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Nor more noses to the glass.

No More Noses to the Glass Special education should be carried on as an integral part of the total educational enterprise, not separately. Of all the policies of The Council for Exceptional Children, none has more operational consequences, or better expresses what CEC is about, than that. Under suitable conditions, our policies say, education in the regular class is optimal for most exceptional children; education outside the regular class ought to be the exception, not the rule.

But when I talk to people unfamiliar with special education, it is the regular education/special education relationship that raises the most questions. You have probably heard questions like these yourself: "Why do you insist on educating exceptional children in the regular education environment?" "Given the problems of 'these children,' doesn't it make sense to provide for them in their own realm? Just as good, mind you, and maybe better, but their own, where their needs can be met and the education of other children not interfered with."

Leaving aside the fact that this is precisely the kind of thinking that undergirded the "separate but equal" doctrine repudiated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, there are other, more compelling reasons for the CEC policy stated above. In the first place, the policy is born of both experience and conviction. We in CEC have learned, and therefore believe, that exceptional children cannot succeed as well if they are required to learn with their noses pressed to the glass, from the outside looking in. The history of special education reveals that nose-to-the-glass education doesn't do the job. Indiscriminantly educating exceptional children apart has proven to be bad educational practice, bad social policy, and, in the end, bad fiscal stewardship.

In plain language, when special education becomes a tag-along or an "alongside of," or a "second system," everyone loses. But if you bring the children to the other side of the glass, you create--on a purely practical level--possibilities that are much more exciting, not just for those children, but for all of education itself. The history of special education confounds the separatism of the skeptic. The fact is that while special education aims at the exceptional child, it enhances the educational program for all children:

* The fundamental individualism of every child dictates that educational services to all children be planned and delivered on the basis of an individually designed program.

* A continuum of educational settings ranging from the regular classroom to more intensive instructional options is in place to serve the needs of every child.

* Specialized resources become available to the entire student population that they would not otherwise have, including those for abused and neglected children, substance abusers, presuicidal children, and other "at risk" students.

* Special educators offer all of education a well-defined body of knowledge, not just written up in the journals, but in practice, around the corner and down the hall.

* Pedagogical skills from special education teachers (prescriptive teaching, to name only one) are infused into the whole school and the whole curriculum.

* New techniques of classroom management become available.

* Special education's long tradition of forming partnerships with the community enriches the possibilities in the regular class as well.

* Special education brings a special brand of collegiality, too, to the regular education environment.

Aside from the practicalities, there is a second level of response to the question of keeping some children on the outside looking in. It goes to the point of people's rights (and children are people) in a democratic society. If we as a people are who we say we are, exceptional children, as a matter of right, are beneficiaries of the fundamental principle of universal access to education. If we are committed to equal educational opportunity for all, the policy says, then we must be committed to equal educational opportunity for all.

This concern with the political dimension of the relationship between regular and special education is not a new emphasis for us. The idea first found its voice in the principles enunciated at an early convention of CEC in 1924. In a declaration that might have been drafted last week, the delegates assembled in Chicago that year called for universal education for children with special needs, insisted on "suitable educational opportunities," and rejected the idea of labeling.

The underlying principle is that education cannot be divided because the child cannot be divided. The pedagogy may vary, but every child has the right, simply by virtue of being a child in this society, to be met where he or she is.

But in the end, there is something even more important--more compelling--than the practicalities and the politics. Our policy derives--as all policy eventually must--from a moral point of view. It says there are some things you cannot decide on the basis of convenience, personal preference, previous practice, "what's do-able," or even what's effective. You have to decide as well between what's right and what's wrong.

In the end, our policy says, it's not just a matter of good, or better, or indifferent institutional arrangements. It's not just discovering the best pedagogy. Nor is it even a matter of what works or what people's civil entitlements are. It's a matter of what's right--for the child and for the community. The policy says: What's right is to make sure that the exceptional child can make the same claim on us as every child. Perhaps, by reason of compassion, that claim may be greater, but it certainly can never be smaller.
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Title Annotation:part three; regular classroom education for exceptional children
Author:Greer, Jeptha V.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1988
Next Article:Perspectives on eligibility for placement in special education programs.

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