Learning disabilities have been becoming more noticeable in school systems. This has created a larger demand for reformation of the special education classroom. Students should be analyzed in the context of the culture in which they live or which they originated in order to create an objective picture of what is causing these behaviors to properly identify these students. The impact of the cultural affects on those with disabilities has been very underestimated by educators in the past. Because of these over sites many, children are misidentified as having certain disabilities instead of the disability that they are actually struggling with.
In “Education And Disability: Challenge and Opportunity,” chapter ten of Education and Disability in Cross-Cultural Perspective, the author Susan J. Peters explains this growing problem in detail. Since 1980 The World Health Organization’s International Classifications of Impairment, Disabilities, and Handicaps, along with others have been trying to create an international objective norm of identifying those with disabilities properly. They have not been successful because the rapid change created more divisions and less control. Students studying to be teachers in different countries, as well as different regions of the same country are taught different things to look for when referring students to be tested and different countries look at those with disabilities differently. Teachers that are already teaching have been taught differently then those who are in school now. In this situation the only way to create this ideal situation of world wide objectivity, is to change the curriculum of all teaching majors, and force all current teachers to go back to school and learn a whole new approach to special education. Since that is a bit improbable, it is up to individual countries to create a norm for identifying students to be taught in their colleges and universities. They also need to supply in services to schools to keep their teachers up to date with these changes and new found information.
Special education and the actual identification of students with needs are complicated. The book breaks it into four sections, called paradigms, to easier explain it. These were also created to help explain the problems that are a part of the current situation. The Medical paradigm covers the actually need to classify and label students in order to provide individualized services to and to focus on deficits that the student may have. It also points out that minorities seem to be more noticeable in groups of students with disabilities then those of the majority. This creates the question: Are students properly referred to testing and is the testing fair. Maybe there should be more students of the majority labeled as having a learning disability, but because of unfair testing based on cultural information they are not properly identified.
In the Social paradigm, students are supposed to be provided with resources that help them with their work, but they are also supposed to stay independent. Dependence on the services provided by the school system separates them from the other students that are not learning disabled. This creates a situation where their social roles are completely invalidated and they may become dependent on others for the rest of their lives.
In the political paradigm, special education is stated as an inalienable right. Students with needs are protected by the separate but equal doctrine and should have resources provided to ensure equal opportunity. In order to receive these rights, the students must admit to their seeming inferiority to other students. That is not the message that the special education community as a whole would like to project. Because students need specialized help does not mean they are inferior to others, however that is the feeling that many students with special needs receive from the public school systems’ approach to dealing with them and other people like them.
Finally, in the Plural paradigm is stated that diversity should be rewarded and seen as a positive sign, instead of a negative one. Special education classrooms should either have an even number of students from different races so that no minority status can be sensed, or they should be widely diverse. The more diverse the group is the more parts of the group become valued then other parts, and in situations where there is more diversity, exclusion is rampant. In society today, the first scenario is reached for by most school districts. The integration of child centered techniques should be introduced at different levels of intensity according to the level of disability the particular classrooms face. In these classrooms, where the child-centered techniques are being introduced, the child’s individualism is stressed more than the actual label or classification he or she carries in order to create a more positive self-image. It keeps the children in the public school system and in theory makes them feel more accepted. However, if the first scenario of this paradigm is reached, the segregation created by the way different parts of the group is valued by the instructors, creates a false base of support for all students.
Other problems stem from these paradigms. Stereotypes are built up by students and teachers alike to identify those with learning disabilities. These stereotypes also lead to irrational decision when planning special education programs, causing a kind of oppression in the special education classroom. These all create biases that plague the special education system and they create a long line of hurdles that must be overcome in the education world today.
Overall I do agree with what Peters’ has written. The biases created in the world of special education do need to be examined. Her conclusions are all very well researched and developed as she refers back to other authors from previous chapters, as well as external sources such as the World Heath Organization. She shows her reading audience the way things are now in the world of special education, then she shows them how it could be better or how it works against the students the rules were created to help and how we can try to change that.
However, I did have one question about the chapter in that she says that children that are referred are classified improperly due to preconceived notions about behaviors surrounding children with disabilities. My question was did she mean that these students were in fact in need of help, but because of the circumstances, they were labeled incorrectly, or in fact that these students are not in need of help, they were just behavioral problems or what not. Could there be other children that may be in need of assistance that would not receive the help they need because they do not fit the stereotype (built by the education system) of the typical child with a learning disability. The context of the chapter made it unclear of which possibility it was or if she meant something different. The constantly repeated statement was very ambiguous.
Something that was not found in the chapter that I think should have been added is the idea of mainstreaming children with learning disabilities. School districts have been turning towards mainstreaming children with learning disabilities more and more over the past few years. They tend to be shying away from the secluded segregated special education classroom. In mainstreaming, the student is still identified with the disability and has Individualized Education Plan (other wise known as an IEP) to determine exactly what kind of help that student needs. Instead of being stuck in a specialized classroom all day, the students are a part of the regular classrooms. In elementary schools, the teacher may be trained in special education or there is an aide that is trained in special education in the classroom at all times. At high schools tutors are available through out the school day and study hall time is spent in the tutor’s room so they can access the help they need. These tutors are also responsible for all specialized testing and special homework techniques that the student may need. My high school runs a program like that and things are more successful then they were when they operated on the segregated classroom plan. Kathleen Hammitt, a former high school special education teacher, says that schools started looking into mainstreaming when they found that by putting the students with learning disabilities in separate classrooms gave the students a watered down version of the classroom that was in no way preparing them for what may lie ahead. Mrs. Hammitt still works in special education, but now she works in an environment where they are mainstreaming preschoolers. They are trying to start the mainstreaming process early so it becomes a natural part of the child’s life. This is a popular move in America today and one would think that the author would have added this as a possible alternative trend appearing in society today in the right or wrong direction depending on what her evidence says. She continually refers to the need for change and the challenges that lie ahead for the special education community. With mainstreaming as popular as it has been, it would seem only fitting that she would mention it in her chapter.
The one thing I do not agree with at all is the plural paradigm. In one scenario, students do not receive the proper help they need due to exclusion and value systems and in the second scenario it is like the district sets up a quota system for the perfectly balanced classroom. Both ways seem to be dead ends; neither way creates a healthy classroom environment. If students are excluded or are not give the necessary help they need, special education is useless for them. If the school system will only accept so many students into their special education program, some students that really do need help, but are not in as drastic need as others, may be excluded from the services totally. That could create a very frustrating path for those students as they struggle through school. The damage of both scenarios is very real and very irreversible. Child centered plans have teachers, regular teachers with no formal training in special education, look at their personal teaching style and try to make it acceptable to the regular students as well as those with disabilities, to create an atmosphere where the student is not segregated at all from their fellow classmates. These students receive no help from special tutors or teachers. My question is, how can a teacher, that has through training that in itself has created stereotypes about students with disabilities, honestly and fairly create a lesson plan that is fair to all students? When they themselves do not have a full clear view of the needs of a student facing a disability.
Peters’ style in this work is very advanced. Her language is very advanced and technical, and sometimes it was difficult to read. Peters’ target audience with this chapter was not the average college freshman, nor was it the average college senior. It was a special education major either senior or graduate level, that understands her terminology and has a basic background in the subject. I far from fall into the special education major requirement, but I do have a basic knowledge of this topic due to past experience so I was able to interpret much of what she said, with some help from more advanced sources. The writing itself is very serious, one can almost hear a narrator reading it in a low monotone voice as they put their audience to sleep. The serious tone and the advanced vocabulary did not shift one bit as the chapter drug on. As for visual aide, the author used one to try to show how the three paradigms combine; however I found that it was very confusing and unclear. The chapter would have been better off with out it, or at least with a better diagram. Also I think more visual aides on how the minorities are the large concentration of those with disabilities may make thinks a bit clearer. Different passages perceived that statement at different severity.