In Part 1 of MythBusters: Jewish Special Education Edition, I discussed some commonly held stereotypes about learning differences and special education in Jewish education. In this edition I will explore some commonly held social-emotional and economic myths.
Myth #4: One student’s negative behavior can ruin a whole class.
This is a big one in Jewish education classrooms. And the honest answer is: negative behavior can “ruin” a class dynamic only if you (the teacher) let it. Teachers have a responsibility to manage student behavior in a way that provides all students with a warm, supportive and meaningful environment. If a child’s behavior is challenging, find another way to meet their needs. This is not meant as an oversimplification, but rather as a call to teachers to employ a wide variety of management techniques to enable students to find success. Suggestions for how to do this can be found here. And if those techniques aren’t working, find others. Do not give up on your students.
Myth #5: Tailoring a bar/bat mitzvah for a child with disabilities isn’t fair to all the other students
Individualizing expectations does not take anything away from capable students. Rather, it demonstrates flexibility and a willingness to embrace a wide variety of needs within a synagogue community. Children may question why another student “did less” than he/she did, but it is up to us, as teachers, parents and clergy, to explain to our children how to welcome differences and to be proud of what he/she accomplishes without comparison to what everyone else is doing.
Myth #6: Inclusion costs a lot more money
Not so! While making a facility fully accessible is certainly an investment, there are many inexpensive ways to be sure that a community is inclusive. Invest in professional development for teachers, lay leaders, clergy and other synagogue staff. A full-day of learning that brings all of these stakeholders together is a huge opportunity for both learning and leading by example. Training everyone to welcome, accept and embrace diversity will transform your community. I offer additional low-cost solutions, in Affording Inclusion.
Myths are perpetuated by a lack of understanding. When Adam and Jamie conduct an experiment on MythBusters, they help us to see, experience and understand what is flawed within our current way of thinking. Their method of presentation is fun and engaging, and we never feel “put down” or insulted for our lack of knowledge. Rather, we dive in, learn eagerly and believe what they show us because they make the learning real.
So it is with inclusion. When we join in conversation with real-life examples and hands-on experiences, attitudes can change, myths can be eliminated and everyone wins.
Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey where she oversees an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. Lisa is also a blogger on the issue of disabilities and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter to learn more.
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