Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The second class of Exceptional Children was less boring than the first, but only because the first was so very, very boring. The prof didn't go over the schedule ad nauseam this time, but this seems to be the kind of class, massive number of students be damned, that is conducive to telling personal stories. So about half the class jumps at every opportunity to talk about their own autistic or ADHD or dyslexic son or nephew or student. I understand that sometimes anecdotes can be illuminative when trying to grasp a subject as fraught with misconceptions as "exceptional children," but these anecdotes are not helpful, just a means for the teller to get something off her chest. Clearly some of these people burn to talk about their children's experiences, and I understand that because having a child with learning differences can be very stressful, and perhaps they should join a discussion group to vent, and stop wasting class time.

In a discussion on how evaluations of students with special educational needs must be free of bias, somehow we got onto cultural bias in general. One student mentioned that she was at a teacher's meeting in which some of the teachers were concerned that a question on a test was biased because it mentioned the circus. Apparently one of the students taking the test was from Cairo and had no idea what a circus was (which seems a bit odd to me --- it's one of the world's largest metropolitan areas, not the desert).

Anyway, this bit struck me as a bit over the top. Obviously, in some areas teachers must be very sensitive to cultural bias. if we want to make sure a test is assessing intelligence and only that, we must strive to make sure the test taker understands the concept behind every question. Standardized tests must be free of bias and be totally valid.

But --- and this may be hard to express --- I don't think that mentioning American cultural themes in all tests is necessarily a bias, or if it is, it's not a bias that we need to concern ourselves with stamping out. I mean, one of schooling's missions is to prepare children for the world they will enter, correct? In America, this includes coming upon such things as circuses and banks and waiting at red lights and other cultural norms. Even if the test is in a math class, it's part of the educational experience to incorporate cultural norms into the questions. But they're from Egypt? Yes, but they're in America now, and should probably start assimilating certain broad social ideas. I'm not saying children should be penalized for being ignorant of the customs of the country in which they reside in, but I don't think they need to be protected from encountering those customs, either. It's almost as if teachers nowadays are trained to infuse their lessons with every culture of the world except their own, this Western American culture (itself an assimilator of cultural mores and fashions) in which they and their students live.

So, yes, for example, here's a math question about birthday parties. Don't celebrate birthdays in your family, or in your country of origin? Well, we do here. Know that, accept it, move on, figure out the math.


NYC Educator said...

Are you studying to be a special ed. teacher?

Chance said...

No, just taking enough classes to make it look like I can handle the special ed kids in the regular classroom.

NYC Educator said...

Good. I'd counsel you against teaching special ed. I've done it and though it helped me a lot, it was the worst job I've ever had.

God bless the people who do it of their own volition. I'd have no problem seeing them get extra pay either. They deserve it.