Be Human

Today, Woody lost his head. Literally.

Woody has been doing his Nearly Headless Nick impersonation for the last day or so, but today, he lost it altogether.

I had been trying to substitute another Woody for the past day; we have many of them in our house. But none of them were the right one. And Woody lost his head before we made it to the store.

And when he did, my boy’s heart snapped in two.

Every time he tried to put Woody’s head back on without success, the boy’s heart broke again.

But he kept trying.

And he handed Woody to me about halfway through the car wash, and through his tears he cried, “I need help, please.”

So I tried. But Woody was as broken as the boy and his daddy, sitting there in the car wash crying together.

When we got home, I took Woody inside for a moment while the boy cried in the car, and Crazy-Glued his head back on.

But the pain was still there. And so for the next hour and a half, we mourned Woody together. One of us, at the top of his lungs, hands to his head, crying out the pain of losing his friend.

Eventually, the tears dried, and the new Woody had arrived home, and the old Woody’s head seemed to be holding.

But the loss of a friend still breaks our hearts.

I mention this not so you’ll mourn with us, but feel free to do so if you want. That’s what the boy wanted today, after all.

I’m mentioning this rather so that I can help you to see that kids on the spectrum are not cold.

They are not dispassionate.

They are not heartless, and they are absolutely not loners.

Yes, there are times when human company is overwhelming for the boy. Hell, there are times when human company is overwhelming for his dad.

But when your friend loses his head, no matter who you are or where you are on the spectrum, you still want someone there who will try and help.

And if help isn’t possible, you still want someone there who will cry with you.

My son wanted me to share his loss.

Cause that’s what it means to be human.

When there’s a story circulating out there that kids on the spectrum are loners and thus dangerous, I hope you’ll remember this. What my boy wanted was someone to cry with him.

Now that Woody is better and new Woody has found a home where he’ll be loved, all my boy wants is someone who will play with him.

Cause that’s what it means to be human, too.

Sharing Our Stories

One of the pedagogical approaches I’ve been using in my comp classes is projecting student writing up on the wall during peer review so that we can all learn from each others’ mistakes and successes.

This is, at times, extremely risky, and I try to keep in mind when I project an essay that there is a vast difference in the ability of my students.

But that vast difference can be a huge benefit as well.

Last week, I posted an essay from a student who had written a comparison essay comparing cats and dogs.

I go out of my way to discourage these types of topics for comparisons, after all, what are you going to write that would seem interesting to someone else about cats and dogs?

But this student wrote such a comparison anyway.

One point of comparison was that both cats and dogs are “clean, human, amphibians.” (Yes, you read that correctly.)

This is where it gets risky.

First, there was significant laughter from the class. That was, until I pointed out to them that their essays would also be posted up on the wall soon. They tended to grow significantly quieter then, but in many ways the damage was already done. I saw it in her eyes.

And so, I walked her though her thought process, right there in the open. And when the class saw that I was taking her seriously, they did as well.

Every moment instructs, and every object; for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after long time. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Looking at her comparison, I asked her, and the rest of the class, to think of their stories with their pets. As we talked, the class began to see that their thoughts and understanding of their pets weren’t all that different from the writer’s.

There were stories of playing with toys, of giving baths, of taking long walks, of running in the rain, and as always, of picking up poo off of someone’s pillow who had had the temerity to “Bad Dog” the pup after she was caught eating the couch. Their stories, in their similarity, brought the class together in laughter and shared commiseration.

And what we realized is that yes, our pets are human to us as well.

While there wasn’t much that I could do with the amphibian claim, it did offer an opportunity, in an English class, to stop and examine what an amphibian actually is.

And to the surprise of several students who laughed, they learned what an amphibian was as well.

What could have been a terrible moment turned into a moment for everyone to learn from one another. (There was, of course, one student who chose not to participate in the discussion. Some people choose to exclude themselves when community forms. Always have; always will. And that’s instructive, too.)

But for the majority of the class, by sharing our stories, we found that we had far more in common than separating us.

That’s the power of our stories. That’s the power of authentic education. This is why our country needs our classrooms, and while I’m anything but an expert teacher, this is why we need experienced teachers in our classrooms.

And this is why I really want to go swimming with that amphibian dog.