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My Problem With Special Education

Posted Dec 12 2008 3:48pm

Bothering me lately: The subtle desultory comments about special education and the students who form those classrooms.

The husband of a woman we know answered for her when I asked her what she did for a living. "She's teaching criminals and the young future criminals of America."

The woman translated that she is a special ed teacher.

Her husband was not insulting, nor was he being impudent. Her classroom is filled with students who have behavioral problems. Many of whom have already committed a series of petty crimes. Many of whom seem to be on the path toward more malfeasance.

I doubt I even have to verbalize my concern upon hearing this type of thing (and I have heard it from other sources as well), but to clarify. Here goes.

I do not want my daughter when she reaches school age to be clumped with the FCoA (Future Criminals of America). Nor, for that matter, am I particularly thrilled with the idea that she may be clumped with children who have been neglected, sexually, socially, physically, or mentally abused, those with aberrant behavioral problems, or kids with sensory integration issues who because they have been so neglected and/or are underprivileged have become virtually "untouchable".

I will be pushing for inclusion in the "regular" classrooms. Though I know even in those "typical" classrooms Georgia will be learning to read and write and calculate alongside some of those FCoA (the ones who are better at hiding it), I fully expect Georgia to be allowed to learn alongside her peers. Up until she goes to school, her peers will be her father and I, her cousins, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles, any siblings she may have and any children she may meet in the neighborhood or during preschool and/or daycare. The "regular" ol' population. I expect once she is entered into the school system she will be allowed continued clumping with the rest of us.

That is not to say I don't want her to go out for special tutoring if she needs it. Or that, should the need arise, she should not be allowed special help in the classroom. She has special needs and I don't intend to try to forget that or cover it up.

What I don't like is that "special needs" is the label they put on EVERY SINGLE CHILD with ANY KIND of aversion to learn or educational hurdle. Life, unfortunately, is not so homogenous.

Often, as parents of children with special needs we are clumped together. While I feel I can relate in many ways to parents of children with autism, for instance, I don't agree that all our children can or will learn in the same way. As I mentioned in a previous post, even the doctors will tell you that kids with DS tend to have a social ease. Children with autism, from my understanding, are the opposite and often (though perhaps not always) have difficulties with social situations. I don't see how two children, one with autism and one with DS, should be expected to learn in the same way. Also, as much social grace as kids with DS may have, often times, kids with autism are incredibly intellectually gifted. This is not always the case with kids who have DS. They learn in different ways. So why, then, would be clump them together??

I know I may be asking a lot, but is it TOO much? That special education truly be specialized? For EACH individual? Sadly, I recognize that it all comes down to resources. Budgetary and staffing concerns. Frankly, this is a HUGE source of worry for me and I am fully prepared to take my daughter out of school if I feel her needs are not attended. My fear is that that is exactly what the school system and the taxpayers want. If it's MY problem it's not their concern. They don't have to plan for it, learn about it, or pay for it.

 

I hear wonderful things about the school system here. Particularly in the system in which we are now residing. The children with DS who live here whom I have met are fully integrated. If I had it my way, if we were rich, if money were no object, we would stay here in no small part because of the school systems. Though they may not be perfect it seems to me they would be willing to meet me at least half-way. I am worried about where we may move. I don't know where that is yet, but the thought of figuring it all out, worrying about the school systems on TOP of just hoping for a good job for Alex and a decent neighborhood is daunting.

What's scarier to me is that I don't expect anyone who does not have or know personally a child with special needs to give a damn. Truth be told, before I had Georgia, I don't know if I would have concerned myself with it. Intellectually I would've agreed with my arguments, but I don't know if I would have gotten involved. And that sad fact, the self same thing I am guilty of myself, is why it is so difficult for the minority. We, the families of kids with DS, are the minority. Less common than the FCoAs, less common than the families of children who have autism, to say nothing of our typically developing peers. And yet, I don't mean to belittle the needs of ANY of those other groups of people. Each subset has their own special needs, and even the needs of the FCoA are valid. I would not want to trade places with the parents of those children, and who knows I may BE one of those parents one day. True also with any other special need...autism, speech impediment, hearing difficulty...ANYTHING. We are all in this together. As much as our needs may be different, we are all the same. We all face our hurdles. And we all deserve respect and resources.

We have so far to go and we are starting from behind the starting line. Our handicap is laps long. I only hope we can persevere.

That is what's on my mind.

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