Teaching Topics that are Uncomfortable

As February begins, and I finish my monthly book club selection: Glory Over Everything, I realize that Black History Month is upon us.  It has been in the back of my mind for a while that I need to put a unit together on slavery.  But, it makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to research the facts, I don’t want to tease out what is really critical for my students with special learning needs to know, I just want to pretend this horrible even in our history did not exist.  But, I know that is the wrong sentiment.  Intellectually I know that through studying history, the good and bad, we are less likely to repeat our mistakes, but deep down I know through learning and TEACHING about these tough topics we show respect to those who lived through these horrible times.  And I know some may disagree, but I feel this is also true for our students with autism and other challenges.

There is no denying it, slavery is part of our American history.  We still struggle today with true equality across all races.  Thousands of slaves were shipped over from Africa in terrible conditions, to only be separated from their family members and sold at auction.

The colonists saw the slaves as property.  They often treated their pets better than the individuals who toiled long hot days in the fields.  It was horrible, it was wrong, and and it happened.  We want to ignore it and forget it, but we cannot.

As I wrote this unit, my son who turns 20 on Saturday, was laying on the couch in my office.  He has pretty significant autism and an intellectual disability.  His school journey is ending soon, and I know he has never been taught this topic.  So, as I read through pages and pages of historical material, I thought of him, and what I wanted him to know, and why.  Jimmy has had many important and influential people in his life with an African American background.  I imagine many of these individuals have a history of slavery in their family trees.  So, it is with profound respect and dignity I put this unit together.  To honor all those who have survived this terrible time in our history and have produced amazing individuals who have profoundly and positively affected the life of my family through their love and support of our son.

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For those of you struggling to teach this and other difficult topics, I put together a social story to help you and your students understand why we need to learn about topics that are tough and may make us uncomfortable.  You can use it for a broad range of topics, and it is a free download in my store.  Just click on the image below to download a copy.

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For those of you looking for materials for Black History Month that are appropriate and respectful for students with Autism and special learning needs, click on the images below.

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Thoughts welcome and appreciated.

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