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Emancipation in Special Education

December 5, 2010
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How would Mill react to opposition to Mainstreaming?

Our classes’ discussion of Mill’s view on emancipation and how the ideas can be applied to gender differences within athletics was very important to me.  This is because many of the ideas that were highlighted within lecture and in section can be used to think about another controversial issue from another critical domain, public education.  Specifically, these ideas can be helpful when trying to decide if special needs students should be mainstreamed in the general student population.

As a senior in UM’s School of Education,  one of the most daunting and emotional issues that I commonly read about is the policy of Mainstreaming that is starting to be implemented in primary and secondary public education.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, Mainstreaming refers to the act of integrating special needs students into the general population of “normal” classrooms.  The teacher, working with a personalized a supplementary learning plan for that student, called an IEP, is then responsible for teaching these challenged learners within the context of their regular class.

This strategy is in stark contrast to the methods public education has traditionally used to educate special needs students.  For decades, special learners have been divided from the main student population, and required to learn within a separate learning space, often called a resource room.  Historically, these isolated special needs programs were overcrowded and underfunded, leading to a serious separation gap in the level of education that these learners were receiving.  As a result, for years large numbers of students within the United States’ education system have failed to receive an equal, not to mention adequate, education.

From this brief history it is evident that special needs students have been subordinated and subjected to lesser education within the hierarchy of the education system.  Mainstreaming special education students is a strategy to try to free challenged learners from this broken system.  However, in many places it has been met with resistance.  Specifically, many have argued that the strategy is a waste of time, energy and resources.  However, when we analyze these opinions through the views of Mill, we can see that Mill would strongly disagree with this logic.

First, it is useful to use the ideas we have talked about in class to understand the resistance Mainstreaming has faced.  One important reason for the rejection of the process is the value barriers that the plans implementation has faced.  Many people simply believe that special learners cannot become as productive to society as regular learners.  As a result, they see it useless to add extra stress to teachers and spend additional resources on students whom they don’t believe will be as productive to society.  While this may seem logic to some, we know from lecture that Mill would disagree.

Simply put, judging whether someone’s’ education is productive is an entirely subjective matter.  This component is similar to our discussion on achieving excellence in athletics.  Defining “excellence” is a ridiculous task because the concept can have many different meanings to different people.  The same is true when judging the productivity of education in a student’s life.   Yet, for hundreds of years people have used the justification of special needs students being naturally inferior in order to subject them to lower standards of quality in education. Thus, we identify why Mill would most likely support Mainstreaming special needs students.

In The Subjection of Women, Mill wrote, “…human beings are no longer born in their place in life, and chained down by an inexorable bond to the place they are born to, but are free to employ their faculties, and such favourable chances as offer, to achieve the lot which may appear to them the most desirable” (Mill 17).  This shows that Mill believed that contingent facts of one’s birth should not determine their fate.  Instead, he believed that students with disabilities should have equal opportunities to receive a proper education.  Accordingly, it is likely he would have favored special needs students’ emancipation from inadequate educational opportunities through methods such as Mainstreaming.

Analyzing this controversial issue through Mill’s perspective is attractive because it renders a verdict that is more socially acceptable to the general public.  However within the space of this blog, I’m only able to investigate the issue from one perspective of the opposition.  So, I’d like to open up the floor to you guys.  What do you think about Mainstreaming special needs students?  Are there other difficulties that should restrict its implementation?  Are there other theorists we have read in this class that can contribute to this debate (a social contract somewhere perhaps?).  Post your comments below and let’s find out!

8 Comments
  1. Will Butler permalink
    December 5, 2010 6:42 PM

    I think mainstreaming sounds very appealing. I certainly that this isolation has and will continue to cause certain problems. I also agree with Mill that the traits of you birth (class, race, sex, and special needs) should not be the sole determinate of your fate. However, I am worried about the practical application of mainstreaming. How exactly would this work? Would it come at a disadvantage to the other students? I am not against it, just uninformed.

    • jptrue permalink
      December 7, 2010 11:26 AM

      Will, I’d love to give you a little more background info based on my experiences in order to help you weight in on the issue. The basic implementation of Mainstreaming involves creating a specialized alternative learning plan for the the student with special needs. This is what I referred to earlier as an IEP or Individualized Education Program. This plan is usually created by a team of adults, including specialists trained in helping challenged learners, parents, teachers, and sometime the student themselves. The plan then first seeks to identify what challenges the student faces. Breaking down learning into different components, the IEP seeks to identify regions where the student is especially struggling. For example, if you had a student with ADD in you classroom, the student might have trouble with staying on task, causing them to create distractions instead of productive behavior. The next part of the IEP then seeks to create goals and layout strategies for achieving those goals. For example, perhaps a goal would be to have the student fully complete their test in the time allotted. The strategy could then be to have the teacher rewrite or modify the test so that it is less distracting for that learner, possibly helping them focus on the questions (other modifications could be reading the questions to the student or letting them take the exam orally). Thus, a lot of the criticism towards Mainstreaming results from the overwhelming affect it can have on teacher preparation. From my work in high schools, I’ve talked to teachers who have had up to 10 IEP learners in their classroom. Every time when the teacher wanted to create an assessment, these IEP plans kicked into affect, causing the teacher to have to handle a plethora of specific needs during the test taking activity. In addition, since many students were allotted extra time to finish, some tests were not completed 2-8 days after the original exam. Some many argue that this added stress on the teacher negatively affects other students because their time, attention, and energy is distributed unequally amongst all students. Thus, the question becomes, in education does equality mean equal amount of attention or equal results? What do you think?

  2. mlevin44 permalink
    December 6, 2010 1:29 PM

    The thing that intrigued me the most about your post was the poll. Only six people had voted so far and the results were tied. I actually sat here for a while waiting and thinking about whether or not I believe special education should be integrated into our classes. I thought about my own experience, what I have learned from reading Mill, and what I think is right. The fact that in general Special Education programs are to quote your post “overcrowded and underfunded” is disgusting and discouraging. At my high school though, the program is extremely respected. The teachers are fantastic and the facilities are very nice. Even with the good Special Education program, the students are also integrated into certain classes such as Drama and other arts programs. I was lucky enough to be able to direct a Special Education student in a One Act in my theater program. This student was extremely hard working and resilient; a lot more than I can say about other freshman cast members. For this I believe that “excellence” can be defined in so many ways. I was lucky to have someone from Special Education in my class, not the other way around.

    • jptrue permalink
      December 7, 2010 11:32 AM

      Thanks for the great post! I agree with the latter half of your post entirely! One of the components of Mainstreaming that often goes ignored is the social benefits that it offers other students in the classroom. Having a special needs student in their class, while frustrating and distracting at times, can also teacher acceptance, patience, and respect to all students. Personally as an educator, I think being exposed and learning these positive characteristics should take president over learning a bunch of facts. This is because ultimately, those features will serve people far more in their future lives. As a result, when thinking about an “equal” education, you almost have to wonder if including exposure to people unlike themselves should be a requirement in order to properly educate students socially. However, I won’t deny that offer that exposure makes learning more challenging for everyone involved. What do you guys think? Do the Pros outweigh the Cons when trying to build an equal education for ALL?

  3. lrib12 permalink
    December 7, 2010 3:58 PM

    My sister just graduated with a degree in special education and with this degree many hours of student-teaching and observing. From her insights and comments I feel integration should be done. When she was called upon to create lesson plans, she took into account those with special needs, and from her empirical findings she always came back with great news about how smoothly everything went. Of course different experiences will always occur and granted some have training in special education and others do not, but because I feel with proper training this can be achieved I am all for it.

    • jptrue permalink
      December 8, 2010 12:33 PM

      Thanks for your input on the conversation, I think you bring up a super valid point. Sometimes I think supporters of Mainstreaming automatically assume that inclusion is advantageous because learners tend to achieve more when they are given higher expectations. However, as you pointed out at the end of your comment, a lot of teachers don’t have a lot of experience with special education. This is especially true for new teachers. For example, during the course of my training through the SoE at UM, the only training we have with special needs students comes from a couple days in EDUC 391 (Educational Psychology) and a 1 credit seminar during the semester we student teach. Indeed, I went to the high school I will be teaching at next semester yesterday and received 7-8 IEP on the first day of the trimester. I can tell you first hand that it was overwhelming, and I’m not sure how I’ll exactly ensure those students receive the same education as students without additional needs. It makes me wonder if I can offer equal instruction to all realistically.

  4. tanoodle permalink
    December 7, 2010 5:45 PM

    I quite enjoyed this post mostly because it tore me between two sides. For one, I am all for equality of opportunity and integration of IEP learners. I think that with the proper resources, extra staff, and wonderful facilities, this integration could be extremely successful for everyone involved, and the students would benefit so much from it. I don’t know if anyone has taken Psych 111 with Professor Schreier, but we watched a video called “Educating Peter,” in which Peter, a boy with Down’s Syndrome was put into a regular 3rd or 2nd class (I cannot remember which) with regular students. This video was very eye-opening as it showed how this small example of integration not only extremely benefited Peter, but it also helped the regular students in the class. Peter’s behavior and learning greatly improved over the year, and even the students seemed to mature as they worked with Peter and with each other to create a strong learning environment. This example really illustrated to me the benefits of integration.

    However, I am also somewhat against integration as higher grade levels are reached. Even in high school, students are being challenged more and more each year. Many of them cannot even keep up with the demands of high school anymore. I feel that integration could take away from these kids’ education because the pace would be even slower. Teachers wouldn’t have the time, and most importantly, the IEP learners would suffer. Their way of learning is completely different, and I think a separate program could benefit them much more.

    As you can see, I am torn between the two options. My solution is to only integrate until a certain grade level. Overall, I am all for integration, as long as it is done properly.

    • jptrue permalink
      December 8, 2010 12:28 PM

      Thanks for the great post! I’ve also seen Educating Peter, along with many other special needs students while observing and working in field placements, and I think the movie is a great example of how Mainstreaming can actually help offer more equal education for everyone. Your idea of integration until a point is very interesting to me, because I think that are getting at the fact that perhaps Mainstreaming is actually a disservice to children at a certain point, because they simply can’t receive the proper scaffolding anymore due to the logistical challenges teachers face. This goes back to the whole idea of what a “productive” education is. Does including them in a situation for which they are unprepared to handle really ensure equality or disaster? I think its a valid question worth investigating further…

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