Friday, September 26, 2008

Why It Matters

Last year, during Mr. Voice's IEP-From-the-Dark-Side, his mother was berating me because I'd sent home a social studies homework assignment that said...

...wait for it... any of these people that you see on the news or in a newspaper.

It was clearly marked as extra credit (as I'm not assuming that anybody has a TV or can afford a newspaper) and...y' a picture.

"My typical ten-year-old couldn't do that," said the group home representative.

(I boggled.)

"Why does it matter anyway?" asked Mr. Voice's mom.

Well, for one thing, there is not a functioning-level requirement to vote.  Patrick can vote. If she so chooses, and has someone to assist her to do it, Elastigirl will be able to vote.  If you are an adult American who is not a felon, you can vote.

(Note that I'm not sure how guardianship affects that -- but I'm not a fan of guardianship anyway.  I would much rather an adult with disabilities have a specific document detailing where they need assistance and where they are able to make their own decisions.  But I'm weird like that.)

For another, it's only a matter of time before my students, who are already tested on Language Arts, Math, and Science (just like their peers who take STAR testing), will be tested on social studies.  It's probably inevitable.

For a third -- even if it weren't likely to be on a test someday, I believe that it's my responsibility as a teacher to teach as much civic knowledge as I can.  For some, that may simply mean recognizing the Pledge of Allegiance, knowing The Star-Spangled Banner, recognizing America's flag, or knowing that we have a president.

And, for a fourth...for crying out loud, it said to circle anyone you saw on the news.

The News-2-You website says this about teaching current events:
Everyone needs ready access to sources of "new information". It's the content that makes our conversations interesting and meaningful and sparks learning. All individuals have a right to this information, not just for those of us who are able to decipher the content-intensive formats regularly used in newspapers and on newscasts. News-2-You® is universally designed for individuals who need concise, visual concepts. It provides "big picture" news to a population previously denied that information. It provides fun and motivating reading material.
In other words, current events are important.

I'm blessed this year to have kids that pay attention to the world.  After the train crash, several kids came to school the next day asking if we'd read about it for News-2-You.  (Sadly, they did not produce a short World News article on the subject.)  Every single one of them -- Elastigirl excluded, but more on her later -- can name Obama and McCain.

When I started, last year, the kids' books regarding the presidential primaries, I said that one of my main motivators was remembering seeing a news segment before the presidential election in 2000, where very few people could name the current VP, name or recognize either of the candidates, and a few who didn't recognize the current president (!).

Another main motivator, I have to admit, is the pride of being able to say, "My kids know more than 30% of the people out there in the real world."  This is also why I drill the world map so hard -- it is insane that so few high schoolers can find America on the map. My fourth, fifth, and sixth graders with moderate to severe disabilities are getting it.  So there.

But there's also the fact that these guys will be living in the real world.  What happens in regards to politics is as important to them -- maybe moreso, given the still-very-relevant issue of in-home supported living versus institutional living -- and knowing something about the political system will help them to be good self-advocates.

None of that matters, though, when confronted with the conversation that happened in my classroom yesterday morning.

For the record, the players involved are Aide T, Earring Twin and Drama Queen (fourth grade girl A).  None of this was prompted.

At all.

Drama Queen:  Is McCain going to the talking thing?

Aide T:  You mean the debate?  We don't know yet.

Drama Queen:  Why not?

Aide T:  Well, there's an important meeting in Washington D.C., and Mr. McCain thinks it's important that he go.

Earring Twin:  Obama's going to the meeting?

Aide T:  We don't know yet.  Mr. Obama thinks it's important that he tell people his ideas.  He wants to have the debate so that he can do that.

Drama Queen:  But McCain wants to go to the Washington meeting?

Earring Twin:  I saw Obama on the TV last night.

Aide T:  Yes.  He thinks it's more important to meet with the other people in Washington D.C.

I would like to point out for the record, given that this is a school, that there were no value judgments inherent in this conversation.

I would also like to point out that I got my kids actively watching the news and then wanting to know more about it.

This is why it matters.

This is why school for kids with moderate to severe disabilities should be more than reading Dick and Jane over and over and over and over until they can finally read that one -- so that -- yay -- they can start the next one.

This is why core content -- even modified core content (you'll note that Aide T kept her explanations very simple) -- is important.

Because they do care.

They are interested.

They might not grasp all the fundamentals and subtleties -- but, really, how many people do? -- but they care.

That is why it matters.

No comments: