What are we doing? I mean, this is crazy. We can't have this. This is not the way to do it. It can't be this way."
And so, we said, "Well..." And then you sit in these IEP meetings and the parents were telling us this right away. "You're doing the same thing over and over and over." We'd say, "We have to because your kid learns slower." And so we have kids on peg boards and blocks and imitation training and all these things for years and years and years and years. And they were always in pre-programs, pre-language, pre-motor. Now initially that's sort of... It's a subtle sell to a parent, to hear your child is in pre-language and pre-reading and pre-math and pre-motor and pre-social. They liked that because it's sort of normal. They look at their kid. They know the kid's disabled, but it's a curriculum that's only slightly different. The only difference between the way it sounds for the child with the disability and a child without a disability is "pre."
So we said, "Pre leads nowhere." It just... So then you'd follow up your graduates and they're in pre-vocational workshops. And there are people... I went to a workshop in Montgomery County, Maryland a while back and I saw this 55-year-old man in pre-vocational. I mean, it should be pre-Social Security. Nothing to do. In our field with the people we're talking about now, pre doesn't lead anywhere. So we said, "Let's stop using pre." So if you want to teach language, fine. Talk about real language and now watch real language. If you want to talk about... Let's forget about pre-work. If you want to talk about work for these people, let's teach real work, now watch real work.
And so you see by examining the words you use and the definitions and examples that are associated with these words, and, if you try to be a little honest with yourself, they turn out to be heavy. I mean, they can have a dramatic effect on what you do. If you use the standard of ultimate functioning, you know. Initially it was let's get publications, you know, you need to get a bunch of publications as a professor, so now you have tenure. Now what, you know? What is it, what do you exist for? What are you trying to have happen before you die? And it's got to be you leave people with a better life. Well what's a better life?
So you started... We had the guidepost. And then we had natural proportions. So we became, what is your word, extremist, radical? Very committed to the position of integration because we started with the natural proportion and the manifestation, the ultimate manifestation, of the natural proportion is an integrated life, right?
And now we're pushing the limits to that. Are you talking about regular schools or regular classes? Are you talking about an enclave? There's still people in our government who are going around supporting enclaves. Groups of 10 retarded people sweeping up at night and one paid supervisor. Or six retarded people stamping in a little room away from everybody else. I mean, so there are still remnants of that around. And there's still workshops, still 5000 workshops in this country. Still 100,000 people in institutions, and we say, "Close them," they say, "No let's stop that."