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A Princeton admissions officer who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.
This brief film takes a look at one of the 60,000 children with Down Syndrome who attend mainstream classes at elementary schools throughout United States.
Bespectacled, stocky Peter, whose tongue often protrudes, clearly has intelligence. He can say parts of the Pledge of Allegiance, seems to understand what is said to him, and knows people's names.
Early in his third-grade year, at a school somewhere in the South, he is quite disruptive and I couldn't see how his presence was fair to his classmates. It also seemed unfair for Peter to be receiving so much negative attention. I wondered why his parents, who are quoted and filmed briefly, wanted to put him through all this.
But educational theory would predict that Peter would learn a lot more in an environment that is advanced for him, and he has a right to learn with more normal peers thanks to federal legislation. So the other kids in class must pause from their activities when Peter grabs a violin or pushes a boy who's putting a game away.
His teacher focuses on helping Peter to maintain attention, not necessarily keep up academically. Over time she's able to shift that emphasis as Peter's behavior gradually improves.
Has Peter's presence held his classmates back? We don't find out, and that's a pretty egregious omission. However, it is suggested that his peers have become more nurturing and empathic. One boy who Peter had garroted says Peter is now one of his best friends.
"He changed because we changed," says an articulate girl in the class. "We changed our minds about him. He changed because we helped him."
"They have learned to accept another child who's not exactly like them," says the teacher, adding that if she could teach Peter in 4th grade, she would jump at the chance.
I watched "Educating Peter" with my 11-year-old son, who remained interested throughout. When I asked if he'd have liked to have Peter in his class, he said yes. But when I asked him to tell me why, he was mum.
My hunch is that my son, who sometimes gets bored in class, would have empathy for Peter and view him as an interesting distraction.
I'm glad I saw this because it definitely gets one thinking.
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