For our class, I have decided to choose the service learning option and to help out at Tunbridge Charter School. I am doing this because of my experience in community service from having completed over 100 hours over the course of my four years of high school. I went to Salesianum, a Catholic all boys high school run by the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales in Wilmington, Delaware. One of the requirements for advancing through each grade was for each student to have completed at least 25 hours of service to the community or a worthy cause by the end of the school year. Each year, five of those hours would be completed on a homeroom retreat to Camden, New Jersey, one of the most notoriously poverty stricken and crime ridden cities in The United States. While there, we would do things such as giving bagged lunches and warm clothing to the homeless. While serving these people individually, I noticed a disturbing trend in many of their backgrounds. Many of them seemed to suffer from drug or alcohol addiction and abuse, illiteracy, or intellectual disabilities. The latter-in addition to the inspiration given to me by my autistic younger brother- drove me to help at a local health clinic called the Autism Treatment Center of Newtown Square, just outside of Philadelphia.
While serving there, I came to realize the importance of knowing how to read or write. My brother, Bradley, was able to learn to read and write at an exceptionally high level despite his autism, to the point that the disability only impairs him socially now at the age of fifteen. However, many other young children with autism don't have the same privelege or quality of therapy or knowledgeable parents that Bradley did, and a good deal have trouble learning to read, write, or even speak. Quite simply, as limiting as illiteracy can be to anyone, it can be even more limiting to individuals with intellectual disabilities.
I found one of our assigned readings to be a particularly interesting take on both literacy and marginalized peoples. Frances E. W. Harper's "Learning to Read" was a great poem describing the courageous efforts taken by enslaved Africans in 19th century America in learning to read and write, as well as the sneaky and risky help given to them by white abolitionists who sought to educate slaves to further prove that they are people just like their masters. Harper's poem paints a picture of great hopefulness amongst a group of people that for centuries had been hopelessly enslaved. It was easy for me to make a sort of connection between the plight of these slave students and the intellectually disabled people of today. While children with disabilities are not nearly as disrespected or maltreated as African-Americans have been throughout history, there is still a similar concept as to why their literacy is so vital to their success and survival. Many people in today's society still do view people who have intellectual disabilities as second class, accidents, mistakes, or unfortunate tragedies to be pitied. When we teach a child with Autism, or Down Syndrome, or a relaxed brain, or any other physical or intellectual impairment to read and write, we are teaching both them and society that they are people who have dignity, and deserve to be treated with respect. This was the same idea that slaves and abolitionists strove for when learning and teaching literacy.