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Just enough wonderful.

You know the commercials: "Be all you can be-join the Army!" Quality is our number I job!" or to name an old favorite of mine: "Progress Is Our Most Important Product!" Herewith follows my 30-second (or in this case 2-page) commercial on exceptional education. Like all those other sponsors, I propose to give a quick and glossy view of the best. It is not meant to replace thoughtful debate, meaningful dialogue, or in-depth discussions on reform or change. Rather it is a quick message with one point of view:

"There is just enough wonderful in each day to make you want to go back the next."

This is the sort of bottom-line sentiment conveyed by Rosalie Dibert, CEC Teacher of the Year, during an interview last summer. A 20-year veteran of the special education classroom, she spoke candidly of the best and worst of our profession. I am using just one sentiment here (for the complete interview see the winter 1991 issue of TEACHING Exceptional Children) because...

Large-scale transportation problems, an over crowded planet, "gloom-and-doom" economic forecasts all consume the mass media and compete for our attention and care. And because life's scenarios seem to increase in complexity almost daily. Yet one profession is predicated upon and demands attention to the individual. No cast of thousands for this area of education. Not that thousands and indeed millions of students are not served in special education but they are helped, taught, diagnosed, and evaluated one by one. The special education professional decides to try plan A with Stacey and strategy B with Chris, and assistive device C with Evangeline. The efficacy of such stratagems are watched, modified, updated, and otherwise altered to suit the success of the individual student. Yes, indeed, special education still takes 'em one child at a time, one day at a time.

Of course, you, as the special education professional, do not make every decision alone and therein lies the next unique feature of our field. More and more the special educator has gone from working in isolation to full partnership on a school-based team of professionals who deal with the student who has learning disabilities, who is gifted and talented, or who has a visual impairment. The individual student is still the focus but you are a specialist on a team of specialists. This offers camaraderie, a chance to learn from each other, and a way to explore different perspectives and varying alternatives to some complicated educational challenges. Yes indeed, the team takes 'em one child at a time, one day at a time.

And then there are the intangibles, the chance to "be all you can be." Andy Warhol once said that someday everybody would be famous for 15 minutes. But who wants to accept 15 minutes of fame when you can have an influence as palpable as teaching a child to sign, increasing the coordination of a 3-year-old who is developmentally delayed, or improving the reading comprehension of a gifted but disadvantaged teenager. Perhaps it's only to be expected that the percentage of business and marketing majors are starting to decline in American and Canadian universities and liberal arts and education are finding increasing favor with today's youth. They are learning one of history's main lessons: Success has many faces. Maybe Andy Warhol was right but just maybe those intangibles are "touchable"-and "reachable" after all.

Of course, if you want to be "in" on the action, education may just be the place. As the population ages, a funny thing is happening: The value and importance of education is growing in the public awareness. It used to be that the young couples with children in schools were the only ones interested in education. Not in the 1990s. To use some advertising hyperbole, education has become the last great hope for civilization. Education, in its broadest sense, is expected to help the latchkey I1-year-old, the baby born infected with AIDS, and the 18-year-old who is mentally retarded. You, the special education professional, can receive not a ticket to the performance but an invitation to the panel. As the debate continues, you are "there." The ability to adapt the curriculum to suit the child's abilities or learning style, to run a program encompassing widely varying stages of human capabilities, and to conduct cutting-edge research on some of education's most intractable problems-these are special education's strengths and education's needs.

CEC is responding to educational reforms and changes, too. A new Mission Statement will be presented at this April's convention in Atlanta. The CEC campaigns on Teacher Advocacy, Quality Instruction, Teacher Recruitment and Retention, and Professional Collaboration are moving forward. And CEC's new International Center for Scholarship in Education premieres this year.

Still not convinced? Perhaps, instead of 15 minutes of fame, all you really need are 15 minutes of appreciation. Approval is a powerful indicator of career satisfaction but human nature being what it is, how often does anyone call you up and say "Chris had a good day today"? Yet a Louis Harris poll commissioned by the International Center for the Disabled reported that 77% of the parents of students with disabilities were satisfied with the special education system. And 94% of the educators surveyed-directors of special education, school principals, classroom teachers, and special education teachers-believed that in 1987 education of children with disabilities was better than it had been 12 years previously.

Even a cursory look at special education shows just how far we have come. In the 1960s (not that long ago even in today's "instant" society), U.S. policies on education stated that there were children who were unable to benefit from education and so could be excluded from the educational process. In the last 25 years, special education, working in full partnership with parents, has brought these children into the school systems, developed the methodologies and curricula to teach them, and educated professionals how to do it. In this century, special education has moved from a charitable endeavor to the center of education. IEPs, due process, appropriate education-these terms and more are a part of special education and a key to all education.

In fact as demographic experts herald the news of increasing diversity, special education can point to a long history of diversity. The "different" kids have always been the "mainstream" of special education. Names and faces may change but the basic task has not: to find a way to teach the student who does not fit in the math or reading groups. Her disability or his giftedness have always been mere signposts to help the professional accomplish the task.

So there you have it, the just enough wonderful" focus on special education. Now back to the Middle East, economic forecasts, and the local sports-except for one late-breaking news bulletin:

Chris's father just called to say she had a good day on Tuesday, Thanks!
COPYRIGHT 1991 Council for Exceptional Children
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:what's best about exceptional education
Author:Greer, Jeptha V.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Words:1143
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