Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXVII: Hidden Figures

This is one of those times when I’m not sure where to put this. Should this go here or should it go on my technical blog? I made a choice to keep them separate because I figured that people who came looking for special needs information would likely have no interest in software issues and those interested in my meanderings on software and programming would glaze over at the special needs parenting things.

Yesterday, we went to see Hidden Figures, a historical drama that covered a window of time of three African American women who worked at NASA at a time when a computer was a person who did computations. The three women, Katherine Johnson/Gobel, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, all took different steps to success within NASA, each encountering race barriers along the way.

I very much wanted to see this movie for the history aspect of people who helped shape the foundations of programming and the software industry, especially by those who aren’t in straight white male group that currently predominates (for example, Alan Turing and Grace Hopper). In this way, the movie disappointing. It presented Katherine Johnson/Gobel as knowing analytical geometry, but soft pedaled the math. What I saw being shown as “math in action” was not more than algebra or pre-calculus and I can get that on sight, I’m thinking they skimped. And yes, coding is not the most interesting thing to watch, but rather than a few brief lines about FORTRAN, it would have been nice to see some of the actual process that includes creating and verifying the code to do flight dynamics. Still, beggars can’t be choosers and the bigger picture in this movie was how badly people of color were treated in a US with segregation. In the words of Dorothy Vaughan, “I changed what I could, and what I couldn’t, I endured.”

We went as a family along with a friend of Alice’s from school and her mom. Alice sat next to her friend and I don’t think she was getting a lot from the movie and was a little bit bored. At one point to add historical detail to the story, there were brief period clips from news interspersed. At one point, I heard Alice say, “Martin Luther King!” and yes, sure enough there he was.

This morning, I asked Alice who he was – what did he do?

Alice straightened up a little bit and said very deliberately, “I have a dream.” I gave her a big hug.

And I couldn’t be more proud of her and of her school.

I have a dream, too. I have a dream that people will judge my daughter not by their assumptions and her disabilities, but by the size of her heart and her capacity to love. I know that many of her peers in school already do that, and I’m proud of that too, but I’m worried when the president elect of the United States has openly mocked Serge Kovaleski and has nominated Jeff Sessions for attorney general, who among his long list of short-comings, disparaged the value of IDEA on the Senate Floor by saying “We have created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America. I say that very sincerely,” (see also this recent Forbes article). He is, of course, wrong, but his words and his opinions are dangerous to the thousands of students with disabilities who deserve a free, appropriate public education.

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