Category Archives: Education

A bit ‘Aspie’

spock

Not Spock

I’ve heard students described this way. Apparently it’s a bit of a trendy thing to say: “Abdul always needs the blinds drawn in the classroom. He’s so ‘Aspie’.” It seems that all one needs is a mild quirk to be thought of as having Asperger’s syndrome. There are lots of reasons why this kind of labelling is uncool. I would have thought those reasons were obvious, especially in light of “Inclusive Education” – note the OTT bunny ears I am making in the air – but since they’re patently not, and since Asperger’s is the new ADHD and OCD, but with a Spock-myth twist, I can see I am going to have to lay down a new law and explain how these labels hurt.

1.  Labelling, or identifying students solely by their disability, is wrong.

Would you call a student with difficulties walking “a little bit cerebral palsy” or someone with a lower IQ “a little bit globally delayed”? Of course not. But behavioural labels seem to be more fun. People who liked clean hands were called “a little OCD” a few years ago. Now anyone with the mildest distaste for irrationality is ‘Aspie’.

2  Falsely labelling students (presumably to sound clever) trivialises the challenges of those with the actual diagnosis.

I’ve met plenty of students with Asperger’s who have a disability but often no handicap. They’re great people, and with the right support, they excel, very often beyond their peers. They face real challenges from people who are inflexible, and from systems that don’t acknowledge their needs, but they often overcome these and their uniqueness shines. Defining people by their ‘symptoms’ is unethical anyway, but labelling students as being on the spectrum due to vague tendencies trivialises the challenges of those with an actual diagnosis.

3.  Calling students ‘Aspie’ makes you sound ignorant.

If you want to let everyone in the room know that you’ve never gotten to know someone with Asperger’s, then next time you see a student who likes his pencils arranged neatly, announce to your staff “Jarrod is so ‘Aspie’.” Asperger’s syndrome has nothing to do with neatness, order, even logic. And here is where I want feedback. I believe Asperger’s is more of a question to be asked, and that question is “How can I understand the way you see the world?” Because the answer you’re going to get will change your world too.

On rectangles

I’m embarking on a new unit this study period, Sociology and Media at Macquarie. Media and inequality have been hot topics even in Week One. It’s got me thinking about the digital divide, and how we tend to think of it as a bit of a third world issue. I’m going to argue here that it’s a mobility and class issue.

I live and work in a semi rural area. The employment market is fairly depressed, and there are a lot of unaddressed (because they’re expensive and inaccessible) mental health issues in the area. I work with kids whose parents have to decide between getting broadband and registering the family car. They naturally choose the car. There are no internet cafes and the nearest McDonald’s is about 13km away, so free Wi-Fi out of school hours is out of the question. Broadband may actually be cheaper than the petrol to get to the Wi-Fi.

Most of the kids I work with didn’t grow up with a computer in the house, let alone an iPad. The only techno-rectangle in the house was the flat-screen. It’s an entertainment device. Give one of these kids a new portable rectangle after a lifetime of entertainment-as-furniture and what do they do? They entertain! Work isn’t on computers; Work is something you do in a fluro vest – and you’ll need a shower afterwards. So the unreality of working on or with a rectangle is the mindset they bring to all interactions with their new free device.

By the time the kids hit their teens, the opportunity to condition them to see the internet as a tool is missed.

To give this opinion post some balance, I want to tell you about my carpenter. He is around my age, doesn’t have an email address, barely knows how to send a text, doesn’t use a calculator, but can re-clad a house, fence a yard, turn up on time, and quote to within a dollar’s accuracy. If he had a laptop at school, would he be as numerate? I honestly don’t think so – technology bears no relevance to his chosen (highly successful) path and would only have been a distraction from the nuts and bolts of core learning. My students have free BER laptops, are functionally illiterate, and can’t tell a plus sign from a multiplication sign.

I love technology. But I see something wrong here and am not sure how we fix it. Thoughts?

Image from Decals for Macbook on Etsy