Educating all the children

Utah has its first high school designed for autistic students, reports the Deseret News (via Education News). Spectrum Academy is extending its K-8 program.

Such specialization runs counter to a federal and state push over the last decade to give children with learning disabilities equal access to a mainstream public education.

To comply with federal law, schools “offer special education courses but place autistic children in traditional classrooms as frequently as possible.” But some parents think mainstreaming doesn’t benefit their children.

Education News interviews Miriam Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education. Among her 12 steps for improving the system is ending the reliance on a medical model for labeling students with learning problems.

A child may be labeled with a specific learning disability (SLD) in one school district, emotionally disturbed in another, or simply as an ‘at risk’ student in the third. In the first town he gets a panoply of individualized special services, in the second, a panoply of totally different services, and in the third–none. This, in spite of the fact that we know that diagnoses are not exact, and far too often, are based on attributes unrelated to the child, such as socio-economic realities, savvy parents, or zip codes.

Freedman also talks about reducing paperwork and litigation so teachers can focus on teaching.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Don Bemont says:

    The Miriam Freedman interview made my day. She describes exactly the situation that I see:

    Yes, “Special education has been a huge civil rights triumph and success.” I graduated from high school in 1971, so I witnessed the bad old days. The girl across the street had Downs Syndrome and I saw what happened to her.

    However, “The system that delivers special education is broken. No one is happy with it. This law should have had a sunset provision, calling on us to create a different system going forward. But, we all know, the law is still here and continues to grow and expand.” Precisely. The system has morphed into an immortal monster that threatens to swallow public education.

    “Let us undertake a systemic review of procedural requirements and discard those that do not directly improve teaching and learning.” Right there, she has my vote for president. 🙂

    On to the nitty gritty of it: “End our reliance on the medical model and labeling for these 70% of students. To get services, a child needs to have a ‘label,’ fitting one of the 14 disability categories. Unfortunately, this model gets in the way of education, especially for the disabilities described above, as the categories are fluid and not well-defined.” This is the truth that thou shalt not speak in a public school. The myth is that there is a concrete thing, a very specific disability, that can be measured and identified in the same sense as a broken leg or polio… and that there are scientifically determined treatments which take the form of accommodations.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. The identifications are political: every school psychologist I have ever known bends to pressure from the district office to make identifications based primarily upon what services are available, and secondarily to pacify parents, making a reasonable assessment as to how likely the parent is to go to an outside doctor — many of whom make their money giving diagnoses with an eye towards pleasing parents. Accommodations are made in scattershot, haphazard manner, along the lines of “Hey, would you like to have testing in a separate location?”

    Can you imagine a medical practice based on a doctor diagnosing diseases based upon the facilities he happens to have available and the personal preferences of the patient, tossing out a standard menu of common meds, and making it a legal requirement that someone dispense exactly those meds? (Okay, okay, maybe that is uncomfortably close to some actual medical practices, but we all know it is quackery.)

    The resulting special education system is designed to minimize legal exposure for the school district, not for maximizing student education — it is a legal strategy, not an educational strategy.

    “We have inadvertently created a focus on student weaknesses that elevates the label above effort and the weakness above strengths. This is so, in spite of the fact that we all know that for success in life, it is vital to harness strengths. We need to refocus our education of students with disabilities.” Well said!

    Thank you for sharing this, Joanne!

  2. So glad you are advancing the national conversation to educate all children.

    The Utah story reminds me of my book’s (Fixing Special Education–12 Steps to Transform a Broken System) discussion of mainstreaming. The article and my book focus on educating kids, not on a philosophy. Go for what works for kids.

    It is time to fix the SYSTEM that provides special education.

  3. Margo/Mom says:

    Just gotta echo the previous posters. On a dark day I sometimes despair of any “system” ever being able to overcome our unwillingness to simply extend the benefits of education to all kids (there have always been groups that are excluded: girls, blacks, the poor, those with disabilities). However, I do note that in countries that seem to be doing a better job of it (Finland being a good example), there seems to be little to no concern about diagnosing and labelling as a point of entry to services in the way that we do. Kids who are not doing well, on the other hand, are systemically provided with an increasingly intense series of interventions aimed primarily at getting the kid on track with their peers. Where this commitment is present, in the United States, I think that we are able to do well with mainstreaming or pull-outs or whatever other configurations are available. Where this commitment is absent, the system too frequently serves to set up barriers and keep kids in motion–sort of a hope in a geographic cure that is always “over there,” and away from the “regular” kids (the ones who really want to learn).

  4. tim-10-ber says:

    But…mainstreaming may be good for the special ed kids but it is not necessarily good in an academic setting for middle and high achieving students. When my older son was in government schooling he was bored to tears as the teachers were waiting for the mainstreamed kids to catch up. That is not fair to the middle and high achieving students…

    I am not in favor of mainstreaming when this is the outcome…of course we left goverment schools…thank goodness…no more of the jokes they call education…

  5. Margo/Mom says:

    “But…mainstreaming may be good for the special ed kids but it is not necessarily good in an academic setting for middle and high achieving students.”

    tim–first off, let me say that I am not in agreement with that dichotomy, but since it is so often articulated in those terms, mighten’t we ask why it is always a particular population that must sacrifice for the needs of another? I believe that one of our cultural differences from the Japanese is that they are more likely to see a responsibility for the good of the whole–while we get diverted into arguments that pit the good of one group against the good of another–with the same groups always coming out on top.

    But–I do not agree with the dichotomy. In fact, Finland, the example I gave above, outscores us at both the top and bottom–and the gap from top to bottom is smaller. However–they do seem to be better organized in terms of integrating intervention into the regular classroom and ensuring that there are personnel to support it.

  6. It would be especially wonderful if this new Utah school were to provide higher functioning autistic children with the kinds of mentors Temple Grandin had, which, as she has observed, have been crucial to her own success, and which too few HFA children have access to. I’m thinking, specifically, of math, science, engineering, and computer science teachers, who know how to teach to the strengths of HFA students, and who are willing to go out their way to help place these students in appropriate post-secondary settings once they graduate.

  7. Margo/Mom,

    While I agree with your larger point, comparing the educational systems of the USA and Finland is just insane. It’s apples and oranges. The population of Finland is roughly 5 million; the US population is nearly 330 million. Our demographics are significantly more complex. Of course we can look to their system for inspiration, but it’s not realistic to specifically emulate it given our social differences.

  8. I’m with Stacy; we’ve heard far too much about Finland, Singapore, Japan and Korea. Those populations are so radically different from ours that their practices can’t be directly compared.

    Margo, “why must a particular population always suffer for the good of another?”

    How many times a day should kindergarteners accept being the target of one classmate’s teeth, fists, feet and scissors? Morover, a kid strong and agressive enough to require 3 adults to carry her out of the room? BTW, there was just one teacher and no aide. The child’s mother refused alternative placement and there was not enough documentation – of course,it was her first year of school – to remove the child without parental consent.

    The learning opportunities for the class were severely compromised by the constant disruption. Many kids had classic physical and emotional symptoms of stress – all in the sacred name of mainstreaming. In this case, and in many others, it amounts to child abuse on a large scale.

    Even without the physical agression, some kids just aren’t suited for mainstream placement because their needs cannot be met without compromising academic opportunities for the majority. It’s been referred to as the tyranny of the minority; the IEP is used as a club. Some kids can and should be mainstreamed and some should not.

  9. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    “why must a particular population always suffer for the good of another?”

    I object to the premise.

    First off, the special ed kids suffer because they are born deficient. Not “different” or “special” — deficient. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that, and you can still love them with all of your heart and want to take care of them and see them have wonderful lives. But it’s wrong to think that this is just some sort of random fit of pique, and it’s crass in the extreme for you to ask such a generally-phrased question as if there were no difference between denying resources to special ed kids and denying them to Mexican-Americans.

    Now, why must special ed kids suffer for the sake of middle and high-end achievers? That’s an easy one.

    Because nothing will be gained by anyone else by mainstreaming special ed students. The special ed kids will gain — they’ll probably learn some stuff, maybe be able to carve out a slightly better life for themselves.

    But when we give more to the middle and high-end achievers, we get return on investment. They go out and — from time to time — give us things like refrigeration, penicillin, polio vaccine, automobiles, Les Miserables, hydraulic power, flat-screen televisions, Diet Coke, calculators, iPods, and salt water pools with ozone treatments, vinyl, acrylic sweaters, roller ball pens, laser printers, microwave ovens, and batteries. Life gets better for everyone. Including the special ed kids, whose parents can buy educational videos, not spend 5 hours a day cooking, who can take their kids to clinics and special education specialists — who themselves only exist because everyone’s not out in the fields pulling potatoes from frozen ground just to eat and because someone decided to push some resources their way when they were younger.

    So it’s not “one particular population suffer(ing) for the good of another”, it’s applying our resources where they will yield the best results for EVERYONE, including the special ed kids who are no longer left to die of exposure in the wilderness because they couldn’t carry their weight in the city.

  10. Michael-
    This is a matter of world view. If you look upon human beings only in terms of their economic utility, then it makes sense to deny resources to the handicapped, and to the sick and elderly as well. The ancient Romans did not stop exposing infants because some well educated individuals had come up with some labor saving devises. They stopped because, with the rise of Christianity, they came to view human life as having inherent worth.

    Stacy-
    The idea that we can’t learn anything from the educational practices of other countries strikes me as terribly myopic. I understand that Finland has a less diverse population and much less childhood poverty than the United States. If a country with all these advantages needs teachers who are highly educated, selectively chosen, and relatively well compensated, then the United States must have an even greater need for this kind of teacher corps.

    Margo-
    I don’t always agree with your views, but I admire how thoughtfully you make your case. My school is moving toward a “push in” model for special education. I am not an enthusiastic supporter of mainstreaming, mostly because I don’t feel that special education students can get the intense interventions that they need while inside a regular classroom. I know that you support mainstreaming and feel that it is a more effective
    approach. Pretend that I’m your son’s third grade teacher. What could I do that would make my class an optimal experience for your child?

  11. Wait. Isn’t the original point of this post that mainstreaming does, in fact, NOT suit all children and that’s why they are essentially creating a self-contained environment for autistic children?

    Anybody with a hoot of common sense knows that the LD label encompasses an enormous array of disabilities — everything from mild dyslexia to the child who is completely unable to communicate. COMMON SENSE would dictate that we heed the original intent of the IEP — to find the best place for each kid, NOT come up with some blanket policy that every one of them should be mainstreamed — that’s just as egregious as what the law was designed to avoid.

  12. Mainstreaming does not, in fact, fit all students. There should be nothing wrong with more student-centered specialized education across the board.

  13. Margo/Mom says:

    Ray–thank you for your support. The answer to your third grade question is difficult to provide given the wide range of students with disabilities. However, thinking back to my own son’s third grade experience–he was in his fourth building that year–only one move was family-initiated (and it was the only one that included a change at the beginning of the school year). His teacher that year initially refused to sign his IEP because she didn’t believe that he “belonged” in her classroom (she also declined to suggest where she did think that he belonged)–which was a “special” class in a “special” school. She was only induced to sign when the head of special ed explained to her that her signature only indicated that she was present at the meeting. So, perhaps, the first generalization for meeting the needs of all students, even those with disabilities is that every student deserves a teacher in a classroom where their presence is understood and appreciated. Clearly, in this case, that was no more available in a highly restrictive environment than it had been anywhere else.

    Second–in partial response to momof4, with the often reiterated misinformation that students wtih disabilities typically present in kindergarten as violent and far stronger than the average adult, every classroom that includes students with disabilities should have immediate access (in the room if at all possible) to personnel resources that go beyond those of the teacher. Team-teaching with a special education teacher provides an ideal environment, however, the use of aids to provide assistance under the direct supervision of either the regular or special education teacher is also a workable solution (pretty much the way that Finland operates). In fact, one would hope that a student with such severe problems as those described would have been identified prior to kindergarten through pro-active efforts of child-find, and the needs of the child understood so that the in-classroom needs could be appropriately addressed.

    Finally–it would always have been very helpful if the nature of my son’s disability were in fact understood by the people who worked with him. As we went through a diagnostic process (outside of school), I became desperately aware that the level of education INSIDE the school with regard to mental illness, learning disability, emotional disability–was pitifully low (even amongst the trained and certified staff) and highly inappropriate approaches were frequently the response. When a child suffers a mood disorder, their moods are highly variable and frequently beyond their control. There are educational experiences (again–we had to go outside of school for this) to help them understand and deal more appropriately with what is going on with them. But, those experiences are likely to be totally unavailable if the prevailing (and untrained) opinion is that he could control himself if he wanted to, that punishment for three days following an out of control experience will be helpful in preventing the next one. Parents see many staff–not only teachers, and some are less well-trained than teachers at holding their tongues. I recall a school bus driver (on a “special ed” bus) telling me that the students were not disabled, they were just “bad.”

    Perhaps an additional need worth mentioning is that of teachers who respect his parent. When parents are regarded as clueless, the cause of the problem, or barriers to be gotten over in order to get a problem out of the classroom, not only is a highly valuable source of information unavailable, but there can then be no sense of team working together.

  14. Michael E. Lopez First off, the special ed kids suffer because they are born deficient.

    Lots of people are born deficient. I was born with dyspraxia. And, if you expand your definition of “deficient” enough, well then everyone but the person with the highest IQ on the planet could be described as deficient intellectually. Now, as humans, we may be dooomed to suffer, but I don’t see how me having dyspraxia dooms me to suffer more than a medically-normal human. I think that, if anything, overall I’ve been luckier than the average person.

    And how about the ones who acquire problems later on in life? Divorced parents, dead parents, outcasts at school, acquired brain injuries, etc?

    But it’s wrong to think that this is just some sort of random fit of pique, and it’s crass in the extreme for you to ask such a generally-phrased question as if there were no difference between denying resources to special ed kids and denying them to Mexican-Americans.

    Please explain in simple words the relevant difference between denying resources to special-ed kids and denying them to Mexican Americans. Because I don’t see the relevant difference. If that makes me crass in the extreme, then I’m happy to be crass in the extreme along with Margo-Mom.

    Now, why must special ed kids suffer for the sake of middle and high-end achievers? That’s an easy one.

    Because nothing will be gained by anyone else by mainstreaming special ed students. The special ed kids will gain — they’ll probably learn some stuff, maybe be able to carve out a slightly better life for themselves. But when we give more to the middle and high-end achievers, we get return on investment.

    This statement is false. Famous disabled people who have made a return on investment include Helen Keller, Temple Grandin, Stephen Hawking, Lord Nelson, John Milton (after he went blind), Thomas Edison, David Barrett (British MP who is blind), etc.
    Then there are all the famous people who are speculated to have had aspergers syndrome (I’m not fond of posthumous diagnoses, but I consider that it’s likely that there were some particularly in the sciences, see http://www.red-disability.org/index-text-only/DisFamScience.htm).

    Furthermore, all the things you list? Nearly all of them, except Les Miserables, are dependent not merely on their initial inventors, but on a lot of ordinary people doing a lot of things consistently. My life was saved by antibiotics, decades after its inventors died, because some unknown people in factories carried out a lot of small steps accurately and a lot of people participated to deliver the antibiotics to the chemist (not just the guy who drove the delivery van, but the guys who built the delivery van and the guys who delivered the petrol to the delivery van and the guys who mined the metals that went into making the delivery van and the oil rig and so forth). These anonymous people were producing spill over benefits as well as Fleming, Florey and Chain.

    It is amusing that you call Margo/Mom crass in the extreme for asking a question, when you yourself make statements about disabled people that are totally removed from reality.

  15. There’s a difference between calling for systems that deliver extra resources to students with disabilities (I’m for that) and calling for a system where students with disabilities’ needs trump everyone else’s needs — whether financially, in terms of classroom practice, or any other way. On most issues related to resources, I do believe that people of good will can come to some sort of compromise.

    The one issue where this is much harder is the one that Margo/Mom so eloqunetly describes with respect to her son. Clearly, the school systems he has attended felt that his presence was disruptive, probably because they had no staff skilled enough to create and implement the accomodations that might have moderated his behavior. Such staff are in very, very short supply — as are regular classroom teachers with the ability to assess and accomodate. School administrators can’t just pull such talent out of a hat when it doesn’t exist. When a child needs an environment that is essentially a therapeutic environment, school systems just are not equipped to step into that role.

  16. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    Tracy W,

    A few points, since I love a good back and forth:

    * My undergraduate students raise that relativist “everyone is deficient depending on where you draw the standard” saw all the time, and it’s just as tiring here as it is coming out of their mouths. By your logic, not only is everyone deficient, but everyone is a genius, too. I prefer to live in a world where words actually mean things.

    * People with divorced parents don’t raise an issue of mainstreaming, or full inclusion… unless I missed something somewhere and being a child of divorce suddenly turned you stupid. (God… I hope not. That would totally suck if I lost like 40 IQ points in 5th grade.) People with brain damage? Yeah. Get them out of the classroom if it impairs their functioning.

    * My statement about high and middle achievers may actually be false — I’m hardly infallible and I say false things all the time. But you’ve certainly not shown it to be so. “Disabled” is not the same as “special ed”. Stephen Hawking is all sorts of messed up, physically, but his mind works just fine. And Helen Keller is celebrated for learning how to talk and for writing books about herself… hardly a great contribution to our world.

    * You ask: Please explain in simple words the relevant difference between denying resources to special-ed kids and denying them to Mexican Americans.

    OK. Simple words. Just for you.

    Mexican Americans, as a category, don’t suffer from being dumb. Special ed kids do. The resources we’re talking about are the “mainstream” classrooms (or at least that’s how I took it). Think of it this way: you might exclude Catholics from an Anglican Faith Meeting, but you wouldn’t exclude Blacks. You might exclude white people from a meeting of the Black Panthers, but you might not exclude women. Classes of people are defined by their shared and (usually) exclusive characteristics. Now, what sorts of characteristics might be appropriate for including someone in a classroom that is designed to teach academic subjects? That’s right: intellectual characteristics. And what sort of characteristics characterize special ed students? Right.

    (That is, by the way, why reaching for the “disabled” category was a mistake in your response. Disability is not characterized exclusively by intellectual characteristics.)

    * As for all the average-ish people whose efforts contribute to the engine of society… well, you sort of have a point, but it’s not the one that you think you have. I’d like to point out that I didn’t just say “high” achievers. I said “middle” achievers, too. The purpose of mentioning them was to catch all those “ordinary” people because teaching them how to read and follow instructions and do math is important. Now, a lot of the things that make our lives better — from my list… maybe Diet Coke (though I don’t know for certain) — were invented by people of entirely average intellect. You don’t have to be a genius to make the world better. But it probably helps if your time in school is spent learning fractions and not watching your classmates try to figure out how to hold a pencil.

    So yes, I agree with you that the miners and builders and craftsmen and merchants are important. But that doesn’t make me wrong, as you seem to think it does.

    * In the future, when you are preparing to say that someone’s statement is “totally removed from reality” — a drastic claim — it may do some good to first make sure you’ve read what was actually written.

    Ray, you see, did that. He recognized what I was saying and he presented a good, solid critique of what I had written (and he did it in one paragraph, which is impressive). That’s why I’m still thinking somewhat deeply about what he wrote and not just rattling off a reply, which is what I’m doing with you.

    Now, as to Ray’s substantive point, I’m not convinced that humanitarian and moral concerns of the type described warrant implementing full inclusion… but it’s an interesting point to consider. And I’m considering.

  17. Michael E. Lopez : A few points, since I love a good back and forth

    Well one thing we can agree on – so do I.

    My undergraduate students raise that relativist “everyone is deficient depending on where you draw the standard” saw all the time, and it’s just as tiring here as it is coming out of their mouths. By your logic, not only is everyone deficient, but everyone is a genius, too. I prefer to live in a world where words actually mean things.

    Actually, explicitly not by my logic. “Everyone but the person with the highest IQ on the planet could be described as deficient intellectually”. [Emphasis added]. Later on you criticise me for not reading what you wrote properly, which is rather ironic.

    I hope that now I have explained my position to you, which is not that “everyone is deficient”, but lots of people are born deficient, you don’t find it tiring. If you find any errors of logic or fact in it, please let me know. If you still find it tiring, I feel sorry for you but if the truth tires you I’m not going to stop saying it.

    People with divorced parents don’t raise an issue of mainstreaming, or full inclusion… unless I missed something somewhere and being a child of divorce suddenly turned you stupid.

    Divorce does cause the kid to suffer, and sometimes to misbehave in class. And divorce is often associated with moving schools, which is not good for education, or social outcomes.

    Mexican Americans, as a category, don’t suffer from being dumb. Special ed kids do.

    And this is a reason to deny special ed kids an academic education because?

    An academic education offers many benefits. To start with the basics, learning to read and do basic arithmetic is useful in every day life for everyone, such as being able to read warning labels, handle money, work out the correct dosage of a medication, adjust a recipe for the number of people you have. Or, on a simple job, follow instructions.

    Beyond the basics, academic skills such as writing are useful for such practial reasons as meeting people, emotional reasons as keeping in touch with relatives, friends and loved ones when you are away from them, (eg writing love letters, letters of condolences), citizenship reasons (deciding who to vote for, participating in public debate), entertaining yourself quietly (novels, maths, I remember once working out from geometry how to calculate how far away the horizon of the sea was from the top of a mountain), exploring new worlds and getting contact with other’s views of the worlds (novels, good non-fiction), dealing with strong emotions such as love and grief (poetry, music, at least for me) and sometimes is just beautiful (poetry, elegant mathematical proofs).

    These benefits strike me as applying as much to most mentally-disabled people as to anyone else, I know plenty of mentally-disabled people who love others, and thus if they live long enough will suffer grief, mentally-disabled people who have to take medications, mentally-disabled people who have fallen in romantic love as madly as anything else I have seen, mentally-disabled people who have jobs and have to deal with money, mentally-disabled people who cook, etc. Now there sadly are some people who are so mentally-disabled that they will never be able to learn some, or all, of the things on my list, or at least not until medical science learns how to fix brains. But not everyone with a mental-disability in special education is so severely disabled as that, and everything a person, mentally-disabled or not, *can* learn from my list is valuable.

    Furthermore, you are assuming that special ed is the same as “stupid”. This is an unusual definition. See for example http://www.yourdictionary.com/special-education, where special education is defined as “educational programs and practices designed for students, as handicapped or gifted students, whose mental ability, physical ability, emotional functioning, etc. requires special teaching approaches, equipment, or care within or outside a regular classroom”. I did not realise that you were using a specialised definition of “special education” to only cover mental disabilities such as low IQ.

    And Helen Keller is celebrated for learning how to talk and for writing books about herself… hardly a great contribution to our world.

    Actually a rather great contribution. First I like books, and she wrote well. Secondly, her example went on to inspire thousands, if not millions, of other people to teach and work with people who are blind and deaf, as they had an idea of what could be accomplished.

    You also don’t mention Temple Grandin in your reply, presumably because she would undercut your thesis.

    * As for all the average-ish people whose efforts contribute to the engine of society… well, you sort of have a point, but it’s not the one that you think you have.

    Au contrarie, it’s entirely the one that I think I have. You have just misread my point.

    The purpose of mentioning them was to catch all those “ordinary” people because teaching them how to read and follow instructions and do math is important.

    And it’s also important for the mentally-disabled who are capable of learning in the first place.

    Now, a lot of the things that make our lives better — from my list… maybe Diet Coke (though I don’t know for certain) — were invented by people of entirely average intellect.

    And you missed my point. I will quote what I said again:
    ” Nearly all of them, except Les Miserables, are dependent not merely on their initial inventors, but on a lot of ordinary people doing a lot of things consistently.”

    Notice that I did not repeat the word “inventors”, and I did not use the word “invention”. Instead I said “doing a lot of things consistently”. An invention, in normal English, is coming up with something new. Doing things consistently is rather the opposite. And I mentioned all the things that needed to happen to get life-saving antibiotics to me, beyond the initial discovery by Fleming, Florey and Chain. None of them were inventions (although obviously numerous inventions have been required in the mining industry, oil extraction, development of automobiles, etc).

    I think you are wrong to only focus on inventions, when our current prosperity depends both on inventions and on numerous actions repeated properly to actually take the ideas and turn them into the right thing in the right place.

    In the future, when you are preparing to say that someone’s statement is “totally removed from reality” — a drastic claim — it may do some good to first make sure you’ve read what was actually written.

    It was reading what you actually wrote that caused me to say such a drastic claim in the first place.

    I agree however that engaging with what was actually written is good advice, why didn’t you follow it yourself?

    And I will offer some advice – if you want to use a word or a phrase in a much narrower sense than is common amongst English speakers, as you did with “special education”, it helps your readers if you say that you’re doing this explicitly.

    That’s why I’m still thinking somewhat deeply about what he wrote and not just rattling off a reply, which is what I’m doing with you.

    Ah good, I hope you can do better than this reply here. I hope when your undergraduate students say something you afford them the mental engagement you are offering to Ray, as opposed to what you have written here. Because you just rattled off a reply, rather than actually try to engage with what was written, you’ve missed the opportunity to learn some more about how the economy functions.

    Of course, as you didn’t read properly what I wrote before, you’re unlikely to read this response of mine properly, and thus will miss all the points I make here, and will probably continue to be blind to the benefits of academic education, and so forth. C’est la vie, at least trying to explain to you where you went wrong expands my understanding of the arguments, even if you aren’t actually engaging with them, which is why I enjoy a good back-and-forth.

  18. Michael E. Lopez says:

    LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR!!!!!!

    Actually, explicitly not by my logic. “Everyone but the person with the highest IQ on the planet could be described as deficient intellectually”. [Emphasis added]. Later on you criticise me for not reading what you wrote properly, which is rather ironic.

    You’re just being speciesist. We can obviously conceive of an intellect greater than that of the smartest human. That gives us a point of reference. The fact that no human happens to possess such an intellect is irrelevant.

    I hope that now I have explained my position to you, which is not that “everyone is deficient”, but lots of people are born deficient, you don’t find it tiring.

    Only that the same person at the same time can be both a genius and deficient. That makes it hard to determine what the word means.

    Divorce does cause the kid to suffer, and sometimes to misbehave in class. And divorce is often associated with moving schools, which is not good for education, or social outcomes.

    Move to strike as non-responsive.

    And this is a reason to deny special ed kids an academic education because?

    It’s not a reason to deny them an academic education at all. It’s a reason to keep them out of mainstreamed classrooms. That’s not the same thing. My original objection to Margo’s post is that I thought it assumed something that wasn’t true: that we had to choose between benefiting the vast majority of people and benefiting everyone.

    An academic education offers many benefits. To start with the basics, learning to read and do basic arithmetic is useful in every day life for everyone, such as being able to read warning labels, handle money, work out the correct dosage of a medication, adjust a recipe for the number of people you have. Or, on a simple job, follow instructions.

    Beyond the basics, academic skills such as writing are useful for such practial reasons as…

    All of which can be accomplished without tossing a special ed kid into the gears of a mainstream classroom and slowing down the whole process for everyone.

    These benefits strike me as applying as much to most mentally-disabled people as to anyone else…

    No argument here. See my previous comment.

    But not everyone with a mental-disability in special education is so severely disabled as that, and everything a person, mentally-disabled or not, *can* learn from my list is valuable.

    I can’t possibly agree more.

    HOWEVER.

    If a person is mentally disabled enough to significantly (we can draw the line on this in various places) slow down and retard the educational experience in a mainstream class, or, alternatively, to gain almost nothing from the class because it doesn’t slow itself down then they belong in special ed. If they don’t belong in special ed, well… then they don’t belong in special ed, do they?

    Furthermore, you are assuming that special ed is the same as “stupid”. This is an unusual definition.

    See for example http://www.yourdictionary.com/special-education, where special education is defined as “educational programs and practices designed for students, as handicapped or gifted students, whose mental ability, physical ability, emotional functioning, etc. requires special teaching approaches, equipment, or care within or outside a regular classroom”. I did not realise that you were using a specialised definition of “special education” to only cover mental disabilities such as low IQ.

    It’s not an unusual definition. First, it’s not a definition at all. I was saying that “all special ed kids are stupid”, not that “all stupid people are special ed.” Humans aren’t “defined” as animals, because that’s insufficient to pick them out as a class.

    Second, it’s not unusual. But I’ve at least found what I think may be one of the two primary areas of disagreement between us.

    Maybe the dictionary contradicts me. But it also contradicts the way that the vast, vast, vast majority of people use the term “special ed.” It may be technically correct in educational circles, and I probably should have considered that. But it’s not my blog and I’m just a commenter here so I’m a little looser than I might have been when I was posting under my own name.

    But even so, NO ONE who isn’t out to make a political point uses the term “special education” to refer to gifted students, so to the extent that you want to wave the dictionary in my face, you have to accept that being technically correct in this case means that you’re the one with the unusual definition.

    We all know what we think of the kid who goes running for the dictionary to contradict the way that everyone else is using a word. It’s the same way people react to me when I try to explain to them what “begs the question” really means. I may be right, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve the exasperated scorn that gets sent my way.

    But let’s say you’ve got a point — because I think you might. Blind kids take some additional work. Some additional effort. So do kids with other disabilities. Are you really saying that Helen Keller should be put in a typical classroom? It would be a huge drain on classroom resources.

    Let’s work with your more expansive definition of special ed and say that blind people are “special ed” because they are, well… blind. They take a lot of extra effort.

    To me, that means that they should be in a blind kids program… at least until they’re able to navigate a mainstream classroom and school on their own. (It takes time to develop such talents.) It doesn’t mean they should be put in “special ed” with the stupid people… but it doesn’t mean they should be mainstreamed, either.

    I didn’t address this issue earlier because I was using the colloquial definition of special ed… but the point still holds even for a broader definition. Putting aside the gifted kids, people in special ed are deficient.

    Of course, why put them aside? Gifted students deserve to be put into THEIR own special ed programs. Tracking by the bundle! Tracking by the pound!

    (snip discussion of Helen Keller as we’ve already addressed her)

    You also don’t mention Temple Grandin in your reply, presumably because she would undercut your thesis.

    I didn’t mention her because I have no idea who she is. But since you feel like bringing up this obscure name with absolutely no explanation to back up how it relates to your point… I’ll go ahead and do the work.

    (runs to wikipedia)

    Temple Grandin is a high-functioning autistic, and she may even be smarter than I am. She went to a boarding school for gifted children.

    But I’ll bet she didn’t go there until she was ready. I’ll bet she got all sorts of specialized help and didn’t go into mainstream classrooms (if she ever did… it’s not clear) until she wasn’t going to be a tremendous drain on the teacher.

    But I could be wrong. So IF: (1) she was low-functioning enough to warrant being put into a special program, and (2) she was mainstreamed despite this, and (3) that mainstreaming was responsible for turning her into Doctor Temple, Horse Woman, where more specialized programs would have resulted in suboptimal outcomes, then I take it all back, and we should substantively harm every mainstream classroom in the country because one person made good.

    If it helps even one person….

    Au contrarie, it’s entirely the one that I think I have. You have just misread my point.

    Well then maybe you could, you know… explain what it was. Because it seemed like your point was that I was wrong because I was ignoring all those “ordinary” people, as you so condescendingly called them.

    Which I didn’t.

    And it’s also important for the mentally-disabled who are capable of learning in the first place.

    Agreed. I just don’t think we should do that at the expense of the majority of schoolchildren. And full inclusion kids are a liability in the classroom. (I suspect that this last sentence may be the other primary area of our disagreement.)

    And you missed my point. I will quote what I said again:
    ” Nearly all of them, except Les Miserables, are dependent not merely on their initial inventors, but on a lot of ordinary people doing a lot of things consistently.”

    Notice that I did not repeat the word “inventors”, and I did not use the word “invention”. Instead I said “doing a lot of things consistently”. An invention, in normal English, is coming up with something new. Doing things consistently is rather the opposite.

    * * * *

    I think you are wrong to only focus on inventions, when our current prosperity depends both on inventions and on numerous actions repeated properly to actually take the ideas and turn them into the right thing in the right place.

    I wasn’t, by way of talk about Diet Coke, saying that invention is the only place to focus or find value, merely pointing out that the “ordinary” people of your argument aren’t only good for consistently doing what they are told by the people who invent the processes.

    I also really don’t understand what this talk about learning basic skills is supposed to accomplish. You seem to labor under the misapprehension that I don’t think teaching large numbers of people to read and follow instructions is important… that somehow, I think that we should pick out only the people who we know with a certainty will invent something majestic and we should teach them all sorts of stuff.

    Who thinks that? And how would they do it if they did think it? It’s impossible.

    I take it for granted that the job of schools in a high-functioning democracy is to educate the populace at large so that things can get done and lives are improved across the board. And I further take it for granted that this task should be accomplished in the most efficient way possible, meaning that we should maximize the value of every dollar we spend on education.

    Maybe Ray’s right and there are higher considerations… maybe what I take for granted is taken in error.

    But that still doesn’t explain why you’re bringing up the benefit of everyday academic skills to the population as a whole as a weapon with which to bludgeon my arguments. It’s somewhat inapposite.

    And speaking of bludgeoning…

    Of course, as you didn’t read properly what I wrote before, you’re unlikely to read this response of mine properly, and thus will miss all the points I make here, and will probably continue to be blind to the benefits of academic education, and so forth.

    You just called me “blind to the benefits of academic education”. And you want people to take your comments seriously?

    I’ll stop here… because I have to go and teach some people some stuff that is important because…. oh hell, I forget why it’s important. If only I could see the truth.

  19. Michel E. Lopez:
    We can obviously conceive of an intellect greater than that of the smartest human.

    Indeed, we could conceive of an intellect greater than that of the smartest human. I don’t know what point you are trying to make it here.

    Only that the same person at the same time can be both a genius and deficient. That makes it hard to determine what the word means.

    John Milton was a great poet, and also deficient in the area of seeing at the same time as he wrote some of his greatest poetry. Beethoven was a great composer and also deficient in the area of hearing at the same time as he wrote some of his great music.

    Someone can be both a genuis in one, or multiple areas of their life, and deficient in one, or deficient in multiple other areas, simultaneously.

    My comment about divorce was because I was listing things that happen later in life that can cause deficiencies, along with birth.

    It’s not an unusual definition. First, it’s not a definition at all. I was saying that “all special ed kids are stupid”,

    And this is an unusual definition of special education. I quoted an easily available dictionary that specifically listed special education including those whose mental ability, physical ability, emotional functioning, etc, required special services. You can say that all special ed kids are stupid, but if you’re using the term like most normal English speakers you’re wrong, if you’re right then you have to have had redefined “special ed” in a narrower sense than most English speakers.

    But it also contradicts the way that the vast, vast, vast majority of people use the term “special ed.”

    No evidence is offered in support of your hypothesis. And I find it unlikely, for a start I have heard the word “special education” used often about services for autistic kids, including by their parents, and services for a kid in a wheelchair, by her mother, and about myself, for my speech disability as a result of my dyspraxia. Obviously being autistic, in a wheelchair or having a speech disability does not mean that the person necessarily has a low IQ (although obviously not everyone in a wheelchair, who is autistic or has a speech disability is brillant either).

    But even so, NO ONE who isn’t out to make a political point uses the term “special education” to refer to gifted students, so to the extent that you want to wave the dictionary in my face, you have to accept that being technically correct in this case means that you’re the one with the unusual definition.

    I don’t know what you’re on about here. I didn’t use the term “special education” to refer to gifted students. I did list some famous disabled people who have made massive accomplishments and you might I suppose be called gifted. But in an ordinary modern school system Stephen Hawking and Temple Grandin would have been in special education, in Stephen Hawking’s case because of his physical disabilities, in Temple Grandin’s because of her autism, not because they were gifted. But I included Stephen Hawking and Temple Grandin because they both would presumably be in special education because of their deficiences and because they also accomplished inventions, not because they were gited per se. My list of brillant people was confined to those who were brillant and *obviously* had deficiencies (although I provided you with a link to some more questionable cases).

    What’s happening is what I predicted. You didn’t bother to read my first reply to you and instead rattled off a kneekjerk reaction, and now you’re doing it again. Rather than actually engage with my arguments and possibly learning something, or finding some mistakes in my arguments, you’re wasting your time. Luckily for me your misapprehensions is sharpening my own understanding of my own arguments.

    I wasn’t, by way of talk about Diet Coke, saying that invention is the only place to focus or find value, merely pointing out that the “ordinary” people of your argument aren’t only good for consistently doing what they are told by the people who invent the processes.

    Michael E. Lopez, going back to your original argument, your response to Margo/Mom was that we should focus investment on middle/high end achievers because we get return on investment because those people would likely make numerous inventions, many of which you listed.

    Now if you already agreed with me that invention is not the only thing necessary for creating value, and that those inventions need to mostly be turned into practical goods by the work of numerous people for those spillover benefits, then why did you say to Margo/Mom that we should focus investment on the middle/high achievers for the spillover benefits? Your initial argument doesn’t make sense if you also thought that producing and delivering those inventions en masse had spillover benefits.

    Again, what is happening is what I predicted. You didn’t read my argument and engage with it, this time either.

    As an aside, thank you for pointing out that ordinary people have value beyond consistently doing what they are told by the people who invent the processes. In return I would like to point out to you that the sky is blue. After all, you didn’t mention this, so you must be ignorant of it, right?

    You seem to labor under the misapprehension that I don’t think teaching large numbers of people to read and follow instructions is important… that somehow, I think that we should pick out only the people who we know with a certainty will invent something majestic and we should teach them all sorts of stuff.

    I most certainly do not think that you think that “we should pick out only the people who we know with a certainty will invent something majestic and we should teach them all sorts of stuff”, my apologies for my poor writing skills that falsely made it seem like I thought that you believed such a silly argument.

    I was responding to your earlier question that “Now, what sorts of characteristics might be appropriate for including someone in a classroom that is designed to teach academic subjects? ”

    I thought by introducing this argument you were implying that special education students shouldn’t be included in the classroom designed to teach academic subjects, so I pointed out the reasons as to why special education students should be included in a classroom designed to teach academic subjects, as a reason why special education students did not differ in the relevant sense from Mexican-American students.

    You are free to expand your argument as to why Mexican-American students do differ in the relevant way from special education kids.

    Again, what is happening is what I predicted. You didn’t read my argument and engage with it, this time either.

    As for Temple Grandin, she’s a relevant example because you said:
    Because nothing will be gained by anyone else by mainstreaming special ed students. The special ed kids will gain — they’ll probably learn some stuff, maybe be able to carve out a slightly better life for themselves. But when we give more to the middle and high-end achievers, we get return on investment.

    The But here I read as implying was that although special ed kids might gain from learning some stuff, they won’t produce “return on investment”, return on invesmtment only is the result of educating non-special ed students. Temple Grandin produced return on investment for society in the sense of coming up with new systems and inventing new stuff.

    Again, what is happening is what I predicted. You didn’t read my argument and engage with it, this time either. And apparently you didn’t engage with your initial argument.

    Well then maybe you could, you know… explain what it was. Because it seemed like your point was that I was wrong because I was ignoring all those “ordinary” people, as you so condescendingly called them.

    Oh dear. I most certainly did not intend to give that impression. I was saying that you were wrong because you only considered the value of the initial invention as return on investment, and not about the value of actually producing the goods and delivering them to the right place at the right time.

    I most certainly did not think that you “ignored all those ordinary people”, I thought that you ignored an essential part of the economic process, not ordinary people per se. I didn’t think that because you didn’t write anything that would have led me to believe that you believed such an argument.
    As you do not like my use of the word “ordinary people” as a contrast to the people who invented/discovered/created refrigeration, pencillin, polio vaccine, automobiles, Les Miserables, etc, please tell me what word you would prefer me to use in its place.

    Again, what is happening is what I predicted. You didn’t read my argument and engage with it, this time either.

    You just called me “blind to the benefits of academic education”. And you want people to take your comments seriously?

    I am not the person who was arguing that the relevant difference between Mexican-Americans and special ed students is that special education students don’t have the characteristics for including someone in a classroom designed to teach academic subjects. Although this is an interesting tactic, make stupid arguments, and then when someone calls you on them, use this to ridicule them, relying on the fact that most readers will have forgotten your earlier foolishness.

    I’ll stop here… because I have to go and teach some people some stuff that is important because…. oh hell, I forget why it’s important. If only I could see the truth.

    A useful method for seeing the truth is to take your advice to me earlier, and engage with what the person is saying, as opposed to what you have been doing to me, which is rattling off a response to some completely different argument. I hope this helps your teaching in the future. Perhaps you could practice the skill on this blog first?

    So, anyway, where are we now?
    Are you now agreed that:
    1) Special education kids can, like Mexican-Americans, benefit from an academic education?
    2) Society benefits from both the invention of useful new products and the successful manufacturing and delivery of those products to those who need/want them, in other words “return on investment” from education is not just from the initial ideas developers but from the implementors as well even if those implementors never invent something?
    3) Special education kids, in the sense of not merely the mentally-disabled, but those “whose mental ability, physical ability, emotional functioning, etc, required special services” can create inventions that benefit society (sometimes conditional on the implementation happening as well)?

    If so, then I can narrow this down to a debate about whether mentally-disabled kids should be educated in a mainstream classroom. I am not sure if this was your original position and you’re just really bad at expressing yourself, or if you just are trying to back out of your earlier arguments now I’ve challenged on them, but I think we might have quite a few areas of agreement on the narrower argument.

  20. Margo/Mom says:

    Tracy–I have been thoroughly enjoying this from the sidelines. My own taste for this particular fight has been somewhat diminished. It is discouraging that so many cling to the point of view that Mr. Lopez is so clearly expressing. In fact, it is unusual for someone to articulate so plainly that a belief that 1) special ed refers to students rather than services; and that 2) special ed students are in fact stupid; with the consequent conclusion that 3) special ed students aren’t worthy of much investment and they are a pain to have around.

    I fear that many who adhere to such beliefs are far less clear–hiding behind pretenses such as the best needs of all the children (including those with special needs), the elusive promise of a return some day (after they are fixed and “caught up”) or the exasperated “what are we supposed to do when they beat up all the regular kids and their teachers?”

    In fact the greatest harm that I have experienced (albeit vicariously) in my recent walk through public education with my son and the systematic exclusion of students with disabilities are those associated with the overwhelming cultural belief within schools that “special ed” is a class of person, that such people are stupid, that such people are not worthy of an education equivalent to that received by those outside that particular group and that they are, in short, a pain to have around. In short–there is little that is special about special education, and why on earth would there be?

    I applaud your efforts at rational discussion, although I don’t know that you have a receptive audience in Mr. Lopez. I wish that I could recall where it was that I read a study that challenges his key assumption–that education of those with higher IQ’s results in a greater return on investment (turns out not to be so, according to this particular longitudinal study). But, in the end, I think that your point with regard to the responsibilities of public education in a democracy is a core belief that drives many to improve the lot of all students, and one that is to be encouraged.

  21. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    Tracy & Margo,

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why people think that the following statements are equivalent:

    * Special education students should not be taught in the same classrooms as the average student because it actively harms the education of the average (and above-average, if they aren’t segregated) students. This harm is not outweighed by the benefit to the special education students because the special education students as a class are deficient in ways that interfere with their educations (i.e., they are either dumb as a box of hammers, if you are using my more limited definition, or they take a great deal of extra effort on the part of the teacher and even their own classmates, if we use Tracy’s more expansive definition) and that means that the value lost to the high/middle achievers is a greater loss of investment than the value gained for the special ed kids.

    * Special education students should be stuck in a closet and forgotten and not taught anything because they aren’t worth the time.

    One is an argument against mainstreaming. One is an argument against basic human rights.

    I strongly suspect that each of you is hearing the words “deficient” and “stupid” and assuming that anyone who would use such terms must lack compassion and therefore must be making the second argument rather than the first.

  22. Margo/Mom says:

    “One is an argument against mainstreaming. One is an argument against basic human rights.”

    Michael–are you stupid?

    I suspect that you are adhering to the old “separate but equal” mythology.

  23. Michael E Lopez, I strongly suspect that each of you is hearing the words “deficient” and “stupid” and assuming that anyone who would use such terms must lack compassion and therefore must be making the second argument rather than the first.

    Interesting as to why you would suspect this, given that I explicitly quoted the arguments of yours I was debating. To quote your words again, for the third time, the arguments of yours I most objected to were:
    Because nothing will be gained by anyone else by mainstreaming special ed students. The special ed kids will gain — they’ll probably learn some stuff, maybe be able to carve out a slightly better life for themselves. But when we give more to the middle and high-end achievers, we get return on investment.
    And also one that isn’t so easily quotable as it came in a couple of stages – that special-ed students differed from Mexican-Americans in the relevant sense because classrooms are set up for academic achievment (and thus, if your initial argument had any logic to it, although you did not spell this out, special ed students would not benefit from academic achievement).

    I noticed that in your last reply to me, you did not try to defend the earlier arguments you made, and instead went off on some vague lines about what you thought that I might be presuming about your argument. And now you’re trying this tactic again. This is a tactic to avoid real debate. The conclusion I draw from this is that you can’t defend your argument that special ed kids don’t offer “return on investment” and you’re too arrogant to admit you were wrong or even to withdraw quietly, so you’re trying to distract my attention from your original foolishness.

    This is in line with your calling Margo/Mom crass for simply asking a question, and your earlier tactic of making a stupid argument and then when I called you on it, attempting to use my criticism of you as a reason to dismiss my arguments.

Trackbacks

  1. […] rest is here: Educating all the children « Joanne Jacobs By admin | category: child, children | tags: bank-posted, became-lives, benefit-their, […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19, JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: Educating all the children: http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/01/educating-all-the-children/ […]