Editor's note: David M. Perry is an associate professor of history at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. His blog is How Did We Get Into This Mess. Follow him on Twitter.
(CNN) - When the rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died in March, The New York Times celebrated her as the maker of a "mean beef stroganoff" and "the world's best mother." When my 4-year-old daughter, Ellie, a wildly creative and interesting girl, finished a year of preschool last week, her teachers gave her an award for being the best dressed.
A few years ago at my son's preschool camp award ceremony, I sat silently as well-meaning counselors called each child forward. Girls: best hair, best clothes, best friend, best helper and best artist. Boys: best runner, best climber, best builder and best thrower. My son won best soccer player. In general, girls received awards for their personalities and appearance and boys for their actions and physical attributes.
It was similar at my daughter's ceremony, where the teacher told us that all the children were so excited to see what award they would receive; it had obviously been built up as a big deal. The gender disparity was subtle but present.
By David M. Perry, Special to CNN
Editor's note: David M. Perry is an associate professor of history at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. His son, Nicholas Quillen Perry, has Down syndrome.
(CNN) - "It breaks my heart to think how many people would not have chosen to keep that precious angel." - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, speaking about abortion and Down syndrome at the 2012 National Convention.
"I highly approve of (Mitt) Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." - Ann Coulter, tweeting about the third presidential debate.
"No one would call someone with Down syndrome 'retard.' I call you a 'retard.' " – Coulter on Alan Colmes' Fox News Radio show.
Let's pretend that Ann Coulter is telling the truth in that last comment. Yes, she called President Barack Obama a retard, but at least she claimed she'd never insult someone with Down syndrome. Even if she's lying, we have come a long way. Children with Down syndrome still get bullied or even abused, and adults with any disability face an uncertain future, particularly in an era of austerity, but today few would call someone with Down syndrome a retard to his or her face.
For this, as the father of a boy with Down syndrome, I am grateful.
In fact, over the last 50 years or so, the lives of people with Down syndrome and other disabilities have improved in many remarkable ways. Most parents are now raising their children with Down syndrome in their homes rather than sending them to live in institutions. Government programs, especially through early intervention and special education, employ teachers and therapists who have helped these children learn beyond our wildest dreams.
What defines you? Maybe it’s the shade of your skin, the place you grew up, the accent in your words, the make up of your family, the gender you were born with, the intimate relationships you chose to have or your generation? As the American identity changes we will be there to report it. In America is a venue for creative and timely sharing of news that explores who we are. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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