Self-Image and Peer Acceptance of Dutch Students in Regular and Special Education

Article excerpt

Abstract This study focused on differences in well-being and peer acceptance of three groups of low-achieving students in regular and special education in the Netherlands. Well-being was assessed by means of a self-image scale consisting of 39 statements and peer acceptance through sociometric nomination and rank-order procedures. Low-achieving students in regular education who received remedial help had a similar self-image and were equally accepted by their peers as the low-achieving students in regular education who did not receive remedial support. Students in special education, however, had a slightly better self-image and were also a little more accepted by their peers than the low-achieving students in regular education. Low-achieving students in regular education who received remedial support neither profited nor suffered from their "needy" status regarding peer acceptance.

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Children differ from each other; they differ in appearance, behavior, and skill. Teaching children to deal with such differences and to respect such diversity are among the aims of inclusive education. In Italy, such considerations were the main reasons for suddenly and almost completely doing away with special education as an independent entity in the educational system (Filippini-Gaudiano, 1991). The hope was that inclusive education will help plant the seeds of a multiform and more tolerant society. Such notions also lie at the foundation of the Regular Education Initiative in the United States, where the mainstreaming practices of the sixties and seventies have been reactivated (Stainback & Stainback, 1992).

The least restrictive environment principle appears to be a key element in the American pursuit of integration. Whether they have a severe or a mild cognitive disability, or have been diagnosed with autism, all children have the right to be cared for and schooled under the least restrictive circumstances. Children with learning disabilities are no exception. While lawyers originally appealed to the least restrictive environment principle in their pleas for maximum integration of children with learning disabilities into regular school classes, judges have more recently decided that for some children special education may constitute the least restrictive environment (Crockett & Kauffman, 1999).

In 1990 (Ministerie O&W), the Dutch government started its integration policy, WSNS (in English "Together to School Again"), aimed at integrating regular and special education. In the Netherlands, integrating children with special needs in regular education was believed also to be good for children with learning disabilities because it prevents them from being labeled "different" or even "deviant." In addition, integration is considered to be good for classmates who learn to accept children who are different from themselves. Beyond this ideological motive, the Dutch government had financial reasons for implementing the policy of inclusive education. Teaching children in schools for special education is at least twice as expensive as teaching children in regular education (Ministerie OC&W, 2000a). Similar figures are reported in the United States (Smith, 2001).

In 1975, 20 different types of schools for special education were in existence in the Netherlands, including schools for children with low vision or blindness, deafness or hard of hearing, speech and language impairments, physical impairments, emotional and behavioral disorders, mild mental retardation, and learning disabilities (Bolkestein, Duindam, & Menkveld, 1990). Integration of all these distinct groups into regular education was believed unfeasible as well as undesirable (see also Madden & Slavin, 1983). The largest, growing group in special education constituted children with learning disabilities (including those with mild mental retardation). In 1975, approximately 1.5% of all students in elementary school attended a school for children with learning disabilities. …

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