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For Much of My Childhood, My Mother Worked In

For Much of My Childhood, My Mother Worked In

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Published by: api-11735831 on May 02, 2009
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07/01/2009

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For much of my childhood, my mother worked in the field of human services as a jobcoach for people with developmental and physical disabilities. Some of the clients sheworked with were as ordinary as anybody, and some were very exceptional peopleindeed. They were all, however, capable of learning and of performing their jobs. Theyare valuable and contributing members of society. But, alas, this was not always the casein our human history.When I was a child, we would often drive through a large group of large buildingsknown as the Norwich State Hospital, in Norwich CT. I remember once I asked mymother, "What is this place, anyway?" She told me that it used to be a mental hospital. Itwas an institution for crazy people, but they also used to lock up people with mentaldisabilities whose families did not want to care for them.For a while, my mother had a client *Sandy, who had spent her entire childhood and a portion of her adult life at Norwich. She was only autistic, really, and with a fairly lowIQ, but her parents had dumped her off at the hospital (a perfectly acceptable thing to doin their day) when she was a child. She had become "institutionalized." Really it wasamazing to compare interactions with her to interactions with other people of a similar level of cognitive functioning. Others who had been raised in loving homes and givenopportunities and education in their lives were far more capable adults than *Sandy couldever hope to be.In 1975, Gerald Ford signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act,though he still had some concern about its practicality (Ford, 1975). This was a major step in the progress of our education system, and for the rights of Handicapped persons.Since then, opportunities for the handicapped population have improved drastically.Where people were once shipped off to institutions, where they lived in overcrowded,understaffed, and altogether abhorrent conditions, people with mental, physical or bothtypes of handicap now have vast opportunities to become valuable and valued membersof society. Furthermore, with the expectation that handicapped people will have the sameopportunities in the classroom comes the understanding that teachers will be capable of understanding and educating students with special needs.The issue is not entirely off the table, mind you. Despite the strides we have madetoward equality for those with special needs, much work remains. There has been muchdebate over the idea of inclusion. I have to add in here, “In Vermont, 83% of schoolchildren with disabilities are educated in "regular" classrooms, as opposed to just36% nationwide (Thousand, 1995).”Whatever your views on the idea and practice of inclusion, the matter is up for debate,suggesting that we have not found empirical evidence on whether or not it offers the better learning opportunity for those involved.Learning about the strides we have made recently, and those still to come, towardimproving educational opportunities for the handicapped has given me a much greater appreciation for the struggle that is our education system, and for those willing to facethat struggle that all students might have a fair opportunity to learn. It has also given me agreater understanding of the fact that we still have debates, and that we do still have along road ahead of us before we will all be on equal footing when it comes to education.Lastly, though my aim is not to enter into the field of special education, this week’s work has reminded me of my conviction that every teacher should be as prepared as possible toteach his or her students, no matter what their needs.

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