Going Too Far for Disabled Children

Article excerpt

A new student will be coming soon to an Illinois third-grade classroom. He cannot speak; he cannot read; he cannot walk. He can go only a minute or so without drooling. He has no bladder or bowel control. Like an infant, he needs frequent changes. He makes wild, uncontrolled movements and loud, involuntary noises. Whether he can learn anything - beyond simple gestures indicating yes or no - is, as of yet, unknown.

But this child, like thousands of others around the country, is part of a little known revolution in education. It is called total inclusion, and it proposes the removal of disabled and retarded students from special education and their reassignment to regular classrooms.

In my 26 years in the public schools, I have seen any number of inane ideas spawned by bureaucrats, but this notion stretches the bounds of rationality. It is so wrong and so ill-timed that it challenges our very capacity to wonder.

Behind this movement is a hard-core of parents, lawyers, advocacy groups, college professors and education bureaucrats - all of whom are working hard to impose a tyranny of the minority on the rest of us. And they are doing so under the guise of helping those children least able to help themselves.

The premise of this idea is simple: Disabled children should be afforded the "least restrictive environment" in which to learn. Advocates usually define this as the school and classroom the children would attend were they not impaired. To do anything else, they argue, is to segregate these students and, therefore, to discriminate. Society, they say, needs to see these children as people, not as freaks. And, of course, no one could argue with such a sentiment.

But the proponents of this point of view have a take-no-prisoners attitude. The efforts made in recent years to make special-education classes part of the school community - and to educate regular students about their disabled peers - have not been enough. These people mean to end special education as we know it; they offer no room for compromise.

They often enlist state bureaucrats and state boards of education, who usually prove to be eager accomplices. The game plan involves constant pressure on both the legislature and the judiciary. Advocates lobby tirelessly to pass favorable laws, and they threaten local districts with lawsuits. To this end the Illinois state board, for example, has reportedly set aside $100,000 to assist individuals in legal challenges that promote total inclusion. Against such resources, local districts, which often have difficulty meeting their payrolls and buying textbooks, usually capitulate.

The result is a situation in which a teacher totally untrained in the special needs of such a child will now bear the primary responsibility for his education. …