Children and Youth with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A Concerned Look at the Present and a Hopeful Eye for the Future

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT This article presents a perspective on several current issues perceived to have a significant impact on the education of children and youth identified as having emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BM Included in the discussion are thoughts related to use of best-practice methods by teachers and other practitioners; issues associated with placement, including increased reliance on alternative schools and other nontraditional settings; and job expectations and working conditions of teachers who work with troubled students.

In a 1997 New Republic article, Ruth Shalit (1997) chronicled Jon Westling's assault on the Office of Disability Services at Boston University. While primarily focused on individuals with learning disabilities, Shalit also reflected commonly heard themes related to persons with other so-called subjective disabilities, including children and youth with E/BD. Typical of the notions that reverberate throughout Shalit's article, and that speak volumes about current attitudes toward and beliefs about students with mental health and behavioral problems, are "there are no good scientific grounds to believe that some of the more exotic diagnoses have any basis in reality" (P. 17) and "refusal to accommodate even the most dubious claims of learning impairment is now treated by the courts and by the federal government as the persecution of a protected minority class" (p. 17). Indeed, there is every reason to believe that Shalit's work not only accurately reflects commonly held attitudes toward students with E/BD, but that the general public (and in many instances professionals themselves) are growing increasingly intolerant of students with problem behaviors and impatient with the educators and other professionals who serve them. One need not be capricious or an alarmist to conclude that the field is perilously close to losing significant ground in its struggle to educate and support students who are behaviorally troubled.

In spite of this less than optimistic perspective, and with full recognition of the difficulties associated with making reliable interpretations of the present (let alone engaging in accurate futurology), it is essential that we undertake seriously the task of making sense of our efforts to support and positively impact the lives of children and youth with E/BD and their families. One might argue that such a review process is simply a painful reminder of the all too often Sisyphean experiences that are commonplace in our professional lives and a haunting retrospective of the strife and political battles that are replete in our profession. Yet, without such an analysis we unwittingly confirm Blatt's (1975) admonition that "in this field we call special education, history has not served us well. We have not learned from it" (P. 404).

This article focuses on several significant issues that are perceived to impact the education of students with emotional disorders and behavioral problems. Included are comments pertaining to use of best-practice methods by teachers and other practitioners; placement issues; and the nature, character, and quality of job expectations and work experiences of teachers of children and youth with E/BD. While a few specific recommendations are offered, the primary purpose of the article is simply to draw attention to several salient issues confronting the profession.

Use of Best-Practice Methods by Teachers and Other Practitioners

Professionals associated with the field of disabilities, including those connected with children and youth with E/BD, have spent far too much time and effort focusing on politically motivated issues and matters of political correctness, often to the detriment of students' needs. In this context, identification and use of best-practice and empirically supported methods have received relatively little attention. Moreover, even when information regarding best-practice alternatives are widely disseminated and empirically validated methods and curricula are available, educators appear reluctant to use them (Carnine, 1997). …