The History Of Special Education In The Twentith Century During the twentieth century, drastic changes were made to vastly improve the special education system to ensure that all students, regardless of their ability, were given equal rights according to the Constitution of the United States. During early colonial America, schooling was not mandatory and it was primarily given to the wealthy Anglo-Saxon children (Carlson, p230). Children were mainly taught in the home or in a single room schoolhouse. Therefore, children of limited mental capability were not likely to be schooled.
Also, in a non-graded schoolhouse, children of differing abilities did not pose problems. With the beginning of mandatory education in 1852 and the influx of large numbers of immigrants with their children (Reddy, p5), America was faced for the first time with educating a heterogeneous group of students.These children had diverse social and cultural backgrounds, as well as something the educators of the previous, homogenous schools had not been forced to deal with. Many of these children showed signs of various learning, developmental, physical, and emotional/behavioral problems. During the 1920’s, separate schools were established for the blind, deaf, and more severely retarded (Reddy, p5). However, students that were considered mildly disabled were educated in regular schools, just thought to be ‘slow learners’. Soon educators started to develop separate classes for disabled students. The reasoning for taking them out of the normal classroom (exclusion) has not changed in the last eighty years.
People today, who are still in favor of exclusion, have the same justification for their belief. It was thought that students with special needs required separate classrooms, where they would receive individualized attention and instruction. In these special classrooms, a specially trained teacher would provide the instruction.
As ideal as this might sound, it is hardly what did occur. The optimism of the educators to successfully teach the disabled students faded during the 1930’s and the 1940’s. Special education classes were held under horrible conditions.
The rooms were insufficient, with limited resources, the teachers were poorly trained and the curriculum was inadequate. Schools also often classified students as having disabilities when they did not. Additionally, students were often labeled with one type disability when they had another. This practice (misclassification) (Turnbull et al p16) was a common discrimination in American schools. One might wonder why the conditions were so deplorable.
Why were the teachers so terribly unqualified? It appears that the common perception of the disabled students was like that of Quasimodo, in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. They were misunderstood, and considered to be monstrous–something to be hidden away, shunned and rejected by ‘normal’ people. The public’s attitude with disabled children was one of fear, as if the disability was somehow contagious. They were looked upon as ‘crazy’ people. This general outlook set the standard for educating students with special needs.
They were classified as inferior, so why should the school system bother to work with ‘the retards’? The mind-set was that these students were ‘untrainable’ (Koch, p907) so they were not of worthy satisfactory conditions and competent teachers. In the course of the 1950’s, parents started to become vocal about the outrageous conditions of the special education classes. Then, greatly encouraged by the Civil Rights movement, advocates for students with disabilities began to sue state and local officials. Their main argument was that exclusion and misclassification violated the students’ rights to an equal educational opportunity under the United States Constitution. In Brown v.
Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decided that schools are not allowed to segregate their students by race. In view of that, the advocates argued, schools may also not segregate students by their ability. After all, students are students, regardless of their race or ability. The advocates for equal right in education, proved to be successful in pleading their case.
On October 7th, 1971, a federal court ordered Pennsylvania to provide a free public education to all retarded children (PARV v.Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). The next year (August, 1972), a federal judge ordered Washington, D.C. to offer educational facilities to all handicapped and emotionally disturbed children (Mills v. Washington, D.C.
). These legislations served three main purposes. The first was to provide a free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities, a right that was long overdue.
The second purpose was to educate students with special needs in the same school and, to the maximum extent, the same programs as their non-disabled peers.The third purpose was to put into effect a ‘checks-and-balances’ system so that students with disabilities have legal recourse in the case of a school not living up to the requirements made by the law (Turnbull et al p17). Three pioneers of special education envisioned a different profession. They had new ideas on how to serve children with disabilities.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, they began to vocalize their criticism for the old system and ideas to rectify the problems. By showing these new ways, they paved the way for modern special education.As early as 1968, Lloyd Dunn began to question the efficiency of placing students with mild disabilities into special classes.
It was his belief that children must stop being labeled as ‘mentally retarded’. “Furthermore,” Dunn states, “we must stop segregating them by placing them into our allegedly special programs.” (Dunn, p299-237) Dunn argued that special educators should assume fundamentally new roles. They should work with general education teachers, providing them with resources and consultation. In doing that, many students could remain in general education and avoid separate placements all together.In advocating mainstreaming for those with mild disabilities, Dunn also emphasized the importance of special education placement rather than exclusion for those students with severe disabilities.
As previously stated, children with more pronounced or severe disabilities were considered outcasts and excluded from school altogether. Dunn also questioned the need for disability labeling. Instead, he suggested using labels that describe the nature of the education that the student was going to receive, such as language or cognitive development.
Dunn’s ideas caused educators to become more aware of the needs for non-discriminatory assessments and placement in general education settings.In 1970, another activist, Evelyn Deno, published an article, “Special Education as Developmental Capital”. She was committed to making schools more responsive to diversity among children. Deno challenged that the special education system should improve the effectiveness of public school education for all students.
Deno offered the concept of a cascade of services to reshape the school system. “The cascade system is designed to make available whatever different-from-the- mainstream kind of setting is required to control the warning variables deemed critical for the individual case.” (Deno, p5-22) Deno’s major argument was in favor of individualized, student-centered education and against system-centered sorting.It was the blueprint for the placement options that are major parts of federal and state special education laws and practices. In 1972, James Gallagher voiced his concern that students with mild disabilities were being retained in classes that were not assisting them, seeing as their need for specialized education had expired. This contract would safeguard against incorrect and permanent placements, as well as help educators emphasize students’ strengths and positive contributions.
Gallagher stated that “placement of primary school age, or mildly retarded, or disturbed, or learning disabled children in a special education unit would require a contract signed between parents and educators, with specific goals and a clear time limit.” (Gallagher, p527-535) Gallagher’s ideas, modified to some extent, resurfaced just three years later. The modified version found its way into a federal law in the form of an individualized education program (IEP), and a due process of hearing.
The advocates’ success culminated 1975 when, on November 29, President Gerald Ford signed the Education o …