My “Special Needs” Students: Learning Challenges (Part 3)

Categories: Learning Challenges, Léo’s Insights 2018-2019 Academic Year

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I have been a part of the education industry for my entire life. In one capacity or another, I have seen or experienced a great many things most people do not even know exist.

Today, I simply want to share a few stories that are related to the “learning challenged” otherwise known as “special needs” and recently renamed “inclusive education.”

“Special needs” or “inclusive education” is a school based term that is actually code words for “increased funding.” Let me share an incident that occurred shortly before I officially ended my twenty-five year career as a high school teacher.

Keeping in mind that funding is based on the September 30 student count, you will understand why a particular communiqué was sent to all teachers during the first couple weeks of school. In it was a list of all the students who had been coded as “special needs.”

Since I was teaching advanced academic grade 12 students, I most certainly did not expect to see any of them on that list, yet to my surprise, there were a few!

When I asked these students why they were listed on the special needs roster, some were unaware of being there, while others were aware but indicated that they were not getting any extra help. One student in particular really had me baffled as to why she would be on that list.

She was a brand new immigrant from Saudi Arabia, attending her first Canadian school and I had the good pleasure of having her in my Biology 30 Academic Challenge program. This student was brilliant, never achieving anything less than 96% on any test she wrote. She was articulate, thoughtful and a pleasure to engage in conversation and debates.

To my utter surprise, when I asked her what she was doing on that special needs list, she informed me that she was listed as an ESL student because she was a new immigrant.

Asking what was wrong with her English since she spoke it very well and without an accent, she replied that there was nothing wrong with her English or the other three languages in which she was fluent!

The school system took advantage of the fact that this student could be passed off as ESL for the extra funding involved simply because she had a “funny” name and was a recent immigrant.

One more thing to make my point. The last sentence on that communiqué was: “If you know of any other student who could qualify for additional funding, please let me know ASAP.”

Note that it did not say “if you know of any students who require additional services or resources or help or were special needs”! Nope, just who could qualify for additional funding, explaining why some of the students listed did not know that they were, while others declared that they received no additional help, in spite of being listed.

When I started teaching back in the mid 1970’s there was no such thing as “special needs.” Indeed, when I was a child, no one would have guessed that I was dyslexic. The only two conditions that I was aware of were “dumb” or “lazy” and sometimes both.

But as schools took on more of the role of a day care, rather than institutions of learning, parents of disabled children started wondering why they couldn’t also use this service.

Once “disadvantaged” students started attending regular school, the term special needs was adopted to soften the idea of a child being disabled.

After the term “special needs” was coined, many other students were deemed to have them, especially when additional funding was made available to meet their “special” needs.

Special Needs funding opened the gate for the creation of a host of “conditions” which would require special funding… ah… care.

Suddenly, overactive children had to be quieted down with medication, requiring additional funding. Smart kids needed special attention and special funding and not so smart kids needed special care and special funding. New “disabilities” were “discovered” which required special funding.

As special needs programming became the latest craze in education, the costs rose accordingly. Finally, the government started putting in some regulations and restrictions. Individual Program Plans or IPPs had to be created for each child being registered for special needs funding. This was actually a good thing except that there is always a way to get around a rule.

Returning to my high school experience and the communiqué that I mentioned earlier, you will recall that I taught students who found learning easy. The number of these students who made the special needs list really bothered me.

When I was told I had to complete IPPs for my “coded” students, (you may be shocked by this)… I rebelled. I simply could not comply in a “steal money from the government” program.

When the forms were placed in my mailbox, I would simply put them in another mailbox. This continued for weeks until the vice-principal took me aside and questioned why I refused to do “my” IPPs.

I asked if I could ask him a question before I answered him and when he said “of course,” I asked him who would be reading these IPPs. When he answered that likely nobody would, I told him that he already knew my answer.

I would love to say that this issue ended with that discussion, but it didn’t. The administration found a lady they could manipulate and had her complete my IPPs for me! How could she have possibly known what was going on in my classes? What a farce! What gamesmanship! What dishonesty!

How does this have anything to do with providing services for students with special needs, especially when they categorically do not qualify, as my upper academic students didn’t?

I realize that this story is probably nearly twenty years old now, but do you think anything has actually changed? I saw the charade from the inside and I most certainly caution every parent NOT to bring this line of thinking home where every child is special and everyone’s special needs can be met.

Let’s celebrate our children’s uniqueness and understand that they are priceless and therefore, not for sale! Bring them home where their value is intrinsic rather than coded for funding.

Really, aren’t we all in need of special treatment? Aren’t we all special needs?

Are children learning challenged or is it possible that they are more school challenged? If school challenged, then bringing them home is often the best way to mitigate the problem. However, keep in mind that bringing the school thinking home with them will only perpetuate the problem, not solve it.

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