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REI: revisited ... again.

REI: Revisited . . . Again

* The regular education initiative (REI) is an ongoing professional discussion that must continue in every educational forum for many years to come. I wanted to respond to William Davis's article (The regular education initiative debate: Its promises and problems, Exceptional Children, 55, 440-446), but my larger purpose is to maintain a continuously evolving discourse on this extremely important policy and program issue.

It is unfortunate that within a short period of time, the meaning of REI is becoming murky. Because of a lack of involvement of local education agencies, principals, teachers, parents, consumers, and others (all well described by Davis), people are using the term REI and not knowing that their own sense of what it means is different from that of others. This is true even among special educators themselves. A case in point is the idea of the merger of regular education and special education, as proposed by Stainback and Stainback (1984). This article is often cited in discussions of REI, especially in the context of one system for all.

In another article--often cited as the major federal government push behind REI--Will (1986) stated, "It does not mean the consolidation of special education in regular education. . . It does mean that programs must be allowed to establish a partnership with regular education." These statements certainly do not seem to imply a merger, yet the Will and Stainback and Stainback articles have been reinforcing one another for several years.

Davis, in commenting on my previous response to the merger idea (Lieberman, 1985), suggested that my analogy of a wedding to which the bride was not invited breaks down because the wedding has already occurred. This is correct, and I value Davis's assessment. The educational system is one system, with special education services playing a role as one aspect of the system. Of course Davis's point also suggests that the idea of merger proposed by Stainback and Stainback (1984) is likewise phony because one system already exists.

Now there enters a third REI interpretation: Some educators would fully integrate or mainstream any and all children into regular classrooms regardless of condition, disability, fragility, vulnerability, or need. They would argue that students' greatest need is to be in a regular class. Perhaps Biklen, Bogdan, Ferguson, Searl, and Taylor (1985) would be part of this group.

When educational administrators, teachers, and psychologists ask me what I think of REI, I have to ask which of the different perspectives they want an opinion on. Some people who believe in one educational system think that children with profound retardation should not be in regular classrooms. Others who believe the same thing think that everybody should be in regular classrooms. Some believe that REI means doing away with special schools, but not special programs.

Sometimes the term regular education initiative, taken at face value, appears contrived and concocted. The term itself gives rise to the following scenario. A special educator (someone with either job-related or professional stature) woke up one day and decided that classroom teachers and administrators were not doing enough on behalf of disabled and handicapped students, the vast majority of whom were already spending the major portion of their school time in regular classrooms. Hence an initiative or push in the direction of doing more seemed like a good idea. It is a good idea. In fact, REI is really a special education initiative for regular educators. It should be called the SEIFRE. The true regular education initiative is P.L. 94-142 and least restrictive environment (LRE). However, public policy, opinion, and attitudes put the teeth in social legislation of this kind. Thus, a push for greater commitment to P.L. 94-142 and LRE is always welcome. After all, did civil rights legislation and antihousing-discrimination laws do away with bigotry?

The spate of negative literature on special education coming from some special educators remains a side issue. If special education is broken, let's fix it. We cannot allow this rhetoric to undermine the fact that special educators have had significant, credible impact on many disabled and handicapped children in a variety of settings. To hear the detractors tell it, one gets the impression that no teacher of children with deafness, blindness, retardation, or cerebral palsy ever helped a handicapped child, especially if the child were in a separate facility or even a special class in a regular school. It just is not so.

Finally, communication is suffering because those who are not necessarily full integrationists are infusing the literature with statements that certain students with disabilities or handicapping conditions may be candidates for full integration (Keogh, 1988), while other students are not (Braaten, Kauffman, Braaten, Polsgrove, & Nelson, 1988). Any attempt to categorize students in this way hampers decision making for individuals. Will (1986) does not even mention a recognizable handicapping condition, at least as presented by federal law. Throughout her article, she uses the terms "children with learning problems" or "children with specific learning needs." Is she talking about full integration for all nonhandicapped children? I'm sure we can all get behind that.

Learning disabilities seems to be a particular category of exceptionality that creates confusion and imposes gray on black and white issues. The problem seems to be that most educators and even special educators think of learning disabilities as a mild, or at most, moderate handicapping condition (Biklen & Zollers, 1986; Keogh, 1988; Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987). To these educators, full integration becomes an automatic possibility. This is not true. The entire issue of Learning Disability Quarterly, 4(4), 1981, was devoted to the fact that some people with learning disabilities can experience severe handicaps, potentially throughout life (see Poplin, 1981). Certainly one ought to think twice and maybe a hundred times before fully integrating a child with the full-blown symotomology of Strauss' syndrome (Strauss & Lehtinen, 1947). There is a resolution to the grayness. Decisions should be based on the needs of individuals. Of course, full integrationists reject an examination of individuals and individual decision making by the very nature of their advocacy for full integration.

To sum up, Davis cited lack of local involvement, lack of consumer participation, and lack of involvement of other disciplines as major problems in placing the REI debate in proper perspective. He left out the most critical lack of all: an agreed-upon definition of what REI currently is, which may represent the most insurmountable obstacle to coherent debate.

LAURENCE LIEBERMAN is a Special Education Consultant, Newtonville, Massachusetts.
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Title Annotation:Comment
Author:Lieberman, Laurence
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Apr 1, 1990
Words:1074
Previous Article:The regular education initiative and patent medicine: a rejoinder to Algozzine, Maheady, Sacca, O'Shea, and O'Shea.
Next Article:Individualized education programs (IEPs) in special education -- from intent to acquiescence.
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