WASHINGTON — An Education Department aide who says spending to educate the handicapped drains resources from "normal" children was sharply questioned today about her contention that "as unfair as it may seem, a person's external circumstances do fit his level of inner spiritual development."
Eileen M. Gardner, a newly hired Education Department aide, appeared before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to explain her past advocacy of eliminating most federal education programs.
She was grilled by Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), who had been accused Tuesday by Education Secretary William J. Bennett of "character assassination" of Gardner, former education analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, and trying to "flog" her in public for religious views.
Call From Brady's Wife
Weicker said he had received a call from the wife of White House Press Secretary James S. Brady complaining about Gardner's writings about the handicapped. Brady was shot in the head during the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981.
Gardner has written that spending on handicapped education drains resources from "normal" schoolchildren. In a 1983 draft paper for Heritage, a think tank, she wrote: "There is no injustice in the universe. As unfair as it may seem, a person's external circumstances do fit his level of inner spiritual development."
Weicker asked: "Do you think Jim Brady's 'external circumstances . . . fit his level of inner spiritual development'?"
Role of Circumstances
Gardner replied: "That is in no way to assume that a person is inferior or bad. I am saying that what happens to a person in life, the circumstances a person is born into--the race, the handicapping conditions, the sex, whatever . . . those circumstances are there to help the individual grow toward internal spiritual perfection.
"It has been my concern that the underlying philosophy of some of those in the handicapped constituency rests on the belief that there is no universal order, that what has happened to them is due to chance . . . some cruel fate," she said.
"I won't get into religious beliefs," Weicker said. But he demanded to know what she meant when she wrote: "The order in the universe is composed of different degrees of development. There is a higher--more advanced--and a lower--less advanced."
"The only people I know about are Americans, that's the only order I know about. I don't know who's higher and I don't know who's lower. Americans--as I understand it that's the only test that impacts on this committee or the work of this government," said Weicker, thumping the table with his fist.
"I do not dispute that at all," said Gardner, who holds a doctorate in education from Harvard. "I feel I do have to say here it is part of my deeply held religious personal convictions that all men are equal in the eyes of God. However, not all men are manifestly equal."