Monday, August 2, 2010

Back to School Food for Thought

Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir by Karl Taro GreenfeldNow that we’ve crossed over into the month of August, millions of students will begin preparing to go back to school, whether it is elementary school or college. Many will be surprised that the summer passed so quickly and be saddened by their imminent return to the classroom. The prospect of reuniting with friends separated from by the summer months will act, for many, as a silver lining. In addition to these emotions, feelings of anxiousness are sure to surface for students as the start of each school year signifies a change; many students are changing schools, going onto the next level or schooling, etc.

Millions of students with disabilities will be negotiating the same emotions in addition to concerns that they will be looked as different or not included as a result of their condition. The New York Times provides a fairly refreshing example of students with disabilities being included as a part of the school community. Highlighting Garner Moss, a high school junior with autism, the piece describes a school district that makes inclusion of students with disabilities a high priority; the district has only five percent of their students in separated, or “self-contained,” classrooms.

Many supporters for inclusion suggest that separating students with disabilities creates a stigma due to lack of exposure and understanding. Perhaps the best way to gain a more genuine understanding that “disability” means someone is “different,” not “worse,” is through direct and meaningful interaction. Garner Moss’ classmates realized that, while he was different in some ways, he was also very much like them and they were able to have authentic relationships with him. Many teachers and college professors have found that reading memoirs of interactions and experiences with disabilities is another valuable way to increase awareness and change perception.

In Boy Alone: A Brother’s Memoir, Karl Taro Greenfeld reflects on his experiences growing up with a brother who has autism. He provides an honest and complex account on what it was like to grow up in the shadow of his brother, complete with emotions ranging from rage, confusion, and love. Combining personal reflection with both the history of autism and current research surrounding it, Boy Alone shines a light on a disability that is becoming increasingly more prevalent in our society, providing a perspective sure to enlighten teachers and students who interact with individuals with disabilities.

If you would like to consider Boy Alone: A Brother’s Memoir for one of your classes, please order an examination copy. If you've already decided to require this book, please request a desk copy.

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