Talking About Adoption In The Classroom
I am the lucky father of three busy little boys. Two of them happen to be adopted. I cannot speak for all adoptive parents, but I want to share my perspectives regarding adoption and education that might increase our sensitivity as teachers.
Last week I was in a 7th grade History class doing my weekly observations for the MAT@USC program. The lesson was about matriarchal lineage in West Africa. Homework was a triple-generational family tree due the following day. Lineage has to do with tracing blood lines, explained the teacher, “but if you are adopted and don’t know your blood lines you can use the blood lines of whoever you live with.” I was taken by surprise by her comments. Sure, a literal translation of lineage is the trace of ancestral blood lines, but adopted children should be secure in their family whether they know their actual blood lines or not. Calling a student’s family “whoever you live with” is highly insensitive and completely inaccurate in the case of adoption. Adopted children may face challenges other children do not, but I am sure that to many adopted children hearing that they are the exception to the rule when it comes to a simple family tree may be disheartening. Adopted students may never have thought about their relationship with their family in those terms. I don’t think a 7th grade History teacher is the person that should point out how they are technically different from their classmates.
It’s not like adoption is a new concept in our society. The Code of Hammurabi outlines the rights of adopted children. The Romans had written laws protecting the rights of adopted children. Even the Bible says that adopted children are to be treated the same as natural born children. I find it shocking that a teacher in 2011, who is trained in cultural and familial sensitivity, in an age when the definitions of family are changing rapidly, would not be adept at teaching a student to feel secure about his or her relationship to family.
Popular culture does a great service to people who believe adoption is an unnatural familial relationship. The WE network has a program called The Locator where a man helps people find their “lost” family members many of whom were adopted. The tagline: You can’t find peace until you find all the pieces. ABC’s new Once Upon a Time puts a strange and negative twist on adoption. In the first episode Snow White’s abandoned daughter is approached by a son she gave up for adoption ten years prior. He was ironically adopted by the Evil Queens alter ego, the Mayor of Storybrook, and he hates his life. Snow White’s daughter challenges the “kid” about who has had a worse life, she after all “had a family until she was three and then they had children of their own and gave her back.”
I could extrapolate for hours because I feel very strongly about this subject, but I will just say that adoptive parents and children really do see many negative messages. The school is the last place these connotations should be promoted. I have adopted children and I have a natural born child. I know it is hard to believe for some people who have not experienced adoption, but the clichés are true: adoptive parents really do love their children the same as biological offspring.
There are times when a subject may be difficult to broach in a classroom setting considering the myriad of family situations our students live in, but in almost all cases adoption isn’t one of those cases. Adopted children are not going to experience an identity crisis because of a family tree. They might experience an identity crisis when the teacher tells them they don’t have a family tree!
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