What a society feels about it’s diverse membership, particularly about citizens who are different, is expressed in the institutions of that society. A close look at the major institutions of our society the schools, the legislatures, and the courts should tell us a lot about the place of exceptional children in our society.
In the category of exceptional children one would find a list of any and every child that requires education in academic matters as well as life skills. These children must work at things that average society takes for granted. Out of this group of exceptional children has risen a disability that is drawing more and more attention known as Down Syndrome. The obvious reason for Down Syndrome children to come to the forefront is their parents. By this I mean that studies have shown that a couple with two or more college degrees among them are more likely to have a Downs baby then that of a couple of high school drop outs. This odd occurrence has lead to more affluent families to give birth to one or more Downs babies.
The limitations facing a Downs child will affect the child’s whole life and it is the environmental circumstances around him that determine how he fares in life. Included in these circumstances are his family and their unity and maybe most importantly his level of education.
In our society education plays a big part in all we do and this serves no difference for the Downs child. As we look back in time, we find that the notion of educating every child to achieve his or her greatest potential is a relatively new concept. The current use of the term exceptional is itself a reflection of the radical changes in societies views of people whom differ from the norm. The world has come along way from the Spartans’ practice of killing infants who did not meet their standards of normalcy, but the journey has been slow, moving from neglect and mistreatment, to pity and overprotection and finally to acceptance and integration to the fullest extent possible.
The phrase “Acceptance and integration into society to the fullest extent possible” has been the topic of the most heated arguments in education today. The term integration has grown to include such devices as inclusion and mainstreaming. Although the U.S. has come a long way from the 1850’s when 60 percent of people living in poor houses would today have been classified as exceptional.
The argument presented is have we done too much or not near enough? Proponents of inclusion believe that all children, regardless of disability or intensity of exceptionality, should be educated in general education environments. They assume that all students, including those with mild, moderate, or severe disabilities, should be educated with peers of the same age and in schools in their neighborhoods. To some advocates of inclusion any placement other than in the regular classroom posses a serious threat of putting a child at risk for an inferior education and deprives the child of the social relationships that can be nurtured in the general education settings. The overarching concern for those supporting inclusion seems to be the social relationships of the child with disabilities, rather than mastery of certain academic and technical skills. This strain falls in line with their idea of total social integration of all society. Inclusion visionaries will claim if we isolate these kids, during school age years, they will never be fully excepted by society.
The inclusion fire does not burn without opposition. The most influential of this opposition is the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA). The LDA’s view of inclusion is quite different. LDA believes that the appropriate place for many students with learning disabilities, especially Down Syndrome, is with a special education instructor. The LDA assume, these kids often need alternative instructional environments or teaching strategies that can not or will not be provided within the context of the regular classroom. The LDA is the most obvious bargaining force of special educators. The LDA believes that for the most part and especially in the case of the Downs child, the child benefits most by being under the instruction of an individual trained in the field of special education. They argue that the reason people push for inclusion is so that. Social association will occur. Yet, most case studies show that peers do not except the child. Instead the child is more rejected than if he or she were instructed separate and just meet with peers in a more social context.
This rejection is the basis for the third side of the conflict. Those involved in the side of the debate say ask the child how he or she feels about the other two parties here. The forces here state that research has shown the stress felt by regular education teachers to make adaptations for students with disabilities effects the over all class. Like the scene in the middle of fifth period, and Sabrina Smith, a student who has Cerebral Palsy, needs to go to the bathroom. She interrupts Carol Masterson, her teacher, who is giving instructions for a writing assignment to her seventh-grade class at Coats Middle School. “Ms. Masterson, I need to go now,” Sabrina Smith says haltingly, as her right hand operates the control to direct her electric wheelchair to the hallway door.
“Okay, Sabrina.” Masterson says. She knows Sabrina is physically unable to wait until later to go to the bathroom. She tells the other 35 students in class to begin writing on the assignment and walks quickly down the hall in pursuit of Sabrina.
“We don’t even know what we’re supposed to write about yet!” says Sal Rio, a tall boy who sits near the front, as Masterson walks by.
“Just write Sal,” Masterson responds. “Just write.” This is just a small excerpt of one case study in favor of both the LDA and those that believe in allowing the individual child make their own decision.
In all fairness all these groups have points in their favor as well as points against. Neither group denies the legitimacy of the other’s priorities. The issue is which should have precedence.
Since the ideologies behind inclusion and the concept itself are fairly new, it was an idea that was not dealt with by the great thinkers and theorists of educational psychology. Yet it is possible to take their writings and see just how these thoughts applied to inclusion. For instance, Piaget was found to have said, “As we develop we are also interacting with people around us.” According to Piaget, our cognitive development is influenced by social transmission, or learning from others. From this it is easy to argue that Piaget would have wanted some degree of inclusion to help promote these students social transmission with other students. Another theorist we are able to tie into inclusion is Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s Sociocultrual Perspective was one that asserts that cognitive development hinges on social interaction and the development of language. It is plausible that social interaction could have been obtained by exceptional children in contact with others like themselves. The development of language clause shows evidence that it would be better for these kids to exchange with regular kids, who more often than not have a better grasp of language. With this in hand, although the connection may be seen as vague, I would like to believe that these two would have been advocates for some degree of inclusion.
Based on my readings and findings along with my own personal experience of being a student, I follow the notion that these students should only be “mainstreamed” if they can make the choice themselves and feel comfortable about the decision. If not that, there should at least be some type of standardized test to prevent students incapable of inclusion from being put in the situation. I can not agree with placing a Down Syndrome student in regular classes just so their parents or the administrators can make the statement that the child is attending regular classes. In the case of a Down Syndrome student there is no getting around the physical differences so we can not expect immediate acceptance. It is a well-known fact that a few years ago people called their condition ” Mongoloid Disease. Their physical appearance makes it hard for them to blend in compared to other learning disability students. Furthermore to have a child in a room where the only attention they receive is negative or full of pity should be considered as cruel and unusual punishment. Some kids get absolutely nothing positive out of being in inclusion programs. At the same times I do realize there are some kids that get nothing out of special education classes because they are so far ahead of their peers. In most cases the special needs of the exceptional child are found aggravating by the teacher or makes the other students feel cheated and resentful.
In closing I would like to say that if the true intent of inclusion is to get Down Syndrome and other exceptional children to be accepted and sociable with their peers, then these programs should bring regular kids into special education classes. This way the regular student may get a better understanding of the exceptional student. The inclusion of an exceptional child into a regular classroom should be based on some tangible method like an exam. That way the students right to be there is earned by more than age much like the regular students who must past the pre requisite studies for that subject. Finally, classrooms are places where knowledge is to be obtained and or shared. If we are looking to achieve social acceptance then these programs should take place in a more social environment.