Communicating about Adoption in the Classroom: Teaching the Teachers
Greg, age fifteen, was a tenth grade biology student. He and his brother, not biologically related, were both adopted by the same family as infants. They had one sister, much younger, who was born into their family. Greg's biology teacher, Mr. Sparks, was teaching about heredity and eugenics. He had explained the concepts of dominant and recessive genes, and, to illustrate these concepts, he told the students to make a chart of all the members of their families. The students were instructed to chart which family members had earlobes and which did not. Mr. Sparks would then use these charts to show the students the principles of heredity. When Greg went home to complete the assignment, he discovered that he was the only person in his adoptive family who had earlobes. He charted his family's ears, as instructed. The following day, Mr. Sparks held up Greg's paper for the entire class to see how miserably he had failed at the assignment. "Look at Greg's homework! This is absolutely impossible! You obviously weren't paying attention yesterday!" Mr. Sparks was the one who had not been paying attention. While Greg's chart was not biologically possible, the teacher overlooked the fact that many families are created by social, not biological, ties. Mr. Sparks ignored the existence of blended families, adoptive families, foster families, and kinship families.
Not surprisingly, this embarrassing episode for Greg resulted in a critical incident that ignited anger and confusion about his identity as an adopted person. The assignment, by itself, caused Greg to acknowledge that he was different from everyone else in his family. The public ridicule by the teacher added insult to injury. The insensitivity of this teacher created several difficult months for Greg and his adoptive family.