A Journey Through a Failing System: Special Education
Cerebral Palsy is a neurological disorder that negatively affects the function of the cerebellar cortex, including motor control, memory, speech, vision and other problems. There are four kinds of cerebral palsy: mild, middle, slightly severe, and severe. Those afflicted with this debilitating condition can need assistance for the rest of their lives, especially within the education system. I have cerebral palsy, and I have experienced the failures of the system firsthand. This article is meant to highlight the areas of the education system which have failed me personally, particularly in special education.
In the early years of my education, the school buildings for disabled students were highly inadequate to function in. The system forced me, along with other children who have disabilities, to attend these “special” schools if we wanted an education. Their structural layouts were unsuitable for the circumstances we were in, as was their upkeep. We had to sit in dilapidated classrooms, breathing in asbestos. Those who were fortunate enough to escape this grave injustice were the students whose families were wealthy: I, however, was not one of those students.
I began to notice the inadequacies of my teachers in 1968. The lack of knowledge these special education teachers had was remarkable. Many of my teachers did not seem to know how to interact with students with my disability or, for that matter, any other child who had a disability. I remember a time when one teacher threw a book at me, and stated, "If you can read it, fine. If not, it's not my problem." The lack of empathy for a person with cerebral palsy was evident.
These special education classrooms were very tough for the children. Growing up with my condition, I experienced many educational challenges. One of those challenges was the lack of access to resources in order to complete assignments and homework. The resources were in the classroom, the teacher just withheld them from us, and only used them sporadically.
I feel the teachers of my special education classes hindered me from being normal. When I entered high school and was placed in normal classes, I experienced the failings of my early education years. For instance, in my first American History class we were told to take notes. I was unable to do so because I was never taught how by my special education teachers.
Luckily, my history teacher was a very warm and compassionate person who worked with me and made sure I was taken care of. I have to admit, it was a nice change of pace compared to what I had been through in my earlier years.
My special education teachers never supported or encouraged me, even when I would try to better myself. I was forced me to sneak my report card to the guidance office because my special education teachers did not want me on the honor roll. I had to take it upon myself to get on the honor roll.
One day as I was giving the guidance office my report card, my special education teacher caught me and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was submitting my report card for the honor roll and she responded with, "What? Do you think you’re better than everyone else?" As hurt and insulted as I was, I answered her with a dejected ‘no’. The way she handled that situation cemented my feeling that my special education teachers lacked the compassion necessary for students with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.
Now, I am sure many of you who read this are asking yourselves ‘why should I care?’ You probably don't know anyone with a disability, or have one yourself, so you don't feel directly affected by this. Let me explain to you the ways it does affect you.
For starters, in almost every job field, you will encounter someone who has a disability. That being said, you need to have a good understanding of how to assist people with disabilities in your work environment. Also, your children will most likely go to schools with children who have disabilities.
Growing up in a era where able-bodied children were not educated on the circumstances of the disabled, I was made fun of a lot. I was called rude and unforgiving names, and treated as a thing instead of as a person. It made it almost impossible for me to make friends. I can personally say not only does it affect you in your early years, but it also affects you in your later years as well. It has cost me many relationships in my life.
In order to prevent other disabled children from having to endure that, we need to educate children and adults more about disabilities. It all starts with the parents. Although you may not think you are affected by this, through every walk of life it does, can, and will affect you. It matters not whether the individual has cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or any other disability, inadequate teaching impacts everyone.
The ones who are the most impacted are the those who have disabilities, because they lack the proper education, which results in being overlooked for well-paying jobs in the future. For someone with a disability, not being able to find adequate employment forces them to live off government money. In the end, they will just become another casualty, a lost soul, if you will, with no hope and full of despair. Is that not a shame!
As someone who has dealt with the failures of the special education system firsthand, some of the things which must change are hiring more compassionate teachers for students with disabilities; cultivating a greater awareness among able-bodied parents and kids about people with disabilities and their conditions; and stopping special education from being a one size fits all system, and changing it into one tailored to each individual's needs. Although things have evolved over time, there is still much more progress to be made.
In the words of Robert Kennedy, who often spoke about the injustices and inequality in our society, “Some men dream of things that never were, I dream of things that could be. Some men ask why, I ask why not." In the end, we should all strive to live by those words.