Don’t stigmatize special education

FI-Letter-to-the-EditorTo the Editor

In his column [in the Post’s April 11 edition], Sean Goldrick states that a recent report from Greenwich Public Schools reveals that the number of special education students suspended and expelled has risen sharply over the past three years, comprising nearly half of all students subjected to such discipline.

This is not due to any failure on the part of these students. A dysfunctional educational system is not appropriately or consistently meeting the academic, social and/or emotional needs of these students and this is the result. No child wants to fail, be disciplined or expelled.

The failure is on the current educational system that does not utilize research-based, data-driven instructional methods that teach these students in a way that makes sense to them. And the failure of the same to recognize, much less develop, the significant strengths, talents and abilities these children possess.

“Learning differences are not disabilities. It is the learning environment that makes those differences problematic,” said Gordon F. Sherman, executive director of the Newgrange Education Center in Princeton and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. In fact, children with learning disabilities often possess above average IQs. Our brains are all different and process information differently. This is called cerebrodiversity. It is what enriches our society and betters our world, but only when and if it is recognized, appreciated and developed. All too often this isn’t the case.

A child born in the U.S. today has a 30% chance of being diagnosed with some type of learning problem, according to Jane M. Healy Ph.D., author of Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing and Treating Children’s Learning Problems.  Are we, as a society, really willing to continue to marginalize, stigmatize and underutilize that great a percentage of our population and along the way potentially miss out on the contributions of the next Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, or Leonardo da Vinci (all of whom also would have been classified as “special education” students)?

Clearly, there is a problem that exists. However, it isn’t going to be solved by adding more school resource officers or further stigmatizing special education students.

 

Karen H. Ayoub
Riverside

 

The author is founder of i CAN! Empowerment Strategies for Kids with Learning Disabilities.

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