Monday, October 10, 2011

Autism diaries, XXIV: Who is Christopher Columbus?

"I don't know."

The revelation in question happened in late August, but I share it today in honor of someone who appears to be fading from America's k12 classrooms.

I actually wasn't that surprised when, while reading with J about the Age of Exploration in The Story of the World, Volume 2, it emerged that he didn't know who Christopher Columbus was. After all, one of the main reasons I've been working my way through this four-volume series with him is that I know he's picked up very little world history in the course of his 15 1/2  years. But, while he's still mostly oblivious to the incidental factoids that float all around him, he's increasingly attending to school, and increasingly sitting in the same classes, doing the same assignments, and taking the same tests, as everyone else.

So while I'm guessing that most (all?) of his schoolmates not only have heard of Christopher Columbus, but also know something about what he's famous for, I'm also guesssing that none of them learned these things from a social studies class or reading assignment that made them their focus.

Indeed, in this age where it's anyone's guess which facts our schools are making it their responsibility to teach, it occurs to me that students like J--with their narrow interests and their tendency to tune out most of the ambient information that others soak up without deliberate instruction--are a valuable resource. Next time you wonder whether your school is actually teaching (rather than merely mentioning in passing) the Bill of Rights (say), or the Cold War, or the Silk Road, ask an Aspie. That is, look for a spaced-out, narowly focused child on the autistic spectrum who hasn't made the topic their personal specialty, and see what he or she can tell you about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In our fair city, Christopher Columbus Day is not even celebrated (school's in session), apparently because he is seen as part of the "history of oppression." My children never learned about him in school and they learned about the Mayflower from library books (outside of school time).

Back in 2007, a note was sent to teachers about Thanksgiving saying: Fact: For many Indian people, 'Thanksgiving' is a time of mourning ... a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship.

Read more: Seattle Schools Thanksgiving Myths

And here: School Diversity Calendar