Before examining the struggles faced by Ryan White in his fight against AIDS, it will be necessary to present students with enough information to allow them to develop at least a basic understanding of the disease. As was the case when I wrote an Institute unit, “Using Film as a Springboard to Exploring the Truth about AIDS” in 1996, students of this age have a limited, usually distorted picture of AIDS and its victims. The stereotypes they hold are generally similar. The image gained from the media depictions of the “innocent,” usually white, victims who acquired the disease through an unfortunate blood transfusion does not match the reality present in my students’ lives. High profile personalities such as Arthur Ashe and Magic Johnson are sharp contrasts to what they know. Finally, there is still the message, spread a bit more subtly, that AIDS is a “gay disease.”
Using some of the material from my 1996 unit (96.03.04). I will attempt to present a broader more accurate picture. This seems particularly important since Ryan White is one of those “innocent’ victims whose story is easier to present. At the same time, it is vital to present Ryan as a real victim who suffered and “survived” the same physical and emotional assault to which all AIDS victims are subjected. It is also important to stress that Ryan went on to champion all people who contracted this disease, no matter what the source.
I will begin by discussing communicable diseases in general and AIDS in particular. New Haven social development department provides some excellent guidance, especially in Building Blocks, An AIDS Curriculum Guide for Early Elementary Education. There are a number of other excellent resources listed in my 1996 unit and a few I have included in this one. Though scientific breakthroughs have provided medication that prolongs the lives of HIV victims, there is still no cure. In order to more accurately answer possible student inquires, the teacher can gain more updated information regarding treatment, but for the purposes of this unit, what is suggested should be sufficient. There are a number of resources listed at the end of White’s autobiography. I will also have some additional books, both fiction and non-fiction, which I will make available to my students. Some of these are listed in my bibliography. They are all designed to give students a more accurate picture of reality.
A Broader View of the HIV/AIDS Crisis
Though not relating directly to the survival of Ryan White, students need to become aware of the growing worldwide HIV/AIDS crisis. At a minimum, they should know about the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world, especially in parts of Africa and now Asia. Since the XIIth International AIDS Conference (2002) has just concluded in Barcelona, there is a variety of information available on the internet. A site that I have found to be helpful is w.w.w.unaids.org./ Many articles may be found in publications from this time period (7/02) and on a continuing basis. The fact that an HIV-positive Muppet will soon join the cast of “Sesame Street” in South Africa should emphasize the urgency of the situation in that area of the world. Undoubtedly, the actual arrival of the character will be well publicized.
I will use these resources, and others that will appear in the future, to help me in making my students aware that, today, at an alarming rate millions of people are still struggling to survive AIDS.