In the article ‘Adam, Adam, Adam, and Adam’ McDermott & Varenne (1998) define the cultural element as a primary reason for classification of Adam as a child with a learning disorder (LD). The authors state that rather than being a person with a LD, he has been categorized (labeled) as one, and as a result – treated as such. And being introduced to norms and rules that exist within the current cultural construct Adam learns that he is different and behaves as he is expected to be. This paper argues that culture plays a huge role in the perception of people of able or disabled and presents the case of Adam as an example.
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Each society sets a number of rules and definitions, which one should fit in order to be perceived as ‘normal’. And culture plays a significant role in this process. For example, the American educational system has introduced numerous categories that describe children with different problems, such as disadvantaged, disabled, and deprived. (McDermott & Varenne, 1995, p. 331) Therefore from early childhood a person can feel different in a number of ways and later the educational system clearly defines those categories. As McDermott & Varenne (1995) state in their earlier work, only culture can produce definitions of what people should be like, as well as a definite “system of measures for identifying those who fall short for us to forget that we collectively produce our disabilities and the discomforts that conventionally accompany them.” (p. 337) Therefore culture plays an enormous role in setting the standards that people use to separate ‘different’ from ‘normal’.
A person does not realize her/his own difference until s/he sees that others are different from her/him. The only way to perceive the difference is to realize that one’s behavioral patterns, attitudes or, as it is in current case, learning abilities, are not the same as of majority. And to measure this compatibility with common rules and attitudes society introduces “a stable set of tasks against which individuals can be measured, perhaps remediated, but, if not, then pushed aside.” (McKeough et. al., 2005, p. 100). In this way cultural constructs are used to define if someone is a part of the ‘normal’ majority or this person requires some special approaches and attitudes.
Adam’s story shows that despite the fact that people might differ from the majority, they should not be labeled with any form of disease and disability. McDermott & Varenne (1998) write “Being acquired culturally by a Learning Disability does not make a child a Learning Disabled child in any neurological way” (p. 42). The authors imply that Adam was considered to be a child with LD only because others treated him in a particular way. Their attitude made the boy believe that he was disabled. As a result Adam has developed behavioral patterns that were most suitable for a person with LD.
The case of Adam shows, that teachers require new approaches that depend on the variety of children’s needs and abilities. The existing way of educating children might not work for everyone, as the case of Adam demonstrates. Thus educators should extend the borders of learning programs, make them less linear and target different abilities of children. Teachers in schools play a special role in this process and they have to give equal attention to all students, as well as have “equally high academic expectations for everyone” (McKeough et. al., 2005, p. 101). Moreover, these programs should be less focused on results and timing. And it is extremely important to teach children that there is no general result, which has to be achieved by everyone.