No Child Left Unharmed

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Special Education, as we have always known it, is soon to completely mutate into…Full Inclusion.

Full Inclusion is the process whereby special education teachers stop teaching special education children in special education classrooms. With Full Inclusion, special education teachers will be expected to specially educate special-needs children in general education classrooms while the special children fully participate with their normal peers.

Those who understand special education, its purpose, and its possibilities, as well as its limitations, will be as incredulous as I was when I first heard of the plan, and will next wonder, as I did, “How will our lawmakers and our supposed educational leaders follow a stunt such as this?”

The concept and use of the word, Inclusion, have been around for some time now while both educators and parents were being trained to react to the word with a numb smile as evidence of a progressive, positive attitude. Because of this shaping, many parents and teachers will believe that this full inclusion is what they want for children; never pausing to consider that it was the specific needs of disabled children that brought about special education labels and classes in the first place.

Too often parents are encouraged to view inclusion as a giant step toward normalcy. Does not every parent of a special needs child grieve for their child’s difference and long for their child to be normal? It would be quite unnatural for parents not to wish for the removal of all limitations on their child’s potential to live a full and typical life. Inclusion is not capable of meeting that heart’s desire.

Some inclusion is good, and my students have generally grown from it, when I could decide the amount of time, and the reasons that they should spend in general education classes. I made my decisions in such a way as to set my students up to succeed. All that legislators in DC are capable of doing is making one-size-fit-all decisions that provide compromised educations to all children indiscriminately. Not only do such blanket decisions set special needs children up to fail, they carry with them the very real potential of harming the educations of all normal children, as well.

When teachers must stop teaching while an interpreter is forced to assume the role of a trained teacher of the deaf, attempting to quickly teach enough vocabulary for the deaf student to gain something…anything…from a lesson; when teachers must stop instruction to handle the acting out behaviors of a behavior disordered child with the take-down maneuvers in which she has been trained; when a teacher must send all children from the room while an emotionally impaired child reacts, to an internal or external stimulus, with a dangerous tantrum… the academic opportunities plus the well-being of the non-handicapped children are sacrificed. Those children then join the special needs children in losing precious instructional time.

How could legislators possibly believe that such inclusive situations are workable and do no harm? All children are set up to fail, or to at least lose, and lose in very important ways. Even I, a committed special education teacher, would not allow my own normal son to be placed in such a potentially chaotic, distracting, nonproductive classroom. I value his intellect and his too-short childhood! I would never want him to waste them attending classes where instruction is sporadic or barely existent. It was bad enough in kindergarten when he was forced to share his blocks, ending up with a mere handful, with which he could create nothing.

We must not allow schools to compromise the educations of all children by accepting academia’s claims that disabled children need socialization and their promises that these special children can be better taught by being fully included in general education.

First of all, the classroom should be a place of learning, not the place for practicing social skills. Secondly, special needs children most often need unique instructional techniques to help them learn, and learn to compensate for their disabilities. Such instruction cannot be done while other children sit and wait; while the handicapped child suffers feelings of great inadequacy at obviously being unable to do what comes so easily and naturally for a room full of normal children.

I cannot teach a deaf child how to speak in the middle of a lesson being conducted from the front of the room. I cannot hand-teach the vocabulary and concepts needed as background so that the child can understand a lesson, even as the lesson is in progress! In order to read and academically function well at a fifth grade level, a child needs a good solid foundation in fourth-fifth grade vocabulary, concepts, and knowledge. The deaf child will not have that.

Shall I ask a teacher to stop instruction for all children while I teach third&fourth&fifth grade words to a child struggling to learn with an incomplete second grade vocabulary base? Even if I sign “home” and the concept is accurate, the deaf child is still not learning if the actual lesson is: dwelling, hovel, mansion, flat… How can I provide auditory training to a hearing-impaired child who uses a hearing aid? Shall I ask the teacher to stop all instruction and force the children to sit in absolute silence so my student can listen for the faint difference between two similar sounds? Maybe we should just include 5th grade students in second grade classrooms so they stand a better chance of learning at the level at which their vocabulary is developing?

Similar and additional problems will be faced for every disability, by every skilled special ed teacher. We know what our students need and we understand that most needs will only be met with the skillful use of special teaching techniques in a small group setting with children sharing the same disability. Special education laws established categorical special education classrooms for just these reasons. Has anything changed in the needs of these children? No, of course not. Is it sensible to believe that such varied needs can be met in classrooms where quality academic instruction needs to proceed for the sake of all children? No, of course not.

There is yet another problem which those who “dream the impossible dream” refuse to consider. There are not enough special education teachers to be at the side of every special education student as they are fully included so that every moment in school will be a worthwhile teachable one!

It does not take a person of great intelligence to realize that a typical special education resource room serves a variety of students, at several different grade levels. It is physically impossible for special ed teachers with caseloads of 10—20 students to be in 10—20 different classrooms at the same time! At the high school level, a special ed teacher might serve only 10th graders, but those students will be strewn about the school — one in typing, one in driver’s ed, two in English but with different instructors, 1 in general math, 2 in…. Come on! Why is the use of common sense so lacking in public education? Was it considered irrelevant and obsolete so outlawed?

If the 51 Departments of Education (federal and state) cannot be reasonable and sensible regarding the needs and rights of both disabled and normal children, then those agencies have indeed become totally unnecessary at great cost to we taxpayers. If we allow such disconnected, illogical policy makers free rein in serving the needs of special populations, eventually all children will be compromised! Picture the day that…

…Seeing Eye dogs will be trained in the regular classrooms where blind children attend. Such placements will socialize the dogs to life in schools. Furthermore, all children can be given a chance to be led through life…in truth, most actually will need a guide dog after being mis-educated in public schools. (I wonder how long it would take for a Guide Dog to become so confused about intended outcomes, as well as its goals and objectives; standards and benchmarks; that it would begin blankly pacing the floor as animals too long caged so often do. Come to think of it, isn’t that what students are too often observed doing, as well?)

…Hearing Ear dogs will be trained in the regular classrooms where deaf children attend. Since these dogs are trained to pick up items inadvertently dropped by their deaf owners, the dogs will get innumerable opportunities to practice as they rush though the days picking up after 25—30 children — crayons, pencils, Kleenex, paper, chalk, books… These dogs are also trained to respond to alarms, doorbells and telephone rings then alert their owners. However, following months of being inundated by the very noises they should learn to differentiate, these dogs will be tone deaf. The poor animals will each need a Dog’s Hearing Ear dog to alert them to the noises to which their deaf owners must be made aware.

Or maybe…. no, it is best that I stop here. There is too great a danger that I might be taken seriously in regards to animal training, although I anticipate being totally ignored in regards to best practices for educating disabled individuals.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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