Introduction to the Movie:
Suggestions for a Student-Centered Lesson Using the Short Story, the Book, or the Movie
When students investigate basic facts about developmental disability, their appreciation for the film, the novel, and the short story will increase. This provides opportunities for teachers to become facilitators for student-centered learning experiences. The following questions can be assigned to students working alone, in pairs, or in groups. Students will then deliver the results of their research in a presentation to the entire class.
Students can develop their own topics or select from the list of topics set out below.
1. What percent of the population is considered developmentally disabled and how is developmental disability defined?
Notes for the teacher as facilitator: Depending on the definition, one to three percent of the population is mentally disabled. DSM-IV, p. 46.
There are several definitions of mental retardation. One definition is: “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” 34 Code of Federal Regulations § 300.7. A technical definition, found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, which estimates that 1% of the population suffers from a developmental disability, has three criteria.
Criterion #1: Significantly sub-average intellectual functioning which is shown by an IQ of approximately 70 or below;
Criterion #2: Deficits or impairments in the person’s effectiveness in meeting the standards expected by the person’s cultural group for the person’s specific age in at least two of the following areas:
- home living;
- social/interpersonal skills;
- use of community resources;
- self-direction (ability to complete day-to-day tasks without guidance);
- functional academic skills;
- leisure; and
Criterion #3: Onset before the age of 18 years. (When these symptoms are discovered in people older than 18 who didn’t have them before, it is called dementia.) Source: American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association (hereinafter “DSM-IV”), p. 41.
2. developmental disability is determined in part by results of an IQ test. What do IQ tests measure?
Notes for the teacher as facilitator: Intelligence quotient (IQ) tests measure an intelligence quotient rather than a mental age. The test is composed of verbal and non-verbal questions. The questions involve:
- Acquired knowledge;
- Problem-solving skills;
- Reasoning skills;
- Quantitative reasoning, involving math computation;
- Visual-spatial processing, requiring test takers to perceive and analyze something seen;
- The ability to retain auditory information and then apply what was heard to a problem;
- Working memory;
- Language fluency; and
- Processing speed.
3. What are some of the problems with IQ testing?
Notes for the teacher as facilitator: Some argue that intelligence tests are subject to bias and that the tests do not measure attributes valued by non-mainstream groups. Studies indicate that questions on the IQ tests require test-takers to have information that is esoteric or more available to some ethnic groups than to others
There are several sample tests on the Internet that demonstrate the cultural bias of IQ tests. Suggest that students look at The Original Australian Intelligence Test and focus on the following question: “You are out in the bush with your wife and young children and you are all hungry. You have a rifle and bullets. You see three animals all within range – a young emu, a large kangaroo, and a small female wallaby. Which should you shoot for food?” A serious effort that showed the cultural bias of IQ tests is The Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity. In the 1970s, black students scored consistently higher on this test of symbolic reasoning than did white students.
4. What are some of the most common causes of developmental disability?
Notes for the teacher as facilitator:
- Genetic conditions caused by abnormal genes or gene combinations inherited from parents;
- Problems that occur during pregnancy, such as premature birth or damage caused by alcohol ingestion;
- Problems that occur during the birth process that prevent the proper amount of oxygen from going to the fetus’ brain;
- Other injuries to the brain;
- Health problems disease, ingestion of poisons or infections that occur as the baby grows; and
- Environmental problems such as neglect or abuse or those caused by poverty such as malnutrition, inadequate health care, and unhealthy living conditions; these factors are often called Deprivation Syndrome. DSM-IV, p. 45 and
5. What are the effects, if any, of socio-economic factors in causing mental retardation?
Notes for the teacher as facilitator:
Poverty and cultural deprivation increase the risk of mental retardation from other factors including malnutrition, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, lead paint poisoning, premature birth, and inadequate medical care. When both parents are poorly educated, they are less likely than more advantaged parents to provide children with frequent stimulating parental interaction such as engaging in animated imaginative conversations, reading stories, telling stories, placing children in stimulating environments etc. Research suggests that under stimulation during infancy and early childhood can cause irreversible brain damage. Biological causes of mental retardation, such as Down’s Syndrome, do not vary along class lines. DSM-IV, p. 46 and
6. What are some of the limitations faced by developmentally disabled persons?
Notes for teacher as facilitator:
Daily living difficulties, such as those associated with housing, transportation, paying bills, taking care of chores, etc.;
Communication problems that may result in being misunderstood or may cause the inability to make needs or desires known to others; and
Social adaptive skills such as getting along with neighbors or co-workers or family members and the ability to make and sustain relationships in general.
7. What are the levels of developmental disability and their defining characteristics?
Notes for teacher as facilitator:
- Mild disability: score between 50 and 75 on standard IQ tests. These individuals are considered educable and have a mental age of eight to twelve years. They comprise 85 percent of the population of developmentally disabled people. Most individuals in this group can live independently. Some community support is often necessary.
- Moderately disabled: score between 35 and 55 on standard IQ tests. These individuals, who make up ten percent of the population of developmentally disabled people, often live in group homes but can survive in the society with adequate supervision.
- Severely disabled: score between 20 and 40 on standard IQ tests and include three to four percent of the developmentally disabled population. They often live in group homes and are usually able to tend to basic living skills such as dressing, feeding, and cleaning themselves. Considerable support is often required.
- Profoundly disabled: score below 20 on standard IQ tests making up one to two percent of the population of disabled people. They require skilled care and supervision as well as pervasive support.
8. What kinds of treatment programs are available for developmentally disabled persons?
Notes for the teacher as facilitator: Most of the treatments available for developmentally disabled person center on education and training. Schools and other institutions provide opportunities for the disabled to reach their maximum potential. As of now, there is no treatment, nor any amount of education that can develop the skills of developmentally disabled people any further than their innate capabilities allow.
The school system, working under federal mandate, is required to provide the best possible education for all persons of any intellectual level. In recent years, special education departments at most public schools, staffed by counselors and highly trained personnel, including psychologists, follow rigorous guidelines in order to serve their disabled students.
Training facilities, public and private, help developmentally disabled individuals learn the social and personal skills required in order to maintain a job or a fulfilling life. Although most developmentally disabled persons need intermittent support, state, and private institutions throughout the nation accommodate those persons who need significant or pervasive care.
9. In 2006, members of the American Association on Mental Retardation voted to change the name of the organization. What is it now called? Why do you think they changed their name?
Notes for teacher as facilitator: The new name is “The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.” The name was changed because the term “retarded” and its derivative “retardation” were reviewed as demeaning and pejorative which would trigger prejudice against persons regarded as “retarded.”
Have the class read the book, read the short story, or watch the movie. The following additional activities are offered as part of the “Through” section of the lesson: Discussion Questions; Debates, Persuasive Essays, Expository Essays, and Presentations.
Should you wish to continue using a student-centered approach, the discussion questions are best addressed in groups with responses presented orally for further argument or discussion. Consider having a student from the group doing the presentation lead the subsequent class discussion. For generic questions arranged by the elements and devices of fiction, see TWM’s Discussion Questions For Use With Any Film That Is A Work of Fiction.
The following discussion questions focus on the movie. They differ from the questions seeking to front-load information because there are few right or wrong answers; there are only weak or strong answers, depending upon the level of support offered or the logic used in the presentation of the argument.
1. Charly is seen in the opening moments of the film playing in a park. At the film’s end, Charly is caught in a still shot on a swing back in the playground. In both scenes, he looks happy. What is the point the director is trying to make about Charly in these opening and closing shots? Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: Although Charly was developmentally disabled prior to the surgery, he was happy and enjoyed life. While he was a genius, he suffered from problems with social adjustment, conflicts with the scientists who managed the experiment, and disillusionment with society. Once Charly returns to his former self, these are gone; he is, once again, happy. This suggests that intelligence is not all there is to life.
2. Charly takes a good deal of teasing from his friends at work. Using examples from the film, determine whether this type of teasing is cruel or simply a part of the good-natured give and take common to friendship. Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: Charly experiences both kinds of teasing. He sees the humor in the locker full of rising dough and plays up to his fellow employees. On one occasion, Charly is left standing on the street corner waiting for snow. This joke is worse than the others because Charly is alone and does not have the opportunity to get in on the humor. Malicious, joyless teasing occurs when the person doing the teasing laughs, while the victim of the jest is hurt.
3. Charly holds onto his rabbit’s foot hoping it will bring him luck in his race against Algernon. Under what circumstances do people rely on luck? Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: Luck is what people use to gain a sense of control in a situation they believe may be out of their hands. Charly is limited by his brain function; he knows this and feels he is going to need more than his own mind to beat Algernon.
4. When Charly is able to remember the instructions to operate the dough machine at the bakery, one friend is happy for him, and another is not. What accounts for the differences in these two responses? Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: One friend felt happy because he was not in competition with Charly; Charly’s success did not diminish this friend in any way. The other friend, however, had taken a long time to learn the dough machine procedure that Charly was able to get with only one set of instructions. This friend felt diminished; he felt inferior to someone he had seen as a “moron.”
5. The montage scene, showing Charly riding a motorcycle, dancing with women, and generally behaving like a teenager, is interspersed with images of Alice Kinnian walking and reading. What is meant by this combination of shots? What is the director trying to say? Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: Alice Kinnian cares for Charly and knows that he needs to experience adolescence which, to the director of this film, includes all the activities described in this montage. The director shows Charly going through these experiences while Alice patiently waits for him to mature.
6. Why does Charly help the mentally handicapped busboy at the restaurant? Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: Charly empathizes with the busboy and knows that before his operation, similar experiences had happened to him. Charly also knows that his increase in intelligence may not be permanent. Charly helps the young man pick up the dropped glasses in an effort to show the patrons in the restaurant the cruelty of their ridiculing laughter.
7. At the convention, Charly faces an audience of scientists interested in his case and is asked to comment on a variety of social issues. What does Charly say? What was the tone he uses in his answers, and what do his comments tell us about how Charly has come to see life? Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: With a humorless and bitter tone, Charly says he sees:
- Social suicide;
- Brave new hate;
- Brave new war;
- Conscience by computer;
- Rampant technology in place of science;
- Dispassionate draftsmen instead of artists;
- TVs in every room; and
Charly’s comments show that he has become cynical and discouraged. His increase in intelligence has caused a loss of innocence, and he experiences despair when he views the state of the modern world.
9. When Charly understands that he cannot stop the process that will return him to his former self, how does he respond? Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: At first, Charly tries to flee; he runs away, chased by the old image of himself. He becomes depressed but he pulls himself out of it and begins to use his considerable brainpower to seek a solution to the problem. He stays up for hours working with computers to find out what went wrong but finds only that the decline in his intelligence is inevitable. Charly is very depressed about this but, eventually, he accepts the inevitable.
10. Should Charly have taken Miss Kinnian’s offer to marry him or was he right to send her away? Notes to assist in facilitating strong responses: Marriage is a union of two people to care for each other, not an exercise in self-sacrifice. Charly was right not to marry Miss Kinnian. Spending her life taking care of a developmentally disabled man based on memories of what he was like when he was brilliant was not what Charly wanted for Miss Kinnian. Sending her away was a very loving thing to do.
Debates are always student-centered as the teacher takes a facilitating role in the process. Moderators can be students chosen by fellow students for leadership skills.
Once students have acquired the information from the front-loading, either through lecture or their own research, they will be able to participate in a debate on one of the following resolutions:
- Businesses should be required to fill a specified number of positions with capable developmentally disabled persons.
- Businesses and schools should require mandatory training sessions for all workers and students that will make them more aware of the capabilities and abilities of developmentally disabled persons.
- The government should offer tax breaks and other incentives to businesses that hire developmentally disabled persons.
- Lifelong government assistance should be made available to developmentally disabled persons.
- Families with developmentally disabled persons should receive government subsidies so that the families can better afford quality care for their disabled relatives.
- Scientists should be barred from experimentation on animal subjects.
- Main streaming developmentally disabled persons into regular classrooms must be stopped.
Students can be asked to use their skills in literary analysis to address topics relating to the story told by the movie (or the book or short story). If students have trouble selecting topics, teachers can refer to the questions in TWM’s Discussion Questions For Use With Any Film That Is A Work of Fiction or the assignments in Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories, and Plays. Topics specific to “Charly” and Flowers for Algernon are:
Show how the character of Charly changes as he progresses from having an IQ in the seventies to the intelligence of a genius. Be sure to consider how he looks, what he says, what he does, and how he feels, as well as how other characters react to him and what they say to and about him;
Using references to scenes or dialogue, specify three complications that develop in Charly’s life as his intelligence increases; and
Illustrate the film’s central conflict and show how it changes as Charly begins to change. Connect the resolution and denouement to the conflict.
Expository essays can be assigned that address any of the issues raised in the discussion questions or in the front-loading questions. Students can also be asked to research the volunteer opportunities available in their community. From this research, they can be asked to write an essay explaining these opportunities and encouraging fellow students to perform community service at one of these centers.
Any of the information or controversies mentioned in this Guide provide opportunities for students to deliver effective oral presentations to the class. Research should be required, and presenters should be prepared to answer any questions raised among their listeners. Students should be encouraged to use visuals, realia, and comprehension aides in their presentations
Discuss this question in class or assign it as a topic for an essay using the procedures outlined above for Persuasive and Expository Essays:
Charly Gordon was the subject of a risky scientific experiment. He consented to it, and his relatives gave their consent. But what about very intelligent animals who are used in scientific experiments? Chimpanzees form complex personal relationships, have strong family relationships, mourn their dead, etc. The DNA of chimps is almost identical to the DNA of human beings. 98% of human DNA is identical to Chimp DNA. Many people believe that experiments on any sentient animals are unethical, and many others would limit this experimentation to situations in which there is no other alternative. See General Information on Animal Research from the Humane Society of the United States. (1) What is your position on scientific experimentation on chimpanzees? (2) Does this same logic apply to Algernon, the mouse? (3) Does the same logic apply to dissect live animals in biology classes or keeping animals in cages for students to study? (4) Does the story of Charly Gordon provide any insight into the answer to this question?
1. Students can find community service opportunities with organizations that provide care for developmentally disabled children and adults. There may be on-campus opportunities for tutoring and the like.
2. Students can advocate for change through letters or action when there is a local issue that needs to be addressed.
3. Research on autism, an increasingly common condition in society today, can be presented to the class in an oral report or written as an expository essay.
4. Students can read other novels dealing with mental disabilities, such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. This student-friendly book can be assigned for extra credit.
5. Students can be assigned to watch other films on persons with disabilities, such as The Other Sister and The Music Within and then present or write a film review.