Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What do people expect?

Another parent recently showed me this worksheet (click to enlarge), which our elementary school uses as part of its “guidance” curriculum. It comes from a marketed program called “Social Thinking,” which was developed as a treatment for high-functioning autistic children. The goal of the program is to get kids to be more aware of how other people perceive them. “As part of our humanity,” the program’s website explains, “each of us is on a daily quest to avoid each other’s ‘weird thoughts.’ We constantly consider people around us and adjust our behavior to help people have ‘normal thoughts about us.’” Some of the program’s goals are to help kids “Navigate their behaviors for more rewarding social outcomes,” and “Adapt to the people and situations around them.”

I can see how there is some value in learning to see oneself from another person’s perspective, and I don’t presume to know anything about how to work with kids who have autism. But I’m concerned about the use of a worksheet like this in a classroom of non-autistic kids. The plain message of the worksheet, intended or not, is that you should act the way that others expect you to act, and that you shouldn’t do anything that might surprise someone else. In the hands of a school that is already overemphasizing the importance of obedience and mindless compliance, a worksheet like this seems designed to teach conformity, and to teach that there is something wrong with people who are different or “surprising.”

If we have to have a “guidance” curriculum, shouldn’t it teach the exact opposite lesson -- that you should develop your own sense of right and wrong, that you should be true to your values even in the face of peer pressure, that it’s okay to be different from what people expect you to be, that everyone is unique, that it takes all kinds to make a world? Instead, our school is obsessed with achieving “behavioral compliance,” no matter what the cost.


In other news, it’s ITBS week here in Iowa City . . .

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