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Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Illogical World of Special Ed.


If you know anything about the teaching profession, then you're aware of their love affair with changing their minds back and forth between the philosophies over and over.

Classrooms first held the belief that the less capable kids would either sink or swim in the regular classes. Kids weren't identified as having special needs or disabilities, but were certainly noted as being less than "all there". Then the move involved their being taught in an isolated environment (usually in broom closets or boiler rooms!) and the expectations for them would be all over the place depending on more factors than you can shake a ruler at. Then the move went towards putting them into the regular classes or special ed classes based on their ability, but with individualized attention/support either way. Kids could be included in regular classes whenever the lesson plan involved an activity they'd be capable of participating in, and it made for a nice little outing for them.

Now the move is yet again, to shove them all into regular classes, regardless of whether or not it's the best move in the interests of that specific child. I thought we were arguing that one size did not fit all, and yet the assumption is being made that inclusion works for everyone. The result is a lot of scared, upset kids who can barely write their own names being put into regular science and social studies classes in front of many staring kids, having their anxieties magnified by how uncomfortable everyone feels when they start to get upset. The teachers try desperately to "include" the kids by creating a whole separate curriculum that the kids actually capable of doing and, more often than not, has little to do with what everyone else is doing.

I hate to break it to the world of special ed., but putting a kid in the same geographical vicinity of regular ed. kids is NOT inclusion. If anything, it's a sad example of EXCLUSION whereby they can't participate in most class activities, they have no idea what the classroom teacher is talking about, and the rest of the kids are doing their best to ignore them and are hoping that they haven't been placed in a special ed. class by mistake, because that's what it's starting to look like.

And I'm not talking about kids with dyslexia, or even mild mental retardation... I'm talking about kids who still require toileting skills, kids who will most likely never live an independent life, kids who could benefit far more from learning about the chemicals found in home cleaning solutions than learning about the periodic table of elements. If anything, I feel we're perpetuating a gross disservice to these kids by taking time away from their learning life skills in order to meet some well-meaning but totally baloney political move that makes non-handicapped people feel better about themselves that they're letting those special kids have what everyone else is having.

Here's an example. I have a kid who knows enough about math that he can add, subtract, divide, and multiply with a calculator. His disability is that he is learning disabled, and so based NOT ON HIS ABILITY but on his label, I was told he had to be put into the regular math class in which they would cover solving systems of equations, graphing inequalities, and beginning trigonometric equations. He can't read a clock. He can't calculate change unless you tell him which number to put into the calculator first, but his label and not WHO HE IS determined which class he should be in. I explained all this and was told outright "we are NOT moving backwards. He has to take the state required graduation test and this content will be in that test."
"Er. But he doesn't have to PASS that test. He just has to take it." Politics. I love it.
"Yes, but he still has to take it."

Fine. Whatever. I called the mother of the student and apologized, saying I was unable to move him into a more suitable math class. She complained to the board of education. I got an e-mail from the same lady who had the above conversation with me stating:
"Why isn't he in a special ed. math class? Make the move immediately."
She had forgotten our whole conversation and all my pleading e-mails.

So the lesson is this... It doesn't matter if we don't teach these kids what they need to know in order to build upon skills. It doesn't matter what's best for the child- Just stick the kid in a class he'll never need in order to be better prepared for a test he doesn't even have to pass. Faaantastic.

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