Sunday, September 9, 2007

Additional SPED Thoughts

I wanted to make some additional comments about special education. Every right is an individual right. No such thing as "group rights" exists, only the right of each member of the group.

When it comes to considering individuals with disabilities, I definitely believe that these individuals do have rights, just as everyone else does. The problem comes when the assumption is made that the rights of some individuals (the ones with disabilities) outweigh the rights of all the other individuals, and that seems be the current reality.

An additional factor in the discussion is the "right" of "free" schooling to all citizens. I am not certain I believe in any such right, and of course schooling always costs someone. If you do believe that children should receive free schooling, I believe children with disabilities should receive the exact same sum per student for education as every other child in their district. If allowances for a student with special needs can be made for the same
budgetary allotment as other students, great. Do it. Help that kid learn at whatever level he can achieve. If special allowances cannot be made for the same costs, the family or other sources should provide the additional amount needed for the child's education.

The Brown vs. Board of Education case made the point that separate is inherently unequal, and this is true. We as humans are all inherently valuable because we're human. At the same time, we are not at all alike in ability. It is despicable to treat certain individuals as though they warranted special treatment because they have less ability. This is true whether that special treatment is a cruel institution or a budget that's six times as much for a student with special needs.

6 comments:

Don Gwinn said...

I've given this some thought, too.

Here's the deal: before you get far into any special ed class, you should be told a whole bunch about "FAPE." That's a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

Now, you may not think of education as a human right, inherent in all human beings, the way you think of, say, self-defense. That's understandable.

However, it's an unnecessary question. The fact is that our society decided a long time ago, through the legislators we elect to represent us in our republic's government, that every child would be given an education in a public school. Later, it was decided that a free and appropriate public education would be guaranteed. We can quibble with the wide use of the word "right" in this context, but the fact remains that our nation took on that obligation.

The whole point of special education in this country is to treat children as inviduals, not groups. Treating children as homogenous groups would not require Individual Education Plans, for example, but treating them as individuals who don't all learn the same way does.

Moreover, on a practical level, it's not only unfair to force a child with a learning disability or a physical impairment to do what everyone else does, but it's probably wasteful and pointless, too. If you've got a student with autism, and rather than teach him social cueing, appropriate behavior, hygiene, stress coping, and school/job survival skills you try to treat him like everyone else an shove him through a few years of standard content-area education, you will teach him very little. In addition, you will probably be disrupting the educational process wherever he goes, because you can guarantee that his behavior will not be appropriate.

In short, you think you're saving money by "treating him just like the rest of the group" but you're not. This is like saving money by not changing the oil in your car; cheaper in the short run, but when the engine seizes, the expense of the oil changes will seem like a bargain.

jrshirley said...

Don, I'm not attempting to argue that mainstreaming or inclusion in gen ed is always the way to go. I'm not attempting to dictate that only one learning mode works for everyone.

What I am saying, is that only as much should be allocated in the learning budget towards that individual child with disabilities as every other child in the public system.

If you looked at my earlier post on the subject, I believe every student could benefit from an IEP: it's just not practical to give them one in a public system. I just must disagree that we as a society bear some obligation to give more much more of our resources away to some of our children than others. How fair is that? I further refuse to feel any guilt whatsoever about not wanting a disproportionate amount of funding directed at some children. It's only our tax monies that are being used for these programs, after all. Once we start believing that we as a society somehow owe some underprivileged/challenged or deprived members of our society because of what they don't have, believing in societal class leveling can't be far behind. I mean, just because the guy under the bridge doesn't work is no reason why he shouldn't drive a BMW just like a stockbroker, right? Of course, in the process of giving him an equivalent vehicle, the stockbroker might only get to drive a Chrysler.

Yes, I understand the nature of the things are different, certainly, but it's a dangerous trend, and in your position, you know very well that many school systems are underfunded as they stand. I know this is an issue you're heavily invested in, but I also know you're extremely intelligent, and can step away from your emotions to consider this.

Don Gwinn said...

Yeah, I've read the other post now. I didn't see it before I posted here.

I have as much faith in you as you do in me, so I believe that you're intelligent enough to look at what I posted and see that it wasn't emotional. ;)

The bare, naked fact is that the obligation does exist because the people we elected to represent us--literally, to act in our name--used that power to take on that obligation. If the obligation didn't exist, they created it. There's no emotional content there; the very most wild-eyed libertarians acknowledge the necessity of enforceable contracts.

Yes, many districts are underfunded. The problems are real. Refusing to make the accommodations that make it possible for a student to get an education in a public school is not the solution.

If you really wanted to do that, you could start with the kids being born the year after you decided to do it.

The solutions are going to a lot more complicated than most people think. You can kick the whole thing over to private schools, but they're still going to have to do something with those kids unless you want them all out in the cold. The kids with learning disabilities will struggle through and do whatever, and some of them will actually do better, because they never really had serious, impactful learning disabilities in the first place. The kids with more serious disabilities will crash and burn, and the (overwhelmingly public) institutional infrastructure that used to be the reason you didn't have to provide for those kids in schools is now largely gone--even if you could turn back time and pretend that there wasn't a very good reason why that model of care was abandoned.

I don't really care whether schools go private. If and when there are that many private schools, a good teacher will be able to get a job with them. I simply don't agree that there's going to be such a wholesale switch anytime soon, and I absolutely can't agree that it's going to solve the funding problems. It wasn't so long ago in this country that there weren't public schools. When they popped up, private enterprise could have jumped in on the emerging market and made a killing--except that there wasn't a killing to be made. No one has yet figured out a way to make primary through secondary education a profitable business, to my knowledge--you might recall that in the 1990's, there was a massive wave of "school corporations" who were going to set the world on fire and begin the glorious revolution. Most of the schools they took over are back with the public districts, at least around here. Maybe your area is different.
There are colleges out there making huge amounts of money . . . . from TV contracts for football and basketball. That model won't work for the corporation that takes over the schools in Virden, IL (population 4500 give or take.)

What I am saying, is that only as much should be allocated in the learning budget towards that individual child with disabilities as every other child in the public system.
I understood your point. You understand that a district that actually did that--refused to make a needed accommodation--would be destroyed in court, because it's against the law, right?
I guess I don't quite understand. If Johnny needs a desk, a teacher, and a locker, but Jenny needs a safe place and a visual schedule and an adapted PE (even though she's a math genius) she should just make do with a desk, a teacher and a locker, or not attend school?

Do the kids in wheelchairs have to make do with stairs, too? Ramps cost money; elevators cost a LOT of money. It hardly seems fair that a kid gets more money spent on him than others just because he needs it.

phlegmfatale said...

I agree!

Holly said...

LaP, with which one do you agree?

Gentlemen, This debate has interested me. I was out of town for a few days and found it growing like a mushroom in my absence.
John, do you mind if I refer my readers over here to read this multi-post and comment discussion, and then blog some thoughts of my own on this topic?

Don Gwinn said...

Don't let him push you around! Link whatever you want to link. Blog whatever you want to blog. It's crazy internet anarchy!

Keep in mind, everybody, that not everyone advocates making education as widespread as possible because the flowers and the rainbows told them to love the little children. If you live in a democratic republic, an educated electorate is something you build out of self-interest or suffer the consequences.


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