Segregation is taught.
Segregated or “special education” classes first began in Germany in 1863.
In 1894, special ed. classes emerged in Rhode Island with Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia following suit 5 years later.
The purpose of these classes was to:
remove feeble-minded children from the regular school system where they were thought to constitute a disruptive influence on the regular pupils; to provide feeble-minded children with special education suitable to their needs and particularly one that would make them self-supporting; to protect them from harassment by children in regular classes; and to determine which among them was incapable of education and training and should be sent to custodial institutions. ~From Asylum to Welfare Harvey G. Simmons, National Institute on Mental Retardation, 1982
In Ontario, the first segregated class was created in Toronto in 1910. Dr. Helen MacMurchy championed special ed. in the province because she believed that up to ninety percent of children who were, as she would classify them, feeble-minded would be unable “to live in the world at large without becoming degenerate, unemployable, criminals and alas the parents of children still more mentally defective, degraded and dangerous than themselves.” MacMurchy used the schools to find these children in an attempt to have them institutionalized. ~From Asylum to Welfare
Today, the reasons for creating special ed. classes are similar to those of nineteenth century America:
1. provide disabled children with education, particularly one that will help them be independent and self-supporting
2. separate children who are considered to be disruptive because they are disabled
3. shelter disabled children from being bullied and harassed.
But what does that really mean?
Focus on independence and being self-supporting: Focusing on employment skills means that in some kids get substandard educations. It also means that some school districts disabled children clean the cafeteria, wash dishes, wipe tables and collect recycling.
Separation: Keeping disabled kids from non-disabled kids isn’t about protecting kids from disruption, it is about protecting kids from disability. It teaches kids at an early age that disabled people are different and it legitimizes systemic exclusion.
Protection: One study* found that “[a]busive behaviour was an acknowledged aspect of life in elementary and secondary special education schools” but “[a]busive behaviour was not apparent to any extent in inclusive schools”.
Inclusive education benefits everyone. It allows for greater educational and social opportunities for disabled students and non-disabled students alike. Disabled students learn better in an integrated environment. Non-disabled students benefit by learning to interact with disabled students, advocacy skills for those who advocate on behalf of disabled students and an appreciation of diversity.
Rather than having non-disabled and disabled children obtain educations with each other in environments that acknowledge the commonality between the groups and how they can teach each other, they are kept apart and placed in constructed social environments structured around ‘ability’. This separation teaches children at an early age that disabled people are separate and different from the rest of the population. This learned perspective only serves to reinforce the view that segregation is rational and acceptable.
Things have been slowly improving. Inclusion nearly doubled between 1984 and 1999
There is still a long way to go though, particularly with people with certain disabilities. “Zero tolerance” legislation against things like swearing and violence in schools means that disabled children are sometimes punished – even expelled, for being disabled. Kids with Tourettes, for example, have been punished for swearing when Tourettes causes people to uncontrollably swear.
One child was even asked to stay home on days his teaching assistant wasn’t present even though he was in an inclusive class. Budget restraints meant that this 9 year old’s assistant was cut back from 5 days to 3 days. When his father, disgusted by this discrimination, took him to school anyways, he was arrested.
…a long way to go.
*Bunch, G. and A. Valeo “Student attitudes toward peers with disabilities in inclusive and special education schools” Disability and Society v19 i1
**Burstein, Nancy, Sue Sears, Anne Wilcoxen, Beverly Cabello and Michael Spagna “Moving toward inclusive practices” Remedial and Special Education March-April 2004 v25 i2