Special Education: Why The Shame?

Posted: January 1, 2012 in Education, Learning Disabilties
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Just before we decided to home school, I had an odd discussion with my son’s special education teacher. As you know the discussion of inclusiveness is a hot topic in education. The discussion with my son’s teacher was triggered by an email I had received from the school which included a copy of the school’s newsletter. I read through the lengthy newsletter which included a couple of paragraphs from each class that described their latest activities. The newsletter was pretty long because each grade in the middle school is broken down into sub classes or pods which coincide to a specific location in the school, which is a hub for their core classes. It was also apparent that the teachers of each class were the authors of the newsletter, or at least the source for each article. In addition to theses articles there were also stories from non-core subject teachers including Art, Physical Education, Music, etc.

Some of the articles in the newsletter were very generic and others called out specific students and their specific highlighted activity. After going through the newsletter I noticed there was no article from my son’s special education class. It was noticeable to me because obviously I was looking for his specific class. After further consideration I noticed that there were no articles from any of the special education teachers.

My initial reaction was that it was odd. I would have liked to read about what has been going on in my son’s main class, which was special education. The more I thought about it the more I got irritated. I didn’t understand why these classes were excluded from the newsletter. Besides being irritated I was also sad. This was an example of exclusion. I truly did not understand why the school would decisively exclude these classes from providing class news in their newsletter. As a parent of a child who has learning disabilities, I am very proud of his achievements. In addition since there has never been school work, assignments, or evidence of class activities brought home on a daily, or even a weekly basis, I didn’t have a lot of information about what topics my son’s class was studying. Like many parents I was always asking about what was going on at school, but, like many 7th graders, I got the “Not much” response from my son.

I also understood that in his class there are varying levels of abilities, but I also had a sense that there were commonalities between the topics discussed. For example, if they were studying geography, the whole class were studying the same topic. So once again I didn’t understand the reason for the exclusion. I still could not come up with a logical reason for the purposeful exclusion. In addition I was like any other parent and wanted the benefit to receive the same information as any other parent. It then hit me that not only was my son being excluded, but I also was being excluded.

In the end I was shocked, frustrated, and a little angry. Getting my son an education has always been a battle. It was frustrating to me that the school, who should be the experts, did not offer suggestions on how to educate my son. I had to fight for everything in his IEP and it would have been nice to have an “expert” to make suggestions. They work with my son every day. Who should know what he needs? His teachers! Sorry for the diversion, but the whole IEP is a ruse and another way for the educational system to fail at providing an education. It is a vehicle of smoke and mirrors to make it look like they are providing an education. It is also a bunch of red tape for them to justify their funding.

Anyway, I decided to reach out via email to my son’s teacher to ask why she did not include a story in the monthly newsletter. I was totally shocked at her response. Keep n mind she is my son’s special education teacher. She chose this career and obviously, at one time, had a passion for teaching special education. I recognize it takes a very unique individual to serve in this role and it was not an easy job. It is also obviously clear when a teacher has this passion. When they don’t have the passion, which we had seen in the past, the situation was a disaster. In this case I knew she had the passion. In this case she was also in charge of my son’s IEP, which also implies that she should be highly aware of the laws surrounding an education. She had also, in the past, shown evidence of knowing the importance of inclusion.

In the end her response was that this decision was to respect the privacy of the parents who had children in special education. She went on to say “How would you like to be a parent and have a reference in the newsletter which implied that your child was not in the mainstream classes and was in special education.” To be honest, I was flabbergasted. These statements were coming from my son’s educated special education teacher, who apparently was feeling “shame” for these students and their parents. I asked myself, did she really think that it is not known that my son is in special education. The kids in school know it. And the parents know it too. We have been with all of these children since kindergarten and with that much time you learn which kids are in special education and need a little extra help. In addition, DUH, my son talks to me about his classmates. I know who is in his special education class.

Secondly, I have never met a parent who didn’t have pride in their child. I am not ashamed that my son was in a special education class. And I would be willing to bet that every parent of a child that is in special education, whether it be for developmental delays or for learning disabilities, is just as proud and concerned as any other parent in that school.

In addition there was no reason a specific child’s name would have to be mentioned in the newsletter. I found it hard to believe that this teacher did not have the skills to write a couple of paragraphs about her class without listing specific names of the children. And then on top of it all, she was insecure enough to feel “shame” in these children. I also wondered what type of lesson did this demonstrate to my child. I wondered, if this was happening with a mere newsletter, where else was this happening?

I think this moment was the beginning of my decision to pull my son from this educational system and teach him myself. I didn’t want him to be with a teacher or a school that was ashamed of him. More importantly, I wanted him to get an education, which wasn’t really happening neither. So here we are. Home schooling. And we are proud of everything we do, and I am very, very proud of my son.

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