El Bronx Comics
The main reason Jonathan underachieves in school is because he sleeps in class (probably partially due to meds), and for years, when he sat sleeping in the back of big, general ed high school classes with no special ed support, nobody woke him up. One teacher told me that last year, Jonathan "was so far gone on anti-psychotic meds" that he would just sit in class drooling. Keep in mind, though, that general ed teachers at my school tend to view special ed students as far less teachable than they are. Jonathan does have a serious mental disorder, but he's also extremely bright and teachable. Now that he's receiving the professional support he should've been getting all along, he's beginning to excel.
He's getting 100% (or close) on every vocab test, and he wins every spelling bee. My students have insisted on regular spelling bees ever since we watched Spellbound. Jonathan and Manuel always end up competing for first place, and they take the spelling words up to a ridiculously difficult level. Last time, we got to disingenuousness, and Jonathan got it right. So when he's not sleeping, Jonathan is actually somewhat of a savant. But today he slept. Or so I thought.
Today we began reading El Bronx Remembered by Nicolasa Mohr, which is a huge student favorite. It's a collection of short stories about Puerto Rican families living in the South Bronx from 1946-1956. The first story, "A Very Special Pet," really got the students cracking up. When we finished the story, it was time to write. I insisted again and again that Jonathan put up his head, and he said again and again that he didn't feel like writing. So I finally encouraged him to at least draw some scenes from the story. Whoa, did I strike a chord! I've never seen him perk up so quickly. "That's a good idea!" he said, and he quickly got out the beat up sketch pad that he carries with him wherever he goes.
In no more than 15 minutes, Christopher produced this (click to see enlarged version):
Holy crap! He memorized every last detail of the story when we were reading it out loud. "A Very Special Pet" is (in essence) about the Fernandez family and their beloved pet, Joncrofo la gallina. Joncrofo is named after Joan Crawford, Mrs. Fernandez's favorite movie star. The family bought Joncrofo so they could eat her eggs, but Joncrofo turned out to be a cantankerous old hen who never lays eggs. Still, the children love her. The Fernandez family is poor, and Mr. Fernandez has a cold, so Mrs. Fernandez decides to kill Joncrofo so her husband can have chicken broth and her eight children can have chicken and rice for dinner. (Okay, so it's a little predictable.)
Now the part of the story depicted in Jonathan's comic strip (in progress) begins. Joncrofo lives under the Hernandez's kitchen sink. When Mrs. Hernandez tries to grab Joncrofo to kill her, Joncrofo bites her finger, and Mrs. Hernandez yells, "Ave Maria!" Mrs. Fernandez then gets angry, gets a broom and says, "Ok, you wanna play games. You dumb hen!" Then she unties the twine fastened to Joncrofo's leg and the sink, and she pulls Joncrofo toward her.
You'll have to get the book or stay tuned for the rest of Jonathan's comic strip to find out what happens next.
After class, I excitedly showed Jonathan's comic strip to other teachers in the teachers' lounge. I said I thought Jonathan could pursue a successful career as a comic artist (our school is supposed to have an emphasis on the arts). The general ed math teacher scoffed and said, "A successful career as a comic artist? Yeah, that sounds promising."
What the hell? Who's more mentally ill? The brilliant kid who grew up in foster care and thinks so far outside the box that his teachers and society don't know what to do with him? Or the smug math teacher who can't think outside the box to save his life?
Somebody out there, give this kid a job! I'm also going to look for Jonathan's drawing of the character Gregor Samsa from The Metamorphosis (which we read last semester). I hope I can find it!