“You should talk to your parents about this,” said the teacher, looking more than a bit concerned that he had just revealed a family secret.
The truth is that it was my idea of a practical joke. My parents had already told my brother and me that we had been adopted as babies.
When it came time to create a family tree, I researched the ancestors of the only family I knew and ignored my biological origins. I don’t remember being troubled by the assignment at all, but I can see how others in the same situation might feel uncomfortable.
In yesterday’s “Motherlode” column in The New York Times, Lisa Belkin addresses the issue of how teachers assign family trees and other biology-related projects to students who may not know their biological roots.
It’s not just adoptees who might have a problem with genetics assignments. What about all of the kids who are part of non-traditional families? Once you include gay parents, blended families, and families formed by sperm or egg donation or surrogate parents, that’s a significant group.
Belkin’s column features David Smith, an adoptive parent and science teacher, hated to see his 4th grade daughter, who was adopted, to feel left out because of a homework assignment. Smith suggests a solution to the problem:
Teachers should teach population biology (there’s a great collaborative activity at k12science.org, for example) instead of pedigree genetics. Kids still learn that offspring resemble their biological parent, but they also learn that not all dominant traits are common.
Adoptive Families magazine also provides a 1-page handout for teachers to educate them about adoption and ways they can incorporate the it into the classroom.
The family tree project is instructive, but there are other ways to convey the same information. There is no reason an assignment should exclude a segment of the student population.