Homeawareness monthA Better Alternative to Awareness Campaigns?

Next month is Dyslexia Awareness month. Although I’m glad things like awareness months now exist, I can’t help thinking there are better ways to incorporate awareness of marginalized groups of people.

By Cofflet (My self) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The very reason they exist is to draw attention to various issues, like racism, sexism, and in the case of things like dyslexia, ablism. Allotting a month, or day, to coverage of a specific problem does offer an opportunity to spread information, but it can also further isolate those who are a part of the group in question. Sometimes, it has the unintended effect of turning those folks into people to be pitied, or make them appear as whatever label applied to them, instead of the complex human beings they are.

Last week, I watched a documentary about how the idea of the teenage years evolved from the simple identities of “kids” versus “adults”. Instead of concentrating on only one group of people, the filmmakers talked about the varied experiences of white and black youth in the US, as well as the youth in Germany around WWII.

I don’t see why a similar technique can’t be used in general education. People of all races, ability levels and genders have existed throughout history, but our culture still puts an emphasis on a specific group of contributors – those who are white, able bodied and male.

Even if the historical figure in question had some sort of disability, it’s rarely mentioned, if at all. Why, for instance, isn’t John F. Kennedy’s dyslexia mentioned in mainstream classes? Why aren’t more science students taught about Marie Curie, the medical pioneer who set radiation treatment on its course? Why had I never heard of the African American doctor, Daniel Hale Williams, who preformed the first successful open heart surgery way back in 1893 in any of the human biology courses I’ve taken, or medical history documentaries I’ve watched?

There’s been a long standing tradition of sexism, racism and ablism in our culture. Once you know to look for it, you can see it everywhere, but clearly in the world of education. By continuing to separate these groups from mainstream courses, we’re still saying that they’re not really part of the mainstream story.

In reality, all of these stories are a part of the mainstream . It doesn’t matter what skin color, gender or ability level you have, each group has played profound roles in your life.

Of course, our schools can only cover a set amount of material when it comes to general education. History, science, literature and all of the other basic subjects are full of possibilities, and mainstream curriculum can cover only so much, but why can’t it be changed to include more contributions by these groups?

Money is an issue, as are social blow back, politics and the logistics of the school system at large. These are all things that can be worked around, especially for those in the right position to set events into motion. At this point, I’m not that person. Maybe that’ll change one day.

For now, though, I’ll take part in these awareness campaigns and continue to share my thoughts. Who knows? Maybe those ideas will spawn some sort of real world change.

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