Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Middle school: the science that might have been and the pseudo-science that beckons

I'm just back from a meeting with the middle school teachers who will be teaching my mainstreamed autistic son next year.  They're bright, energetic, and well-intentioned.  And they're caught up in all the latest educational trends that have so shortchanged children on the autistic spectrum.

Massive, interdisciplinary projects.

Group work.

Extensive oral and written "communication" in all disciplines, including math and science.

As the science teacher explained to me, "It's not like we go in and do an experiment, and then the next day we go in and do another experiment." Subtext:  doing experiments is somehow suboptimal. Too narrow and rigid? Too coldly analytical? Too authoritarian a notion of truth? Too outdated a notion of science education?

Rather, he said, virtually quoting chapter and verse from the National Science Education Standards, the important thing is communicating about science, presenting science to others, working in groups, and integrating science with daily life and with the other middle school subjects--especially the subject now known as "literacy."

"And will literacy class cover topics from science?" I was tempted to ask.  But I already knew the answer.

And I was distracted by the dread of navigating my son through all this language intensive pseudo-science. And by the longing for all that science class might have been for my budding natural scientist, who loves doing experiments and learning about how things work, but doesn't work well in groups and takes forever to read a chapter, write an essay, and design an acceptable poster.

So suddenly we're discussing incentives, rewards, and punishments.  We talk about Hershey's kisses and after-school detentions. 

"Aren't there some intrinsic rewards that would work for you son?" someone finally asks.

"Yes," I reply.  "Pure science, and pure math."

Too bad such rewards are no longer intrinsic to school.


Laura said...

How did they respond?

lefty said...

They nodded politely and didn't act offended! They may even have gotten the specific message (about my son's needs). Time will tell...

Laura said...

Well, that's good. I was expecting you to say that they gave you some kind of double-speak answer. My Aspie son is only finishing up K (which, I have to say, has been very positive for him), so I'm interested to hear about potential problems and solutions for older "lefty" kids in school.

Catherine Johnson said...

Monday is C's last day in middle school.

I should send you the "Govenator" t-shirt I wore on his first day in middle school in 6th grade.