Beyond Mainstreaming; the American Dream for All Children

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Beyond Mainstreaming The American Dream for All Children

The American Dream has been that every child can grow up and become President (of the United States or General Motors). As a nation, we have believed that education is the escalator that makes it possible for each child to reach his/her own dreams. Over the years, as we became aware that many children were excluded from the "American Dream" because of their gender, race or disability, our nation has taken action.

Since we began publishing EXCEPTIONAL PARENT in 1971, we have seen dramatic changes in the education of children with disabilities. In one score years, our country has progressed from parents banging on closed school doors to an increasing compliance by public schools to the Education of All Handicapped Children Act. At the same time, there continues to be reluctance to continue the community's support for these programs. Some have argued that they are too costly or ineffective. Others say teachers do not have the time or wisdom and that the "normal" children are being cheated.

In the past years, we have honored educational programs that have demonstrated an ability to include children with disabilities and their parents. This year, in addition to our individual school winners (see page 20), we have singled out a whole system -- the La Grange (Illinois) Area Department of Special Education (LADSE, a special education cooperative). They have demonstrated the power of an idea in enabling a community to meet its responsibilities to all children by publicly acknowledging the right of all children, with or without disabilities, to equal access to the same school resources.

Under LADSE's creative leadership, these communities have decided that each is responsible for developing programs that promote the meaningful involvement of all students and citizens, regardless of the nature of their disability, in all aspects of school and community life. Furthermore, one district has committed itself to providing educational programs within totally integrated schools in the neighborhoods in which children live. All children, with or without disabilities, attend school with their brothers and sisters and neighborhood peers. By starting with this basic principle (which they call "inclusion"), LADSE schools have begun to go beyond trying to find ways that individualized education plans of children with disabilities can be carried out within a particular regular school setting. …