Yes, I know, I am not supposed to use the word “retard.” I don’t prescribe to that prohibition, but in general I don’t use it. I did in the title to get your ire up. And while it is up, I want to talk about the phrase “special education.”
This post is not so much about Pearlsky. I have a lot to share, it’s just getting harder to. I have to change that. But right now, let’s talk about our kids, the education system, and YOU.
As you may or may not know, I have changed careers and have become an educational advocate, full time. Some people would say a “Special Education Advocate,” which I do say, but I am also dealing with bullying issues and other stuff. An argument can be made that I am in my 18th year of this career, and that is true, but as a paid position, a bit less. During those 18 years, whenever I interacted with the school, I had one basic rule, I made sure I was right. In that I mean I would check the law, check with doctors, whoever was involved, and before starting “shit” with the school, I knew I was right. Or I did not start. That did earn me a lot of respect from the “opposing” view. I take great pride in the fact that most of my emails safely ended with “… and please tell me where I am wrong.” Yeah, I can be a dick, but I was right on the facts. I made sure.
If you are going to talk about education, about “special education,” at least know what you are talking about. What it is, what it means, where it comes from. Be right.
There are vocal bloggers, among them Ph.D.’s and educators, who give a bad name to good things.
If I were to say to you, “I need to fix the whatchamacallit thingy, but I need a special screwdriver,” the definition of “special” is fairly obvious, right? It pretty much means “atypical” or “different.” That is the most common definition.
So when one bloviates:
Students that are atypical are quickly shunted into “special education”–a term I despise. Atypical students and adults with a disability are not “special” but rather merely different. Special implies an unfair advantage is being given to those who are atypical. (link)
I have to shake my head and scream. I don’t really care if the blogger despises the term, that is fine, but let us understand the term. Let’s see what “special” means in this case, not what he claims it implies.
As early as 1965 the concept of special education is mentioned in law …
… to expand and improve their educational programs by various means (including preschool programs) which contribute particularly to meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children …
… other specially designed educational programs which meet the purposes of this title. …
(PUBLIC LAW 89-10-APR. 11, 1965, “Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965” … “To strengthen and improve educational quality and educational opportunities in the Nation’s elementary and secondary schools.”)
And then it was formally defined in 1975 …
The term ‘special education’ means specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents or guardians, to meet the unique needs of a handicapped child, including classroom instruction, instruction in physical education, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions.
(PUBLIC LAW 94-142—NOV. 29, 1975, “Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975”)
And to claim that special education ” implies an unfair advantage” shows a complete lack of understanding of FAPE and more. There is no implication, there is law, there are definitions.
The blogger continues …
I am deeply pessimistic about the future because secondary schools teach children all the wrong lessons about disability. The term “special education” surely does not help the perception of disability. Nor does the continued use of segregated schools and school transportation industry. Too often students with a disability are shunted off to resource rooms. (link)
Shunting off to resource rooms? If the student is in a “resource room” inappropriately, then that is contrary to the law and is a much the fault of the individual school as it is of the parents approving the placement. The law guarantees the “least restrictive environment” (LRE).
To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
IDEA, Title I/B/612/a/5/A
And he continues …
Lip service is paid to “mainstreaming”. … Children by the time they are in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade have learned a basic fact as it relates to disability: segregation is the norm. Worse, it is socially acceptable. “Special education” buses are routinely referred to in secondary schools as the “retard bus”. The consequences of a segregated system are profound. (link)
If putting children in the LRE means a classroom that is physically separate from the “mainstream” classroom, then yes, you can call that a form of segregation I guess. What is the alternative, the MOST restrictive environment? If the mainstream bus does not have wheelchair access, should the child be forced not to go? The fact (?) that the accessible bus is “routinely referred to” as the “retard bus” is something I would like to hear more about. In our high school, I have heard it referred to as “Pearlsky’s bus,” and yes, she is a retard. The consequences of a segregated system may be profound, but if not an LRE then what? And if the LRE is not being implemented, then that is the problem, not your perceptions. And it is a matter of law. Is the law sometimes violated? Sure, and if it is, fix it.
Mothers routinely tell children when they see a person using a wheelchair “to watch out”. I have heard this line for 37 years. Bipedal people routinely leap out of my way as though I am a locomotive going 75mph and am out of control. The fact I am 20 0r 300 feet away form them does not matter.[sic] A wheelchair is to be feared. Disability is be avoided at all costs. My wheelchair is thus akin to a portable social isolation device. (link)
My mother is guilty as charged. Yes, she has told me to “watch out” when a person in a wheelchair was nearby and our paths were to cross. And my horrible, prejudiced, uneducated mother would also say “watch out” if a bicyclist was riding down the sidewalk towards us. Or someone on roller skates. And, my god, I hate to even admit this, mom even utters those dreaded words, “watch out” when my grandmother was trying to get past us with her walker. And you allude to it being the wheelchair that is feared. Or the disability. Maybe you are wrong there as well. Maybe it is something else.
Educators simply do not want to deal with students who do not learn at the prescribed rate. Worse, educators simply lack any imagination when it comes to educating a student that learns differently. Educators teach students to take and pass tests. Tests in secondary education define success. The business model of education reigns supreme. (link)
Words of projection from an educator? I hope you don’t teach special ed …