Blind People Can't Do Those Things

Last month, my husband and I listened to an episode of This American Life. The episode was entitled, “Batman” and focused on the blind, and one man’s story in particular.   As we were listening, my husband turned to me and said, “You should write about this!  This is what you do!” 

                One of the mantras in the article was “Blind people can’t do those things.” Blind people can’t walk without a cane. Blind people can’t climb trees. Blind people can’t go to a regular public school.  Blind people can’t do various jobs. Blind people can’t pursue certain careers.

                Part of the story focused on a man who became blind.  Upon trying to return to work he was told he could no longer do the task assigned.  He argued that he could, they allowed him to try, and he succeeded!  Another part focused on how blind people should have a guide (at school for example).  One young man did not have a guide and participated with the other children both in classroom activities and on the playground.

                We often treat our students in this same manner. We tell one another that our students can’t learn about polarity without a lecture involving its definitions. We tell our students they can’t learn about measuring without first learning about significant figures. We tell our colleagues they can’t teach naming before they teach bonding.

                We are often telling one another what we can’t do instead of exploring what is possible. In the episode, the young man did not use a cane to walk around, he clicked with his tongue. He climbed trees and went on bike rides. He attended school with seeing children and grew up to be an advocate for doing things differently. This is what we do in inquiry learning. We allow for the possibility of a new order of doing things.

                This young man grew up and now teaches blind children to click as he does. He teaches them in safe areas and slowly leads him to riskier places like a park on a busy street. The difficulty in his teaching comes when the seeing parent gets nervous about how close their child is to the road. In one example the parent reaches over to take their blind child’s hand just before he goes into the street. The teacher is upset the parent did not allow the child to learn exactly when to pull his foot back on his own. Though we could discuss the safety of this method, instead, let’s discuss it in the context of inquiry learning.

                When our students are doing science in our classrooms the way science is done in laboratories, they may become frustrated. There may be a point where we just want to tell them the answer. Rather than stepping in with answers, we choose to ask good questions allowing students to discover the chemistry for themselves. This tipping point is difficult to discern at first and comes with experience as we teach and getting to know our students. We want them to reach the point where they ask questions and want to know what is going on, just as the young man wanted to explore the park. And, just as he was willing to go near the street, we want our students to continue to push through until they find they answer. If we rush to their rescue to give them what they want, we are not preparing them for their future when answers will not be provided.

We need to lead our students through the exciting world of chemistry and allow them to begin to ask questions. Perhaps students will make measurements and then wonder what numbers to report. This is our opportunity to speak to them about significant figures. Perhaps students will learn how to name compounds and wonder why some compounds are named one way and some another and this opens the door for us to discuss bonding. There are a host of possibilities! 

Instead of making so many assumptions about what our students can’t do, let’s open our minds to explore various activities. It is in this exploration that students are learning about what it means to be a scientist, to be a chemist. As we plan activities for our students, let’s choose tasks that will allow our students to begin asking questions. 

Blind people can do those things! Our students can learn through inquiry! Just as the article says, “here’s a problem, solve it.” Inquiry says, “Here’s a problem, solve it.”

P.S.  If you like the graphic, you can purchase a poster:  http://www.flinnsci.com/store/Scripts/prodView.asp?idproduct=16224