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Common Core and Learning Ability

By Olivia Case, NCCJ ANYTOWN Delegate

I will assume many people reading this are familiar with the Common Core Initiative. It is set of rigorous learning standards given to students in over 45 states, including Connecticut. I, an 11th grader in West Hartford, obviously have a personal connection to the subject. It just so happens that I am on the autism spectrum, which makes learning and school work more complicated for me. I am writing this post because learning ability, and other issues relating to ableism, are rarely talked about. I want to start a conversation!

First, none of the people who helped to create the Common Core standards are experts in special education. As a result, there has been no way of directly communicating to individual teachers how to make the new way of learning accessible for students with various learning challenges. Consequentially, teachers are unprepared, and students do not reach their maximum potential.

Many issues have arisen regarding the standards in English. Students with autism are at a disadvantage when it comes to reading comprehension. Since autism manifests itself primarily as a social disability, students on the spectrum can have challenges picking up on character motivations and influences. Their ability to understand syntax may also be affected, so they do not get the full benefit of the text.

Attempts have been made to level the playing field. One boy with Asperger’s Syndrome read a story about someone who was being bullied at school to the point of no longer wanting to attend. When asked why he quit, the boy could not answer. The teacher helped him to interpret the character by making a comic strip of his thoughts that read, “I am a loser, everyone hates me, I’m never going back to school.” Although the teacher had successfully helped him understand the story, this technique may not work in all situations. It doesn’t solve the problem long term. What will happen when students with autism are required to read the Founding Fathers’ Documents, Tom Sawyer, and Shakespeare? How can that possibly be tweaked or modified?

These problems strikingly mirror my experiences in English class. Although I consider it one of my best subjects, I  am no exception to the implications that autism cause. I understand the emotions of characters and the themes of stories with no trouble, but I can miss out on the specific details. It causes me to develop incorrect interpretations of the text, and obviously, my grade can be affected. My 6th grade English teacher anticipated this being a problem when she was deciding whether to place me in standard or honors for 7th grade. She said that it was tempting because I wrote good poetry and insightfully approached the stories we read in class, but was concerned that I “simply wouldn’t be able to cope.”

Nether less, I did wind up taking honors. But all that went through with people doubting whether I would be able to handle it made me feel as if I didn’t deserve to be there. English has never been the same after that experience. In general, I haven’t had as many opportunities to take challenging classes in school solely based on my autism diagnosis. I had a similar experience in history. When I was choosing my courses for 10thgrade, I could have taken AP European history. I was very attracted to that class because it would have been another chance to challenge myself, and hey, Europe is cool. Although I had a good teacher that year who would have totally talked me into it if I’d breached the subject, I had internalized the message because of my learning challenges it would be a foolish idea. I’m trapped in the mindset that I have to justify taking a more challenging class and that I have to prove to others that I could handle it.

I essentially feel as I’m surrounded by a blockade. All others can see is my issues with organization, or how I get anxious and upset about the smallest things. I’m more often than not lumped in with the students who are disruptive, or do not care about learning. This has made my school experience less stimulating than it would otherwise be. If only the system was altered to be more flexible for everyone. If only people could see past the blockade. They would see a girl who perfectly intelligent, and puts the best effort into her school work (most of the time). They would see a girl who is highly ambitious and capable, and should not be denied opportunities based on a label.

Information in this article comes from this article in the Atlantic Magazine.

**Author’s Note: This post is part of a project for my U.S. government class. The assignment involves choosing an issue to research and spreading awareness about it in unique ways.

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Tue, 7 December 2021