Pigs, Pirates, and Pills: Using Film to Teach the Social Context of Disability

By Connor, David J.; Bejoian, Lynne M. | Teaching Exceptional Children, November/December 2006 | Go to article overview

Pigs, Pirates, and Pills: Using Film to Teach the Social Context of Disability


Connor, David J., Bejoian, Lynne M., Teaching Exceptional Children


"Can I ask a dumb question?"

"What a limp response."

"Are you blind?"

"You're so lame."

"That was shortsighted."

"He's crazy."

"They're insane."

"Your blind spot is ..."

"Schizo!"

"Another case of the blind leading the

blind."

"Are you deaf?"

"That's so retarded."

From Overlooking Disability to Looking Over Disability

Progressive educators are interested in forging social equality in our society. They seek to challenge institutional and individual practices that uphold inequities based on race, gender, homophobia, age, and so on. But where does disability appear in the picture? We often hear the phrases listed at the beginning of this article-as well as many similar derogatory comments-in everyday conversations among teachers, among students, and among teachers and students. Each of the statements contains a reference that reinforces the connection between disability and negativity, inferiority, undesirability, incompletion, and abnormality. The pervasiveness of such tolerated verbal expressions indicates the larger, stereotypic perspective of our culture: Disability can never be a good thing. Within contemporary society, disability-unlike race, gender, sexual orientation, or age-is still somewhat of a free-for-all; a repository of bad associations and images; and a concept that people routinely look down on, devalue, and ridicule. With the overwhelming negative connotations of disability, how can people ever see disability as a natural part of human diversity, merely another bodily attribute, and one that we can frame in positive terms? In brief, how can we view disability as simply another way of being?

In this article, we begin to address these questions by describing a graduate course that we developed to help teachers explore disabilities from a social and cultural perspective. This course specifically investigates representations of disability in mainstream media, as well as the impact that such portrayals have on people with disabilities and on people without disabilities. In addition, this course requires that the participants develop activities, lessons, and units, as well as conduct research and locate appropriate texts, videos, and films for use in a K-12 curriculum. We believe that this course can serve as a model for educators that can help them rethink how to teach children and adolescents about disability. However, before we share our exploration, we reflect on the general relationship between disability and schools.

What Do Schools Teach About Disability?

As teacher-educators, our concerns are manifold. As a person with a disability and a person without a disability-as well as being people who are concerned with social justice for all citizens, the authors respectfully ask what schools teach about disability and further ponder where disability explicitly appears throughout the K-12 curriculum. When we recall our own teaching experiences and discussions with educators with whom we currently work, we conclude that schools sometimes-but rarelyaddress disability. For example, we know of a teacher who highlights the disability rights movement as a consequence of the civil rights movement. Another teacher briefly taught about the impact of the German eugenics movement that forcibly interned citizens who had disabilities and then systematically killed them. Both teaching examples were well-intended; but they were supplemental in nature and represented a quick but insufficient nod in the direction of including diversity on the basis of disability.

Science classes usually discuss anomalies within a medical model that views disability as an unfortunate occurrence, using such examples as individuals with Down syndrome. On another note, literature includes many characters with disabilities, from Shakespeare's Richard III to Bans Christian Anderson's "The Tin Soldier," from Steinbeck's Lennie in Of Mice and Men to Melville's Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. …

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