The Problem Isn’t Resources, It’s the Concept of Special Education

I saw this on GeekDad about Intersectionality in Special Education and it left me feeling frustrated. Karen Walsh talks about how gifted children (and she prefers the term “sparky”) are discriminated against in school and how to fix it. While I agree with her description of the challenges sparky children face, I strongly disagree with the accusation that parents of children with special needs are hoarding resources for their children and leaving sparky children out to dry. The problem isn’t resources. The problem is a school system that caters to one educational type and punishes any child who does not fit that type!

I’ve written about how in theory children with special needs have a legal right to accommodations, but how in practice that seldom materializes. In that post I gave examples of how teachers can help students through observation and problem solving strategies that don’t cost a lot. But this doesn’t happen. I’ve also written about the problem of the concept of special education and why we should get rid of it. I strongly feel that rather than seeing most children as typical learner with a few who can’t (and the schools often view these problems as willful and not as a result of how their brains are wired), we should take the attitude in education that EVERY child learns differently and group them with children who learn in a similar manner.

This means completely redoing schools. This means having more teachers. This means training teachers to observe how children learn and to problem solve when they have difficulties. These are things that teachers right now aren’t trained to do. It’s easier just to say a child is being willful and punish them. But it’s a lot more harmful.

Bottom line, having a son in special education, growing up in special education and working with kids in special education, I have yet to see many schools placing the context of these children’s difficulty learning or behavior in the context of their difference. Just like sparky kids, they are expected to just get over it. In theory we have legal protection, in practice, we don’t. My son was never taught coping skills by the school. He was called defiant and the expectation was he should straighten up and get with the program.

Having a child with special needs does not open the door to a magical world where the school is attentive to their needs. Parents have to fight. IEPs are ignored. The concept of special education is failing too many students. We need to see every child as a unique learner. And we definitely don’t need to point the finger at parents who are struggling to get the ISD to acknowledge their children’s unique needs.


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