Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meanings Of "Special"

Arianna Prothero, Education Week - September 16, 2014

This is one of the best articles without a definite axe to grind that I have read about inclusion vs. self-contained special education.

I have a feeling that one of the factors influencing why some parents of disabled kids move away from inclusion, towards "special", disability-focused charter schools is that people with different backgrounds and life experiences have different ideas of what "special" means.

To some, "Special" is:

Notable, remarkable, tailored, individualized, enriched, prestigious.

To others, "Special" means:

Stigmatized, ostracized, relegated, segregated, sheltered, excluded.

Some peoples’ experiences of “special” are positive, suggesting consumer goods and services that are individually crafted, made to order, as opposed to manufactured and standardized.

Others understand “special” more in terms of unwanted attention, deprivation, even punishment.

Sometimes, the word “special” drips with irony and smarm. It's a euphemism. It's supposed to be a good thing, but isn’t always meant that way.

Other times, it’s more straightforward. Sometimes "special" really means "better" or "exceptional".

For some of us, the idea of "special" schools will always have a sinister connotation. For others, "special" schools suggest students who are cherished and given generous attention, with the most advanced and expert educational techniques.

The flip side, of course, is that some view "mainstream" public schools as the most promising way to ensure inclusion and capability in adult life, while others see them as rigid, bureaucratic institutions where anyone different is neglected and uniqueness is ground down into bland conformity. Or worse, they are ultra-competitive and socially ruthless, while "special" schools are safe havens where especially sensitive, atypical students have a better chance to thrive.

All of these images and feelings are in active play, related to but also separate from verifiable, quantifiable facts about how education of kids with disabilities works, what it does and doesn’t do for them, and how it succeeds and fails to meet parents’ needs and expectations.

I find whole topic complicated and upsetting.