Adoption Insensitivity

I've resisted posting much about my publishing aspirations here. But several recent events have made me want to share.

My dear friend Alison was adopted as an infant and now parents two biological children and two children adopted from Ethiopia. To say adoption is important to her would be an understatement. (Please read her blog to learn more). I, too, have strong feelings about the topic. My best friend from childhood was adopted. While her adoption certainly was not a constant topic in our friendship (we often had much more important things to talk about such as boys), it was important to me because it was part of what made her who she was. Later, when we were adults, I was lucky enough to experience her search for her birth parents. I later met her birth mother and biological sister. As her friend, these meetings were important to me.

Around this same time, two students in my 4th grade class were children who had been adopted. One girl's mother invited me to attend an adoption conference with her. I readily accepted and chose to attend workshops that especially addressed education topics. That was when I first learned of the "family orchard" as one alternative to a family tree.

When Alison and I first met, her son Mikias had just come home from Ethiopia (our boys were in preschool together and are still great buddies). We talk about adoption often as she works through the ups and downs of interacting with her own birth family. We also talk about her sons' experiences as adopted children. And Alison blogs about it all, quite openly.

Recently, Alison wrote a post titled "You're Adopted. Hahahah!" She started by sharing a  "joke" that has been making the rounds on Facebook and then went on to sarcastically share a bunch of other insensitive jokes she found. That post generated lots of comments. One posted today caught my eye. Amanda from BeKindBeSillyBeHonest left a link to this post about the same photo. In her post, she went on to share stories of adoption insensitivity displayed by her kids' school. (Please read the post).

My heart sank. How can educators who know there are adopted children in their classes continue to assign insensitive assignments such as "Interview your family about where you got your name." or "Interview your family about your birth story?" (To be clear, the teacher knows her son was adopted at age eleven). Alison's boys were also given a timeline assignment that could have been worded differently to prevent hurting the boys (and Alison for that matter). Alison called me in tears the day that assignment came home. Even the best teachers can make mistakes.

Circumstances like this are what motivated Alison and I to co-author a picture book titled BINIAM AND WILL: THE FAMILY TREE PROJECT. It features an Ethiopian-born child adopted in America and his American-born best friend. While our story focuses on their friendship, the problem the boys face together is an assignment to create a family tree.

When I shared the manuscript with others for critique, one person suggested that these kinds of assignments are not given in schools any more. "... it seems unlikely that in the 21st century any teacher would assume that all her/his students live in an intact biological family."  

I wish my reader were correct. Even then, I thought she was being incredibly generous. This educator appreciated her generosity even as I knew it wasn't true. Amanda's post today confirms what we already knew- more education is needed to help teachers assign tasks that honor all different kinds of families. I'm not suggesting we eliminate discussions of biology or genetics in science classes or anything like that. It's just that most name, or family tree, or birth story assignments can be given with modified directions that include all kids and all families. 

That's why Alison and I were compelled to write, BINIAM AND WILL. Amanda's post has reminded me of our original desire to write a story to help educate others.  She's given Alison and I a kick in the backside to shift into high gear and start sending our manuscript out to more publishers.

If you want to know more, please check out the resource Amanda shared "Adoption Basics for Educators." It includes a glossary of terms and a list of resources.