Wednesday, October 24, 2018

You Are Probably Wrong about Special Education

I have watched the evolution of "special education" as a teacher and I have heard the supporters and the naysayers clash for nearly two decades.

In the beginning, the idea of granting extra time or extra help to kids who had proven processing issues, or other disabilities, was met with the typical "when-we-were-kids..." mentality. It also met (and is still met) with the "when-they-get-into-the-real-world" argument.

Sometimes, low I.Q. is the problem with a special ed kid. But, more often, special ed kids are smart. They just think differently than the mainstream; they walk different paths to the same destinations, as it were. Their intelligence might lead them into extreme anxiety. In other cases, they have weaknesses in one area that keep them from reaching a level at which they could do very well. For instance: a kid can't focus in a class discussion because of auditory processing issues, but, one to one, he might astound his teacher with his depth of understanding...

Sometimes, these young people are actually geniuses who can't do well in the same ways as the majority of kids. All that aside, having just come fresh from a workshop on special ed a few days ago, I'd like to debunk one of the most tiresome arguments against giving kids extra time on a test; that argument being: "When they get into the work world, they won't get 'extra time.' A deadline is a deadline." (Usually, this is said by an older teacher who is sitting with folded arms and a superior expression that God allows only to those with tenure...)

Bull pucky! Here is how "extra time" works for kids with testing:

I once gave an entrance/placement exam to a big group of incoming freshmen. One kid, who had an I.E.P. (individualized education plan) qualified for extra time. (Usually, they get an added 50%. So, if everyone else gets an hour, he gets an hour-and-a-half.) This student, after the normal time, scored at the bottom of the class. After the extended time, he was in the top six kids out of seventy.

To those who say this doesn't happen in the "real world;" that "a deadline is a deadline," consider this:

"The boss" says you need to have your project done by the end of the month. There will be no extension. (Everywhere satisfied archaic thinkers are folding their arms and grinning.) But...if you are not ready a week before the deadline, what will you do? Answer: you will extend your time. You will work late; you will work at home.

In short, with extended hours, you will reach the level of the "rest of the kids" who might be able to get things done by working 9-5. You will have gotten the job done, though. (For the record, extra time is just one example of many types of accommodations for kids with I.E.P's.) I rest my case.

Special education is not "hitting the ball" for the student; it's helping him find the batter's box. If a kid needs an extra half hour to complete his calculus exam, so what? If he can do calc, he can do calc. If he can't remember formulae, but does perfect math, what's wrong with him having a note card to help him remember? If he becomes a physicist, he can look up the formulae any time he wants. If he can't finish an essay in class, let him finish it at home... (I know...he could get someone to write it for him. Same old same old; he suffers in the end for his, whatever...)

My secretary makes fun of my because of the goofy ways I do things; how I need to spread big projects out on a giant table in order to make sense of them; how I check things three different ways before committing; how I need to see hard copies of certain things... All of this is me doing self-accommodations in order to succeed. I may do it differently than she does, but we both get the job done.


  1. You have always “gotten it” as far as special education. I only wish others in the “ regular education” field got it. My years in the field of special education would have been so much easier, as would the lives of my students. Thank you for sharing your thoughts

    1. Thanks, Scotty! I know it has been forever since you posted this, but I just realized that my response to you never went through back then!