Mainstreaming Handicapped Children: Outcomes, Controversies, and New Directions

Mainstreaming Handicapped Children: Outcomes, Controversies, and New Directions

Mainstreaming Handicapped Children: Outcomes, Controversies, and New Directions

Mainstreaming Handicapped Children: Outcomes, Controversies, and New Directions

Excerpt

Mainstreaming is now entering its second decade as an officially sanctioned ideal in the American school system. When the idea was first seriously proposed in the late 1960s, it seemed to many to be a contradiction in terms. Segregation had always been a sine qua non of special education. Since it was often assumed that instruction of academically handicapped children required that they be given a specially designed curriculum administered by a specially trained teacher who used esoteric teaching techniques, it followed that such instruction would have to be delivered in a separate classroom. The logic was persuasive, and it sustained a presumption in favor of the value of special classes that lasted for some time without the benefit of clear cut empirical validation.

The presumption may have continued for an even longer time had not special education begun, in the late 1950s, to seek its clientele among the large pool of academic underachievers that existed at the time. This population had always been around; it seems to have been built into the fabric of compulsory education in the United States. By the early 1960s, however, a combination of rising educational standards, widespread use of norm-referenced standardized tests, and escalating school enrollments caused the population of underachievers to swell to the point of attaining national scandal status.

The message of the special educator was simple. Many academic underachievers were in fact suffering from "hidden" handicaps. Though often concealed from the untrained eye of regular educators, such handicaps were easily detected by specially trained diagnosticians using specially designed tests. The secret often lay in an artful reading of the numbers.

The message found a receptive audience among administrators, who were among the first in history to have to face the problems of mass public education on a truly grand scale. By 1970, special education had begun to look like a second education system nearly everywhere in the country. It had its own bureaucracies at the federal, state, and local levels, its own professional organizations and journals, and its own teachers trained in separate university departments of special education. The growing need for separate classroom space was met in many instances by buildings abandoned during the great school building of the 1960s.

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