Special education

By way of Charlie Quimby at Across the Great Divide, we learn of a conversation regarding a survey of Minnesota school superintendents. Somehow, Quimby tells us, that spawned a debate on the Pioneer Press Web site regarding special education.

Said one commenter:

Minnesota needs to break free of Federal mandates that force us to spend 2.6 billion on special education and ESL (Supposedly reimbursed by the Federal Government but has never been so) and use this money to invest in the gifted and talented and “average” student body. We need to stop wasting 19% of our yearly State Education budget on future Wal-Mart greeters and spend it on our future engineers, scientists, and leaders!

When did “special education” become another word for “stupid”? What exactly is special education?

Here are a few examples.

It could be services — perhaps, transportation — for the blind student in Minnesota. Rep. Torrey Westrom might’ve been a beneficiary. He lost his sight in a farm accident in 1987, and went on to get a degree from Bemidji State, and is the first blind person elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.

It could be education services for the deaf, which is not a reflection of intellectual ability. Just ask Sean Virnig of Faribault, who was stricken when he was 16. He’s now a school administrator and just started a new business — his own bicycle company.

It could be individualized instruction for students with a learning disability — reading, writing, nonverbal etc. This might include dyslexia. Minnesota explorer Ann Bancroft has dyslexia. So does McKenzie Erickson, last year’s student body president at Southwest High School in Minneapolis,. She had been a special education student since third grade.

It could mean services for the Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder student. In some cases, the ADHD student and the “gifted” student mentioned by the commenter above, are the same student.

And, of course, it certainly means English As A Second Language (ESL) student. And we’re not reallyat the point where we think there’s a relationship between IQ and the language one speaks, are we?

Clearly there is a debate to be had on special education funding; the federal government has not come close to living up to its promises. But maybe more education about what special education is should be required, before we tell students they can be nothing more than WalMart greeters.