The Importance of Keeping the Special Needs Child in the Classroom (Or Not)

Calhan High School seniors in Colorado, USA.
Calhan High School seniors in Colorado, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the time my son was in second grade, I was working as a special education assistant. I was an “inclusion” aide/a paraprofessional/etc. “Inclusion” is what happens when a special needs child is put into a regular classroom with his/her own peers. Different states and school district call it different things. It came into vogue in the late 1980’s when President Reagan passed some sweeping legislation regarding special needs people.

I must say that “inclusion” is an excellent idea with qualifications. IF the special needs child is willing and quiet and IF the school district provides the child with special needs with a trained assistant to facilitate the child’s participation in a regular classroom the program WILL work.

There are two reasons “inclusion” does not work. The first and most important reason is if the child is violent and unable to control impulses to scream, throw furniture, or sit in a classroom with other children. And when I say “sit in a classroom with other children” I mean if the child does not have the ability to stay in one place without outrageous outburst that result in chaos, that child is not able to “sit in the classroom with other children.” (I realize I’m repeating myself on various levels here.) The other reason “inclusion” does not work is when there is not a dedicated person to sit next to the child and quietly facilitate a level of learning so the child feels fully integrated into the classroom projects and curriculum with their peers.

I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen abject failure.

Another reason it does not work is perhaps outside what a school district has control of – the special needs child’s’ parent is unwilling or unable to recognize the limitations of their child in the public school setting.

I was a teaching assistant or a long-term substitute teacher in public school from grade K through 12th grade. My education degree left me a qualified teacher trainer for private school. Instead of pursuing that I got a degree in art and worked as a commercial artist. Then I had children. I spent nine years full-time with special education in public school before switching to the job as long-term sub where I would have to not only write curriculum but write the tests.

I’ve worked with teachers I wouldn’t want near my child and I’ve worked with teachers I adored. I’ve seen children taken from my classroom in handcuffs, kids who were too high to lift their heads from the desk, and I’ve seen children who desired to excel. On September 11, 2001 it was my first day as a long-term substitute in second grade. That morning when the planes hit the buildings in NYC the principal came on the loud-speaker and informed us that if parents came to pick up their children, we were to let them go. I didn’t understand what he was talking about. About five minutes later I did. I couldn’t believe it – teachers crying in the halls, frantic parents running toward classrooms. It all made sense later. Problem was I had just taken over from a teacher who had had a meltdown the day before. The next day the kids came to class crying. They thought that the planes had killed their teacher the day before and that was why I was there. I kept up with those kids for ten years. Every time they ever saw me it was a hugfest. Such sweethearts. What a dope their teacher was to leave them.

I’ve had the privilege to teach a child that everyone else had given up on. She learned to read, to write, and to add and subtract. That is the joy of teaching. Without “inclusion” that would never have happened.

But I’ve also seen children who have kept a teacher entirely focused on their needs to the exclusion of all the other children in the room. I’ve seen children in second grade throw desks, or have to be put into a “safe” hug and be carried out of the room kicking and screaming by two or more teachers. This stops the education process of 28 other children. There is no telling what kind of psychological aspects such doings have on a regular child’s mind.

With all the other distractions a regular classroom offers a child, to have such folly on a daily basis is nuts.

I have a friend who is a teacher at a charter school and her situation is even worse. The children in her school are booted forward every grade level but don’t actually acquire any skill level with any degree of accuracy as far as reading, writing and arithmetic. I don’t believe charter schools are the answer. They sound great, but they fall to the level of their counterparts. Water seeks its level and runs down.

Private schools are damn expensive.

Next blog: the solution isn’t so complicated.

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