A Rationale for Special Education in Catholic Schools
Long, Thomas J., Schuttloffel, Merylann J., Catholic Education
Debates about inclusive education for students with special needs challenge Catholic educators to develop a rationale consistent with Catholic theology and Church teaching. Guided by the rationale, arguments are made for the role Catholic schools, seminaries, and Catholic higher education should contribute to realize an inclusive Church. Contemplative practice offers a process for engaging Catholic identity with school practitioner decision making for implementing inclusion. This article posits that the rationale for Catholic special education reflects an authentic understanding of Catholic identity within Catholic learning communities.
During the past 100 years, American Catholic bishops have clarified and strengthened the Church's position on social justice issues through their many published works, specifically addressing disability issues (National Conference of Catholic Bishops [NCCB], 1998; United States Catholic Conference [USCC], 1978). Following the broader political trends toward equity in secular society, individuals with special needs and their families seek full participation in Catholic educational institutions and programs. Arguably, some practical barriers may exist for a comprehensive implementation of inclusion; however, this article presents a rationale for augmenting educational opportunity for students with special needs within Catholic educational institutions and parish programs in order to be truly catholic and Catholic. First, we will present a brief understanding of Church teaching with a focus on papal documents and statements by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB]. These teachings shape the foundation of the rationale for Catholic special education. Second, we will present contemplative practice as a decision-making model for engaging this rationale for special education within Catholic schools. Next follows a discussion of the crucial role that pastors play and the implied challenges for seminary education. Finally, we propose important contributions for Catholic higher education in leadership preparation and research.
John Paul II (2000) stated in his homily for the Jubilee of the Disabled that "the Church is committed to making herself more and more a welcoming home [for the disabled]" and this welcoming "needs not only care, but first of all love which becomes recognition, respect and integration" ([section]4). The Church's recent pronouncements on the rights of people with disabilities follow the broader trends toward equity and civil rights espoused by the Church, and the Church's consistent teachings on social justice for all (John XXIII, 1961, 1963; Leo XIII, 1891).
In 1978, the bishops of the United States stated their firm commitment "to working for a deeper understanding of both the pain and the potential of our neighbors who are blind, deaf, mentally retarded, emotionally impaired, who have special learning problems, or who suffer from single or multiple physical disabilities" (USCC, p. 1). This statement focused largely on access to the religious life of the Catholic community, the acceptance of persons with physical, intellectual, and emotional differences, and the defense of the right to life. It concluded, however, with an exhortation to coordinate educational services within the dioceses in order to "supplement the provision of direct educational aids" (p. 8). The bishops were forward thinking in laying the groundwork for the integration "of students with disabilities into programs for the able-bodied" (p. 8). Religious education personnel were encouraged to adapt "their curricula to the needs of disabled learners" (p. 8). The bishops further recommended that Catholic elementary and secondary school teachers be prepared in "how best to integrate disabled students into programs of regular education" (p. 8). The 1978 pastoral statement was reaffirmed by the NCCB in 1998.
In June 2005, the full body of U. …