Emancipation in Special Education
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!