Queen Teen has been learning about presidents in school. This is what she told me.
"A long time ago, black kids and white kids couldn't go to the same school. They had to go to different schools. But George Washington made them go to the same school, and then they were friends."
She also told me she likes how there are faces of presidents on money.
So here's the question: does she know what a president is? I think she gets the idea that a president is a leader, but does she understand that all those dead presidents she's been studying were actual living people who ruled our country a long time ago? Does she have a clue who our president is now, or where he lives, or what he does?
Her intervener at school has been struggling this whole school year with concepts around presidents, and I know she's as frustrated as I. Every time Queen Teen brings me her homework I groan.
Write one fact about President Harrison.
Who? (okay, I admit I'm a little rusty on presidential history.)
I believe it's important for students to learn about our presidents and the decisions they made through history which impacted our country. History is important, and I wish Queen Teen could grasp that concept. But history to Queen Teen is what happened when she was little, or what happened when I was little. The past is amorphous and the long ago past meaningless. If that's the case, why spend so much time teaching her the name of a dead president?
Queen Teen can be as mysterious as history; you think you "get it", then you'll discover another gap in understanding. She'll rattle off random info about birds, or show you San Francisco on a map, but be unable to tell you anything about recycling, even though she's part of the recycling program at school. She won't remember what she did last week, but tell you in detail what happened the day she got the doll she named "Sara" ten years ago (when she was 6). Queen Teen is very smart, but getting information through the maze of deafness and blindness and mobility problems can make her seem dense. You can try pounding a subject into her brain for months, trying different techniques to help her understand, until you're both frustrated and finally give up. Then two months later, she'll spontaneously tell you all about what you were trying to teach her but swore she couldn't understand.
What should you teach her? And how?
What is the ultimate goal?
Everyone, her teachers, therapists, aids and myself, struggle with those questions. And those questions have to be addressed within the framework of an educational program in high school with State standards that must be met. It can feel like an impossible task.
But as frustrated as we all get, it's only a third of how Queen Teen must feel. People keep shoving information at her and she's supposed to learn it, whether she "gets it" or not.
She hands me another sheet about another mysterious dead president. "I just don't get the point!" she yells.
"I know, Honey. Me either. But let's figure it out together."