Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

Norm Reference as It Applies to Abilities and Disabilities: Reflections of a Former State-Government Official

Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

Norm Reference as It Applies to Abilities and Disabilities: Reflections of a Former State-Government Official

Article excerpt

In 1682, in a document called Fundamental Laws of the Province of Pennsylvania, William Penn provided the first educational law of what was to become the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

All persons having children shall cause such to be instructed in reading and writing, so that they may be able to read . . . and to write by the time they attain to twelve years of age and that then they be taught some useful trade or skill. (Penn, 1682, p. 3)

Admittedly, that statement is an oversimplification of what educational law needs to be more than 300 years later, but its very simplicity embodies an elegance that we would do well to consider. Three elements of the law give it its strength:

1. Parents are the responsible agents of schooling.

2. Basic skills are the foundation of the curriculum.

3. The desired outcome is preparation for productive adult life.

One could argue that all subsequent educational law has been little more than an expansion of those elements. Although conditions have changed since William Penn initiated his grand experiment, the power of the three elements remains the essence of what education is all about. History has a way of changing the simple and direct into the complex and ambiguous, however.

Subsequent to 1682, the history of formal education structures in America yields a mosaic of educational development that ranges from the introduction of the common school to the mandate of compulsory attendance (Simpson, 2004), from John Dewey's introduction and promotion of progressive education to the science curriculum response to Sputnik (Elmore, 1996). As time progressed and formal schooling developed as a "right" of every child in America, so did the challenge of meeting individual needs. Concomitantly, the role of parents in the instruction of their offspring diminished while the role of government increased.

Beginning in the mid-20th century, the idea that "all means all" was introduced into the value system of U.S. schools. Students who had been discriminated against because of race were supported by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Students who were poor and needed basic survival support were supported by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Students who were challenged by their non-English-speaking backgrounds were supported by the Bilingual Education Act of 1968. And students with disabilities were supported by a series of federal laws that culminated in the Education for All Handicapped Act of 1975 (now known as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004). Thus, legislation spanning a period of only 11 years completely encircled the children and youth of the United States by providing for their educational needs-at least in theory-without discrimination on the basis of race, sex, language, or disability.

The demands of so much legislation in such a short period of time, however, placed a severe strain on the educational systems of the United States. Traditional educational processes, traditional instructional methods, and the traditional culture of U.S. education were not prepared for the degree of diversity that was thrust upon schools. To resolve the immediacy of the challenge, we educators adopted the only models that we knew, most of which were based on the problem-solving techniques of the medical model. When a student did not respond effectively to traditional teaching modalities or to tried-and-true methods of discipline, the assumption was that the problem resided in the student-not within the educational system.

The need for a developmentally appropriate service-delivery system for all children was now required under federal law. Conceptually, at least, educators began to think in terms of a seamless system of services for all children, a system that begins before birth and continues throughout life. Those of us who had the privilege of serving during that period witnessed the development of a unique coalition of forces representing government, local communities, and individuals. …

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