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“What’s the point of special education?” my friend asked.
She has a daughter with Down syndrome who is the only kid with special needs in
her kindergarten class. Her daughter is struggling to keep up. The teacher
doesn’t have any training for kids with special needs. “Are we trying to fit a
square peg into a round hole?”
Here’s the question: Is the purpose of education purely
academic? If it is, then perhaps there really isn’t a place for kids with
intellectual disabilities in mainstream classrooms (although even then, I
believe that most academic exercises can be modified for a variety of learning
abilities). But I would hope that education is about more than learning times
tables and writing sentences. I would hope that there’s a social component, a
component that involves learning to accept one another even when we have
different skills, befriending one another even when those friendships cross
racial or economic or intellectual lines. I would hope that there is a place
for our daughters in a classroom with typically-developing peers, and I would
hope that their presence would be positive for everyone involved.
I grew up in a homogenous elementary school. Everyone had
white skin except for one boy whose parents had immigrated from India. I didn’t
know anyone with disabilities. And to this day, even with a daughter with Down
syndrome, I am struggling to learn how to cross those social lines and become
friends with those who are considered different from me.