The R-Word

By Allison Nadler, SED 2017

I appreciate language. I love the fact that different cultures have their own language system, various parts of the world have different accents, and other languages rely on gestures or hand motions instead of spoken expression. Ultimately, language is comprised of words that have meaning, implications, and evoke reactions. They have positive or negative connotations, and a single word can have multiple definitions. My favorite word is serendipity; it means a happy accident. There is one word that makes me cringe every time I hear it: the r-word, retarded. As someone who has been involved in the special needs community for about nine years now, I am an avid proponent for the removal of this word from our everyday vocabulary. I emphasize everyday vocabulary because I think that if we completely erase the r-word from our language, we will have nothing with which to teach others. Just like the “r-word” campaign’s motto says, we must “spread the word to end the word.”

Casually, the r-word is used to describe someone who did something wrong or dumb, or a circumstance that transpired poorly. Before the r-word was added to informal language, it was a medical term used to refer to an individual with a cognitive impairment. Today, we recognize that this terminology implies negativity. It refers to an individual with deficits, learning difficulties, and a “slower” demeanor. As society continues to advance, we are changing the way in which we acknowledge an individual with disabilities. For example, instead of describing a child as someone with low-functioning autism, which implies that they are incapable of performing many skills and tasks, we refer to them as an individual with a high need for support; this way we are implying that this individual is someone who can complete tasks, he just needs help to do so. Simply changing the words we use can completely alter the overtone of a sentence or conversation. Using the r-word automatically establishes an association to a person with an impairment, regardless of the context in which the word is used.

Every time someone uses the r-word it reminds others that there are individuals in our communities who can’t. Teachers are reminded that their student can’t, children are reminded that their friend can’t, parents are reminded that their child can’t, siblings are reminded that their brother or sister can’t. Most importantly, it reminds the individual that he can’t, and perhaps, shouldn’t even try. One of the main reasons the r-word bothers me is because every time I hear it, all of the amazing individuals with whom I work are devalued, discredited, and hurt.

When I hear the r-word, I make it a point to ask the speaker to rephrase what they said. Most of the time, the r-word can be substituted with “annoying” or “senseless,” words that are not directly associated with an individual with a cognitive impairment. Occasionally, my interruption will result in a short conversation about the r-word and why the speaker should restate the sentence. I choose to act as an advocate for the disability community. As an advocate, I help raise awareness and promote acceptance. I always encourage others to follow my lead and “spread the word to end the word.”

Allison Nadler is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in Special Education

The Value of an Arts-Based Education

By Colleen Mahany, SED 2015

Prior to the start of my student teaching at Boston Arts Academy, a pilot high school within the Boston Public School District for the visual and performing arts, I associated academics and learning with classrooms, desks, pencils, essays, exams, and projects. While all of these things are still part of my construct of academics and learning, I believe I have enhanced and widened my understanding of what education means.

As a special educator within Boston Arts Academy, I worked closely with a small number of seniors who have various educational needs. They are tremendous human beings and spending each morning with them has been an absolute privilege. However, before I lose my way describing the wonderful nature of each of these young men, I shall return to my original point, an arts-based education.

Each student at Boston Arts Academy is admitted through an academically-blind audition process. Students study within one of four disciplines: music, theater, dance, or visual arts. I instantly saw the uniqueness of Boston Arts Academy upon entering the school and meeting my students. However, it wasn’t until I began to understand each young man on an individual basis that I truly saw the beauty and great importance of arts in education. For example, one of my students is involved in the theater program. He is bright, personable, and has dyslexia and attention difficulties. Even with the support of assistive technology, he struggles to complete reading and writing tasks independently. Nonetheless, he frequently demonstrates his critical thinking skills and intuitive understanding of complex texts with moments of clarity and passion.

While I welcomed and was impressed by his contributions, it was not until I saw him perform in his senior theater showcase that I began to understand that these moments were only the topmost branch of a plant with deep, deep roots. This student took on an incredibly difficult role. He played a criminal with a mental illness, a lisp, and a fairly traumatic burn covering the majority of his face. Not exactly a “walk in the park” role. From the moment he first crawled and shimmied his way across the stage on all fours, I witnessed deep commitment, focus, passion, transformation, versatility, and confidence. Sitting in the audience, I realized that his understanding of this theatrical piece went beyond anything I could comprehend as a non-actor.

I do not think it is a difficult leap to assume that his strengths in critical thinking and comprehension are deeply rooted in his theatrical training. Bringing plays and characters to life has not only enhanced his education, but also allowed him to show a level of understanding and commitment to the written and spoken word that would have otherwise gone unearthed.

For this student in particular, a student that faces academic challenges daily, the opportunity to showcase and enhance his cognitive skills through art is nothing short of invaluable.

Colleen Mahany is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in History Education. 

Studying Abroad – Learning From Experience

By Maria Poccia, SED 2016

For three and a half months, I lived, studied, and worked in London, England. During my time in the United Kingdom, I traveled to ten countries taking fourteen planes, four ferries, two trains and busses, and countless Tube rides. I made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I ate macaroons in Paris, pasta in Rome, chocolate and fries in Belgium, Schnitzel in Vienna, and haggis in Edinburgh. I took thousands of pictures and broke two pairs of shoes while observing some of the worlds most breathtaking landmarks and natural wonders.

So, when people ask me “What was the most amazing part of your study aboard?” I have a hard time formulating an answer. Though I may not be able to choose what the best part of studying abroad was for me, I know what the most important aspect of my travels was- that I learned more about the world than ever before by observing it through first hand experiences.

As an education student, I believe that one way to create a strong, valuable learning experience is by observing something first hand. Whether it is looking at bacteria under a microscope in a lab, analyzing a painting at a museum, or working on communications and team work skills on a group project, learning by doing, according to Hayne W. Reese’s article Learning-by-Doing Principal, allows students to gain understanding and knowledge of something “from experiences resulting directly from one’s own actions”. This allows students to take ownership of their learning and develop a personal connection to material and content.

Wanting to be a social studies teacher, I believe that learning by doing has extreme value for students to learn about a period in history, region of the world, political and economic systems, or culture. If students are provided the opportunity to go on field trips, examine primary sources, and be immersed in an environment they are studying, they can truly analyze the world around them. In my future classroom, I want to expose students to the idea of exploration. In every unit, I hope to create an environment where my students actually feel like they are a part of world they are studying, and for them to become world travelers by being active scholars in the classroom.

Maria Poccia is a rising senior in the School of Education, majoring in History Education

Educators Rising

By Emma Preston, SED 2016

In the School of Education course “The Civic Context of Education,” last year, one of my classmates brought up an important, yet disturbing point: we, as teachers, don’t often encourage our children to become teachers. When we give children examples of what they can do with what they are learning, becoming a teacher rarely makes the cut. For example, when we offer a list of professions that require knowledge of math, we might offer professions ranging from engineer to accountant, but not math teacher.

As a class full of future educators we were miffed by this realization. Teachers are important, influential individuals, so why then is this profession not encouraged? A few brave SED juniors, Griffin Monahan ‘16 and Will English ’16, decided to bring this issue, along with many others, to light by establishing a new club at BU. Aimed at discussing current issues in the educational system that often go unaddressed, Educators Rising is a welcome addition to the clubs recognized by BU in the spring of 2015.

I had the opportunity to ask Griffin a few questions about Educators Rising  and it’s goals, and I would like to share his answers with the SED community.

W What are the main goals of the club?

Educators Rising’s  goal is to serve as a group that can meet and discuss issues in education that often go unaddressed. Our main 3 issues being gender and diversity in the career of education, alternative careers in education, and professional benefits of educators. We will be working with students in the greater Boston area to build their interest in careers in education.”

What are the implications of such a club, in not only SED, or the BU community, but in the world?

“We hope for SED we provide a venue for students to gather and tackle difficult issues. For Boston we hope to inspire future educators. For the world we hope that our little impact can grow and strengthen the field of education by improving diversity in the field.”

How did you come up with the idea for Educators Rising

“Will and I came up with the idea because we felt that we were underrepresented in SED as males and felt that we needed, as a school, to be taking action in addressing the fact that the vast majority of students were women from suburban homes. We took it a step further when we realized the issue isn’t only gender but also diversity. We then pushed it idea even further when we thought of how SED only encourages one career in education that of a school teacher when there are many more.”

What are some specific issues that you will focus on in the coming year?

“We want to take issues that the club members feel should be addressed. So I do not have a concrete list yet, but I would not be surprised if topics like standardized testing, teacher evaluation, teacher salaries, alternative school models were covered.”

Is there any other important information about the club itself that you think people should know?

“We want everyone to know that we want to make a tangible impact on our community and to do so we encourage all to participate whether it be come to the occasional meeting or be fully committed to working with area high school students. We want to make this club not simply ‘my group’ or ‘her/his group’ but rather ‘our group’.”

Personally, I am incredibly excited for the arrival of Educators Rising . I have realized that it is my responsibility as a future teacher to stress the importance of teachers and administrators, and I can’t wait to be a part of the change. It all starts with us, and thanks to Will and Griffin, the School of Education is providing me with a venue to do just that. I hope my peers in SED consider being a part of the change as well.

Emma Preston is a rising senior in the School of Education with a degree in Deaf Studies 

Is Teaching the Holistic Picture of a Historical Figure the Right Thing to Do?

By Alex Bruno, SED 2015

As the voices of John Legend and Common rang out from the speakers inside a movie theater in Randolph, Massachusetts and the credits began to roll, I reflected on Ava Duvernay’s unique portrayal of such a pivotal point in the Civil Rights movement. I’ve always had a passion for movies and was thrilled when the Braintree history teachers and I would be taking members of the junior class to go see Selma. David Oyelowo, who championed the role of Dr. King, seemed to truly embody the spirit of the late reverend, gracing the pulpit in many scenes, even inspiring myself and movie goers alike with his fervor and wit. But one particular scene in the film caught me off guard. After J. Edgar Hoover approaches President Johnson with the intent of breaking the King family stability, audio recordings of Dr. King’s infidelities end up on the home answering machine, bringing Coretta to tears and the audience to some dismay.

Was this is a necessary component of the film? Should Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have his legacy tarnished in a film that will be seen by millions? In my opinion, although it is unpleasant facet of King’s life, it is one that cannot be glanced over. It would almost seem wrong to glance over this blemish but have millions of Americans remember a president solely for his affair with a former White House intern. And there is no standard operating procedure to when it is right to teach the holistic picture of a historical figure and when it is not. James Loewen does a fantastic job of confronting this struggle head on in his book Lies My Teacher Told Me. Loewen’s examinations of Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller embody the honest and critical approach I hope to take when examining history with my students. He urges readers, historians, teachers and students alike to not boil down historical figures to a singular notion. We can never fully understand who Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson were without acknowledging Keller’s career as a radical socialist, advocating change for the blind, and Wilson’s domestic racial bias and interventions to Mexico and Haiti. Without these components, largely absent from American history textbooks, high school students will never see the holistic picture of these key figures.

This post will end as it started and that is at the movies. With the Oscars just past, millions of individuals have become acquainted with the story of Chris Kyle. Through Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, the audience begins to know a man who is credited as the most lethal sniper in American history after his four tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2009. Kyle is shown throughout the film to be struggling between an immense duty to country and the dedication to his wife and family. Although this film will certainly serve as another shining star in Eastwood’s repertoire of cinema, I unfortunately believe that he did not tell the entire story of Chris Kyle, largely fabricating a plot line dealing with a Syrian Olympic sniper in which Bradley Cooper falsely kills in the climax of the film. I am aware that every single director has inherent bias and vision for his or her films but I wish he or she would be conscious of how much influence they have over the American public and students in general. Film is an incredible accessible source of media for high school students, in and out of the classroom, and directors must be aware that this may be the single exposure students get to the material.

Alex Bruno is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Social Studies Education

A Year of Transition

By Sara Toledo, SED 2018

Just having completed my first year of college, I have been reflecting heavily on everything that has happened this year. I have moved by myself to a new and incredible city and have become more independent than I ever thought possible. I have met so many incredible people and done some incredible things. I became a Dean’s Host for the School of Education this year for which I assist with open houses and talk to prospective students. I also got a job at admissions as a Scarlet Speaker where I also talk to prospective and admitted students about the many opportunities that Boston University has offered me. Being able to share personal anecdotes hopefully helps students see that I’m a real live college student who is as normal and human as they are. Finally, I was elected to the e-board for our School of Education Student Government. I am so excited to be the student government representative for the School of Education and I am really looking forward to working with my co-representative who will be a new incoming freshman next year.

Although I did get pretty involved this year, I hope to get even more involved next year. I am looking into volunteering at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. I think it’s really important to add some community service to my list of activities. Boston has done so much for me and I feel like it is my turn to give back. I also am overloading which I’m a little nervous about but hopefully will be able to manage. If I find I have time after that, I would love to acquire another job within admissions. I love the atmosphere in the admissions building as everyone is very excited and passionate about Boston University.

In terms of social aspects, I have made so many new friends who are doing some amazing things around campus. I always find it comical that as young adults we are expected to discuss matters of pop culture such as music or television, however it is quite the opposite. I often find myself discussing other matters with my peers such as what we are currently learning in the classroom. The other night, I got in a heated discussion with friends about certain educational policies and standards. This provided for a very interesting conversation as these particular friends are not associated with the School of Education in any way. I really enjoyed hearing and learning about new perspectives. One of my other friends also was telling me about an interesting talk he attended that linked music and memory building in the brain. It’s incredible what interesting topics and conversations can be sparked amongst such young individuals.

Overall, I am very pleased with my first year here at Boston University and in the School of Education. I have built and become a part of such a strong, tightknit community. I am so excited to come back next semester and continue my next three years here. I look forward to seeing what sophomore has to offer for me.

Sara Toledo is a freshman in the School of Education, majoring in Elementary Education