By way of the Jewish Blogosphere “Magazine” Carnival, Hevel Havalim, a very sad post at “Open Minded Torah” about a father’s inability to get a chareidi cheder (school) to accept his young son who has Down syndrome, as a student.
One person who commented on the post, among others, a Mr.Havlei, said the following:
“The concept of mainstreaming is in general a selfish parental endeavor designed to avoid stigmatized special education while ignoring a. the current educational ability and needs of the childb. the extra burden placed on his mainsteam teacher, presumably ill equipped to deal with physical disabilitiesc. the school which as as a private institution can only survive financially by attracting the best students.Mainstreaming was a government ideal in the UK when they created comprehensive schools. It was a miserable failure. “
He also wrote:
“If Rickismom would google “downs uk mainstreaming” she would find that while the few mainstream schools that are forced to accept Downs, they have to offer a form of special ed by bringing in specialized staff that can overlap that of the mainstream teachers.As if it’s just charedi schools that have a problem, here in the heart of England, normal government schools find themselves fighting the wishes of the individual with those of the majority: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/may/19/downs-syndrome-school”
I would like to answer these accusations here in the public forum.
My daughter Ricki, who has Down syndrome plus ADHD, has been integrated in a regular classroom from earliest pre-school through eighth grade in Israel. (Next year we are putting her in special ed, not due to her inability, but due to the inability of schools to be a bit flexible in important things like giving us the material to be studied in advance. We, like many of the parents in the”Guardian” article Mr. Havlei mentions, have decided to go special ed not due to our child’s inability to be included, but due to the inflexibility of educators.) I have several points:
1. Mr. Havlei, I don't know where you heard that England gave up on inclusion. It is false as can be. While some schools are often reluctant to make the switch to inclusion, and parents can get disheartened, the experts on education for children with Down syndrome, and most parents, are still opting for inclusion. Down'sEd of England has studies that show consistantly the benefit of inclusion for children with Down syndrome.
It is important to note that this "inclusion" is not taking the kid and dropping him into the regular classroom, period. We are talking about a child with an intellecdtual disability. OF COURSE, as you write, “they have to offer a form of special ed by bringing in specialized staff that can overlap that of the mainstream teachers.”. This child needs the SERVICE of special education”. He DOES have an intellectual impairment, and a serious one at that. But special education is a service, not a PLACE. It can be delivered in the regular classroom, and if done correctly—with guidance to the staff- it is MUCH more effective (STUDY proven) than special ed delivered in a separate classroom. And studies have shown this option to have no effect on the scholastic level of the other students, and it also costs less to implement.
2. Inclusion means taking the material to be studied, deciding what part of it this student needs to learn, and what other things we want him to get from the class. For example, when Ricki studied "Italy" in 6th grade, she did not need to learn as much as her classmates. But she learned a few pertinent facts, AND she did adapted school work, in which she worked on the following:-writing sentences to label pictures of Italy. (for a picture of a vineyard: "In Italy there are vineyards.")-learning to use a dictionary (looking up the definition of "Gondola")-handwriting skills (copying the definition to her booklet-increasing vocabulary: (matching words to definitions) gondola, valley, port, export, import-reading comprehension (reading the textbook text: either highlighted parts, or re-written easier version of original pasted into her copy of the text)This year as she learned about telescopes, cameras, and microscopes, we did much of the same, but also did a whole work on using the yellow pages to find a camera store. And we did a similar "yellow-pages" task when studying "Shatnez" in chumash vayikra (mixture of linen and wool, Leviticus).
3. Mr. Havlei, your statement that parents only send their children to inclusion "selfish parental endeavor designed to avoid stigmatized special education while ignoring" is INSULTING!!! As is the statement:"ignoring the current educational ability and needs of the child".This goes along with the canard always thrown at parents who expect their children with DS to read, etc, that we are "not accepting the reality of my child's retardation". EXCUSE ME!???!! I LIVE with my child. And I am the one who will have to deal with my child as an adult. I know EXACTLY what my child is-and isn't. But when an educator who has never ONCE read any up-to-date information on Down syndrome, has read NO studies, has gone to NO INTERNATIONAL conferences, tells me that "Children with Down syndrome can not learn to read", and expert educators in England have proven not only that they CAN, but HOW to reach that goal, am I ignoring my child's needs by insisting that she be placed in a school with a siyat (aid) who will help her obtain this vital skill? I would also point out that in the special ed classroom, the teacher and one aid are able to give each of the four pupils about a half-hour of one-on-one daily. My daughter in inclusion gets about two hours of one-on -one daily, plus the language and behavior benefits of the normal classroom. And it costs the government LESS.
4. The problem of a bigger work load for the teacher.
If the school system, instead of taking the funds this student would have received in a special-ed setting, gets refused services, and the teachers refuse training, yes, it will be a burden. But if we stop trying to save money on the backs of special ed students (which will backfire eventually, as the disabled adults they become will be lower functioning, and a greater burden on society), and provide the teachers with the help they need, the workload does not fall on the teacher. There may be the initial trial of the “switch in service thinking”, but the end result will be teachers that are more aware of ALL their student’s needs, and a society that is more receptive of individuals who are different.
Ricki's teachers main jobs this year was to:
a. Give me the material to be studied a day or two in advance
b. Be willing to ask Ricki an easy question.
If they had been more willing to be a part of our planning, and had had the support to do so, they could have done more, and have been paid for that effort. The major work of adapting can be done by an aid, the teacher, or a “special education” teacher working as support. In ANY case the work should be paid for.
I will add that much of the material used to support the child with Down syndrome will and can be used to aid students who are weak in their studies.