Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The same old thing in a bright shiny wrapper

I find myself very anxious about meeting with Robert's school in a few days. Until late last year, I thought the school was actually making some effort to educate him, that it was just slow going getting him a communication device. Now, as I piece together my impressions over the last few years, I have this very different picture: that this is really about bias.

Some of this is the fault of the superintendent of schools for Montgomery County, Jerry Weast. His project with special ed has been to get rid of many of the special learning centers around the county, and get special education students placed back in their home schools. This is a worthy goal, but, like the Bush Administration's approach to Iraq, it seems to be a goal without a plan of appropriate action or follow-through.

Specialized learning centers offer the advantage of having various services on-site, so that the student has more contact with learning and augmentative tech specialists on a regular, even daily basis. Services can be better coordinated for the child, and experts can work together to solve problems. The downside to this is that atypically developing children are kept isolated from their typically developing peers, which is bad for their social integration, and bad for the typically developing kids, too, as being around people who are different increases tolerance and understanding of the difficulties of others.

If special ed children are returned to their home schools, then learning specialists have to travel to them, and now they're scattered all over the county. That means that the kids have less time with specialists and see them on perhaps, if they're lucky, a weekly basis, rather than a daily one. This impedes learning, and it taxes the resources of the home school. Without hiring more augmentative tech people, more special educators, more therapists, children are actually receiving fewer services than they were in an alternative environment. Then they fall behind, then they (and their parents) are blamed for failures that the school system itself has exacerbated.

Regular teachers at home schools should be undergoing computer training, so that they are aware of the variety of softwares that will enable them to adapt lesson plans to the disabled students in their classrooms (the applications in these programs might even spark new ideas for general classroom use, frankly). But that doesn't happen. As far as I can see, the system is basically defaulting to the old-fashioned one, where special ed kids are kept separate from the typically developing kids in the same school, educated separately and inadequately, and lids are being put on their education aspirations. The only improvement is some kind of 'feel good' social interaction, which is more important for the typically developing kids--the stereotypical kind of liberalism that benefits and reinforces the cultural hegemony, and has little more than a vague empathetic impact on the people it is supposed to help.

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