Special education is defined by the United States Department of Education as “…specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, …” The previous is an excerpt from Section 300.39 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which covers the assistances that states require to educate children of all ages with disabilities. In today’s society, there has been an argument over the validity and overall usefulness of schools having special education programs in order to meet the needs of those mentioned by the definition above.
This argument grows stronger with the growing tendency and importance of inclusion programs in schools to make sure no student is discriminated against. While the idea of inclusion is a noble one, many see it as something utopian; the ideal yet impossible to achieve. The fact of the matter is that special education programs are still needed, especially if we want a classroom where everyone is treated equally. Let’s look at some of the best reasons special education programs have going for them.
There is a general opinion that special education and isolated learning go hand in hand. This might have applied in the past but with measures being taken to guarantee inclusion, this is no longer the truth. Inclusion programs need special-ed to help make the transition into the regular classroom a smooth one. The Dwyer Family Foundation has already written about the qualities that special education teachers possess that can help students adapt to different settings. As little as 30 minutes a day is all teachers need to help those who need it the most.
Children with learning disabilities require special attention and special education teachers are well equipped and educated in meeting these needs. That doesn’t mean that they work alone and leave the regular teacher out of the loop. On the contrary, collaborative teaching is one of the pillars of modern special education. Special educators and those in the regular classroom are constantly working together to make sure students with disabilities and those without them can coexist and work together in a safe healthy environment, free of discrimination and bullying (which is sadly one of the things that happens the most in a classroom with inclusion).
Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences has presented a challenge for traditional teachers. Those who are not involved in the special education process often find themselves having difficulty reaching a child with different learning styles and/or disorders. Traditional educators often have a limited set of strategies to apply in the classroom and are sometimes not well equipped to handle “different” students. Co-teaching helps these teachers learn how to have different activities that will suit different students and thus guaranteeing that every child’s dominant intelligence is taken into account.
Teaching strategies are not the only thing teachers need to worry about. Discipline is one the biggest concerns for teachers as well. Special education programs teach children with learning disorders how to behave and go about their daily lives, not just at school, without being disruptive or distracting in the classroom. Additionally, this program can train traditional teachers to understand that a child acting out is not because he or she is a bad apple. A lot of the times a child’s behavior is tied to a certain learning disorder. Teachers of all specialties can learn through special education programs how to detect and handle different learning disabilities in the classroom and increase overall discipline as a result.
Special education programs are a must in any academic institution. Inclusion is only as good as the tools it has at its disposal to make the classroom a more balanced setting. Without special education programs, traditional teaching methods would be lost and they would have to make greater efforts to try to reach their charges. These programs need to be considered within the budget of all school districts. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many districts and policy makers see special education as a complement to traditional education. They need to start looking at it as something necessary to help all students succeed in life. Without special education programs, children with learning disorders will have less of a chance of succeeding and making something of themselves; parents cannot deal with learning disorders on their own.
In conclusion, special education programs are the perfect tool to maximize the potential of children with disabilities as well as teaching them how to adapt and carry themselves in a normal classroom. Students with learning disorders are not the only ones benefitted by special-ed programs. Traditional teachers can also grow as professionals thanks to them. It’s about time we stop having the debate on the relevance of special education programs and start discussing how they can make the classroom a more integrated place while still giving children with special needs an additional space to learn and advance at their own rhythm.