Reflections

Rain Man: A Journey to Acceptance and Understanding

Rain Man (1988) is a story about a young man, named Charlie Babbitt, who discovers he has an older brother with autism. They travel on the road together for six days from Cincinnati to Los Angeles, during which time Charlie gains an understanding of his brother Raymond. In this journey, Rain Man portrays an autistic savant realistically and invites its viewers to see the world through the eyes of someone with autism. It explores the significance of labeling people with exceptionalities, the effects of biases and attitudes on one’s understanding, and the value of changing our ways instead of the ways of those with exceptionalities.

Rain Man approaches the issue of autism in society through Charlie’s journey from a lack of knowledge to understanding and acceptance. His discovery of an older brother is less than ideal as he grapples with his father’s death, who left him an old car and some rosebushes while “[someone who] doesn’t understand the concept of money” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:22:00) receives $3,000,000 in a trust fund. So, Charlie “kidnaps” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:27:01) Raymond in an attempt to get his half of his father’s estate that he is “entitled to” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:41:26). Throughout the movie, a couple of doctors in the movie explained Raymond’s situation. In particular, Dr. Bruner of Wallbrook, an institution for the developmentally disabled, says:

“He’s an autistic savant. . . . Some people like him used to be called idiot savants. They have certain deficiencies, certain abilities. . . . [He is] actually high functioning. . . . There’s a disability that impairs the sensory input and how it’s processed. . . . Raymond has a problem communicating and learning. He can’t even express himself or probably even understand his emotions in a traditional way. There are dangers everywhere for Raymond. Routines, rituals, that’s all he has to protect himself. . . . Any break from that [sic] routines and it’s terrifying.” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:20:33).

However, Charlie does not fully understand what this description entails until he spends several days with Raymond out of his comfort zone. This explanation from the beginning of the movie sets up Rain Man’s disability-related themes such as the portrayal of autism and the discrimination against people with this biological disorder.

Charlie continuously loses patience with Raymond’s peculiarities. He calls Raymond “stupid” and “retarded” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:20:26). Charlie’s use of language “reflect[s] and reinforce[s] [his] attitudes and perceptions” (Snow, 2002-06, p. 1) towards his brother. To Charlie, “[Raymond] was only [his] brother in name” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 02:01:22) and that he is essentially a means to an end. He takes for granted Dr. Bruner’s explanation of Raymond’s condition. Instead, Charlie focuses on the negative and takes Raymond’s only way “to protect himself” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 00:21:14) as an inconvenience. Thus, his attitude towards his new-found brother is one of apathy and indifference.

Although Charlie’s language and attitude towards Raymond “defines [his] perspective . . . [and] reveals [his] values” (Bruyns, 2016a), Rain Man also shows that this comes from his lack of knowledge on the subject matter due largely to living a life separate from Raymond. As the Babbitt brothers continue their journey across the country, so does Charlie move closer to an understanding of his brother. He argues during the psychological interview that he has “made a connection” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 02:01:47) with Raymond, which is mirrored in Raymond’s mention of Charlie as “[his] main man” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 02:06:19). In spite of this noticeable change in Raymond’s strict routine (with Vern being his original main man), there is no significant change in his attitudes and behaviour in the six days he has been away from Wallbrook. In contrast, viewers see the biggest change in Charlie: he learns to accept Raymond as his “family” (Johnson & Levinson, 1988, 02:00:07) regardless of his autism.

Charlie changes his ways and accommodates Raymond’s peculiarities as they travel and take several stops at various inns and hotels. For instance, he drives the Buick from Cincinnati to Los Angeles when Raymond becomes anxious about boarding any plane; he drives slowly on the shoulder of a highway behind his brother when Raymond refuses to get back in the car; and he rearranges the furniture in hotel rooms to replicate Raymond’s bedroom at Wallbrook (Johnson & Levinson, 1988). Throughout the journey, Charlie eventually views Raymond “as [a] full and equal [member] in society” (Bruyns, 2016b) and cultivates a sense of belonging for Raymond at every place they go. Charlie includes Raymond into the ‘outside world’.

This is such a stark contrast to what Raymond has presumably gone through in the years he lived at Wallbrook. Charlie comes to an understanding that his brother was sent there for both of their protection and for Raymond to “access activities/education” (Bruyns, 2016b) at his developmental level. Albeit helpful and responsive to Raymond’s needs, Wallbrook essentially separated Raymond from the ‘outside world’ since he was “placed only with other individuals with disabilities” (Bruyns, 2016b). This segregation has further affected Raymond’s already-different view of ‘reality’. As he journeys with his brother, Raymond faces obstacles to his routines, among others, of watching specific TV shows at particular times, and of eating specific food with particular ‘utensils’, i.e. toothpicks (Johnson & Levinson, 1988). Consequently, he cannot fully participate in society beyond Wallbrook’s boundaries.

Despite the wrong reasons that Charlie’s ‘kidnapping’ of Raymond begins with, the Babbitt brothers’ journey gives Raymond an opportunity to experience inclusion and to feel a sense of belonging. Simultaneously, Charlie goes through a journey of understanding and acceptance of his brother, his brother’s autism, and his overall family situation. Through Charlie, Rain Man portrays a society that does not know or understand disabilities and exceptionalities. I realize that separating these individuals from the majority of the population makes it difficult for both parties to understand each other. Because in an attempt to understand the unknown, society labels individuals with exceptionalities and shuns them without fully comprehending how similar they actually are with everyone else. Additionally, when such segregation is broken and someone from one group becomes immersed in the world of the other, there is a type of culture shock that brings fear and uncertainty. In turn, this leads to discrimination, resistance, and antagonism. Rain Man shows this scenario in a microcosmic scale, focusing on Charlie who feels shocked at the discovery of an older brother he has never known.

Therefore, as an educator, my first step in supporting inclusion is to educate myself about the philosophy of inclusion and everything that it entails, including critical thinking and self-reflection. This gives me a better understanding of my own attitudes and beliefs and what I would need to do to change them, if necessary. In particular, self-reflection allows me to be more aware of my behaviour and the language I use. Accordingly, I think that it is important to have all children, families, and staff to be educated about inclusion and what it means to understand and accept individual differences. Inclusion education also provides us with tools in designing an environment that is inclusive and supportive of all.

Thus, my next step is to create a universally designed learning environment by applying the seven principles of universal design to support inclusion. An “equitable [and flexible] curriculum . . . designed to engage all students” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3) allows all types of learners to explore and investigate their curiosities at their own pace or with the help of their peers. This requires authentic observation, critical reflection, and careful planning on my part as I take into account the interests and the developmental levels of the children. Additionally, open communication with the centre staff gives us an opportunity to share ideas in creating such a curriculum that can be presented in multiple ways “that will most effectively reach [the children]” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3) and allows us to design the early learning environment that welcomes a “[variety of] physical and cognitive access by students” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3). This accessibility is extended to the organization of learning materials in the classroom so that there is an “appropriate level of student effort . . . that promotes comfort, addresses motivation, and encourages student engagement” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3). Furthermore, I intend to involve the children and their families in the planning processes to ensure that their voices are heard. In doing so, we can work together in creating a “success-oriented curriculum” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006, p. 3) that is delivered in “simple and intuitive instruction” (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pushgahi, 2006, p. 3). In creating a universally designed learning environment, I hope to go, with the children and the adults I work with, on a journey of understanding and acceptance of others we perceive to be different from us. I also hope that together we learn to make a connection with individuals with exceptionalities, just as Charlie made a connection with Raymond.

References

Conn-Powers, M., Cross, A. F., Traub, E. K, and Hutter-Pishgahi, L. (2006). The universal design of early education: moving forward for all children. Beyond the Journal: Young Children. Retrieved from www.journal.naeyc.org/about/permissions.asp

Bruyns, A. (2016a). People first language [Lecture]. Brampton, ON: Sheridan College.

Bruyns, A. (2016b). What is inclusion [Lecture]. Brampton, ON: Sheridan College.

Johnson, M. (Producer), & Levinson, B. (Director). (2008). Rain Man [Motion picture]. USA: United Artists.

Snow, K. (2002-06). The case against “special needs”. Retrieved from https://www.disabilityisnatural.com/special-needs.html

Reflective Task 1: The Insightful Teacher

What are my goals?

As a student, my goal is to successfully complete the Early Childhood Education diploma program in 2017. Then, I plan to get into the Bachelor of Early Childhood Leadership program by 2018 while working as a Registered Early Childhood Educator (RECE). I also intend to continue my studies into a post-graduate Child Life Specialist program in the next five years.

Whether I work as an RECE or as a Child Life Specialist, I aspire to make a difference in children’s lives and ensure that they feel valued, loved, and protected. I aim to inspire them and help them develop a passion for continuous learning so that they may grow to be successful in their own ways.

What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses?

Growing up, I have always felt left out and that I do not belong anywhere. As a result, I learned to be inclusive in any way I can with almost anyone with whom I work. My sensitivity to my own and to others’ feelings also helps me be more attuned to how I interact with others in a group. I do my best to ensure that nobody feels the way I do in most situations—alone and afraid. I think that this is my strength as an educator who will work with children who vary in skills, developmental level, understanding, behaviour, personalities, and appearances.

However, I find that one of my weaknesses is dealing with people with exceptionalities. I feel that no matter how much I want inclusion in my classroom, I cannot truly implement it because I feel afraid that what I do or say may only impact those around me in a negative way. I feel that no matter how much I try to understand someone’s exceptionalities, I still will not know how to behave in the right manner. Am I excluding them somehow? Am I helping too much? Too little? Is it wrong to ask questions? Is it more wrong to simply assume things?

What behaviours are acceptable to me and which ones are not?

Any behaviour that hurts somebody is unacceptable to me. It breaks my heart to see anyone feeling hurt physically or emotionally. I always feel that I have to do something to help them so that they may feel better, even if it is just a little bit. At the same time, I do not label the person whose behaviour hurt another as “bad”. I try to figure out why they acted in such a way and I do my best to understand them so that we can both find solutions to the root cause of the problem. This is because I feel that they may be hurting in some way, too, and I do not want them to continue feeling that way. I believe that when someone hurts another, it means that there is something going on in their lives that they do not know how to deal with in appropriate manners.

How do I engage the children in the learning process?

I intend to design learning experiences in such a way that interests the children so they may be more involved in the activities. I also welcome the challenge to make dull and/or difficult topics enjoyable and amusing for children to be more engaged in any learning opportunity that is available. I plan to apply ideas and concepts to the children’s lives so that they may appreciate the learning process and its significance in their worlds. Furthermore, I intend to let go of unrealistic expectations by being flexible and by following the children’s leads. I believe that this sets up a positive learning environment where the children are free to explore and to investigate their own curiosities and be more willing to participate in the learning process.

What are my values as a teacher?

As a teacher, I value trust, respect, open communication, open-mindedness, and empathy. I like having a beginner’s mind and giving everyone the benefit-of-the-doubt. I always try to see the good in people and believe that despite any flaws, they are capable, interesting, and have good hearts. I apply these in the classroom as I interact with children, trusting that they have the ability to be great and to do great things even at a very young age. I also believe that being empathetic and having an open communication with children and families foster strong relationships, as well as support their growth and development.

What should an early childhood classroom look like?

An early childhood classroom should be a positive space where children explore, investigate, and experience various learning opportunities without restrictions. It has a good amount of developmentally-appropriate materials that are organized in such a way that supports the children’s development. It is not spotless, but it is a clean and safe environment that is warm and welcoming. I envision it as an extension of the children’s homes where they feel they belong, are loved, and are emotionally safe.

Source of Questions:

Bruski, Nancy (2013). The insightful teacher: Reflective strategies to shape your early childhood classroom. Lewisville, NC: Gryphon House.

Reflections on Inner Qualities of Early Childhood Educators

According to Laura J. Colker (2008), a curriculum developer and teacher trainer, there are twelve characteristics that make Early Childhood Educators effective. Since environment is important to children’s learning, the educators are expected to be passionate, persevering, willing to take risks, pragmatic, patient, flexible, respectful, creative, authentic, has a love of learning, has high energy, and has a sense of humour (Colker, 2008). And as discussed in Class 1 (EDUC16800, January 12, 2016), highly trained, responsive, and caring educators are key to quality child care.

Part A: Two Inner Qualities That I Value to be an Effective Early Childhood Educator

I believe that those twelve characteristics enumerated by Colker, and more, are important as an Early Childhood Educator, but I value passion and respect above all.

Passion

Having passion as an Early Childhood Educator means that there is great enthusiasm for taking care of and facilitating young children’s learning and adaptation to their environment. It means loving what you do as an educator and feeling excited to see children’s faces light up as they begin to understand a concept or as they enjoy their activities. It means having the mindset of changing the world one little person at a time, despite any challenges that may come.

Passion is important in being an effective Early Childhood Educator because it gives you the drive to continue what you do day in and day out. It gives you the energy to keep up with the active little ones no matter how tiring the previous day was. It helps you persevere through the challenges of changing societal, parental, and legal expectations. Passion puts a smile on your face at the end of a long day’s work.

Respect

Similarly, respect encompasses many aspects of being an educator. It involves recognition and regard of others’ opinions, cultures, and beliefs. It also includes appreciation and valuing of property and of the environment.

Being respectful breaks down communication barriers and conflict. It allows children to explore their own cultures and form their own beliefs. It allows for a beginner’s mindset in which the educator sees each child as a newborn every day; a blank slate that is given many chances to learn and to make mistakes on a daily basis. It is an emulation worthy of imitation, creating a safe and positive space for young minds to flourish in.

Part B: Practical Strategies for the Application of the Two Inner Qualities I Value Most

Passion and respect are two inner qualities that I value most to be an effective Early Childhood Educator. Together, these two support in building up sensitive, responsive, and caring educators. Passionate educators enjoy learning and developing professionally, as well as teaching and facilitating children’s learning, while valuing respect gives them the ability to be flexible and open-minded, and to distinguish between personal needs and the children’s needs.

Passion Reflected

A passionate educator creates a supportive early learning environment that fosters initiative, autonomy, and independence. She provides open-ended materials that are “developmentally appropriate” (Tate, 2016b) to coax a child’s initiative. This promotes choice and decision-making, allowing for the child to explore her own interests and discover answers to her curiosity. In addition, according to Deb Curtis and Margie Carter, “[e]nvironments should provide opportunities for children to feel the power of their bodies and ideas” (2015, p. 24). Thus, it is important to create an active, play-based environment wherein these open-ended materials exist. The educator’s passion translates onto her “recogniz[ing] and encourag[ing] the child’s reasoning and problem solving” (Tate, 2016a) as she allows the child “to do things for [herself]” (Tate, 2016b), to “explore, manipulate, combine and transform materials [she chooses]” (Tate, 2016a), and to express herself through language.

Furthermore, arranging the active, play-based environment into interest areas “encourage[s] engagement of children”, “foster[s] decision making, problem solving, inquiry and exploration”, and “promote[s] independence” (Tate, 2016d). Organizing the environment into interest areas “requires observing and listening [to the children], and careful thinking and rethinking, ideally through a process that gathers the perspectives and investment of others” (Curtis & Carter, 2015, p. 30). Here, then, the educator utilizes her passion and drive to persevere through any challenges she may face. Curtis and Carter suggest that she “[s]eek out people who are forging ahead, find ways to reflect on the intent of regulations and assessment tools, and go beyond compliance as a definition of providing quality” (2015, p. 31). Her enthusiasm enables her to reach out to others and to persist through the tasks of creating an active, play-based environment divided into interest areas filled with open-ended materials despite any undesirable encounters.

Respect Modelled

Likewise, an educator who values and exhibits respect creates a supportive early learning environment that nurtures trust, cooperation, empathy, and self-confidence. She establishes a prosocial environment “where behaviours benefit others and demonstrate a presence of a social conscience and regard for the rights of others” (Tate, 2016c). She creates this atmosphere by “handl[ing] aggression positively”, “enforce[ing] appropriate rules”, “protect[ing] individual rights”, and “provid[ing] affirmation, affection, [and] acceptance” (Tate, 2016c). All these actions reflect having respect for others and for property, and “model[ling] [this] appropriate behaviour” (Tate, 2016c) further enriches the establishment of a prosocial environment.

The materials chosen also play a significant part in the educator’s portrayal of respect in the early learning environment. Firstly, “[m]aterials should reflect children’s interests, . . . experience, [and] culture” (Tate, 2016b), as well as “reflect diversity in an unbiased way” (Tate, 2016b). By representing the children’s interests, experience, and culture through the materials available in the play space, the educator shows respect for each child as an individual. She also illustrates respect for others and for diversity as the children interact with these materials and with each other. Secondly, labelling these materials’ storages appropriately goes a long way in letting the child know that she is respected and that the materials need to be respected. By choosing the appropriate level of labelling according to the child’s developmental level, the educator demonstrates respect for the child’s learning and development needs. As the child decodes the labels accordingly, she “feel[s] better about [herself], [becomes] less frustrated, and [becomes] more cooperative” (Tate, 2016d). The child also exercises her independence and initiative as she is able to “find things easily and put them away” without needing extra help (Tate, 2016d). Moreover, this teaches the child respect as she takes proper care of the materials and returns them into their proper places.

Conclusion

Passion and respect can translate into the early learning environment in various ways. For instance, an educator’s enthusiasm allows her to project this passion and encourage the children in pursuing their own interests through independence, autonomy, and initiative by providing open-ended materials, creating an active, play-based environment, and dividing this space into interest areas. Additionally, in establishing a prosocial environment and offering materials that reflect children’s individuality and diversity, and arranging appropriately-labelled storage spaces, the educator models respect and the children learns respect accordingly.

References

Colker, Laura J. (2008). Twelve Characteristics of Effective Early Childhood Teachers. Beyond the Journal: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Curtis, D., Carter, M. (2015). Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environments. Canada: Redleaf Press.

Tate, J. (2016a). Module 1: Quality Indicators in Early Learning Environments [Lecture Notes]. Sheridan College.

Tate, J. (2016b). Module 2.1: Creating a Supportive and Inclusive Learning Environment [Lecture Notes]. Sheridan College.

Tate, J. (2016c). Module 2.2: Creating a Nurturing and Responsive Classroom Culture [Lecture Notes]. Sheridan College.

Tate, J. (2016d). Module 3.1: Organizing the Early Learning Classroom for Play [Lecture Notes]. Sheridan College.