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 Debra Isaacs Schafer

 Education, Work/Life,

 Parenting, Caregiving,

 Children, Business. LIFE.


Debra Isaacs Schafer Blog

      Debra Isaacs Schafer

 CEO/Founder, Education Navigation



 Parenting, Caregiving,

 Children, Business. LIFE.



Recent Posts

Education Should Be Anything But Special

I've come to a conclusion about education. Actually, quite a few but this one tops my list. Education shouldn't be called special anymore.

Maybe you saw the film Admission from a few years ago (i.e. Tina Fey and Paul Rudd) and recall the scene where the admissions team was going round robin, discussing individual applicants to their university – Princeton. The student Fey was pushing for acceptance -- who was clearly gifted -- had a less-than-typical educational background and upon reviewing his file, her colleague -- who wanted him as far away from Princeton as possible -- said, “…plus he was in special ed.” After barking a few choice words at the TV, it reinforced what I'd been thinking for a while.

When Special Isn't

Special is great when it’s a sauce on a new dish or an occasion like your parent’s 75th birthday celebration. But attached to the word education, it goes from being nice to negative. And it sticks for a very long time.

Say “special education” and people relate it to images from the 1960s when “those kids” went to “that classroom” down the hall. Others assume that a child who rides the small yellow bus or needs a different level of reading instruction or help making friends will never attend college (and certainly not Princeton) or hold a job (and likely not a good one). Plus, the kids themselves start to resist support early on because…who wants to be called special in this way?

Being “in” special education never worked for me because while some children are in a classroom that is for specific needs, many are not. And many only for a short period of time during the school day. I continue to coach parents to shift how they refer to it, for it's a delivery of services and supports and not necessarily being done in a "special" room. Plus, if the goal is inclusion and allowing for differences, calling it special education makes these kids appear more different than similar.

Change Is Needed

A recent article in Business Insider about Google’s former CIO who was both deaf and dyslexic set this clear…it’s time for a change. We changed “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.” Sounds better, doesn’t it? Plus, the former was from when phones were on the wall and you had to stand up to change the channel. We’re evolving and making changes on every front – families, work, technology – so why are we continuing to use an antiquated term that does nothing for the people it’s meant to serve…our kids?

No question…every child has their own path to reaching adulthood. Add a diagnosis of ADHD, a learning disability, or Asperger’s Syndrome and the bar is already set higher. School is their job and if we want them to be successful at it, why must we saddle them with yet another label that defines how they learn, socialize, or process the world around them? It's an additional obstacle that's counterintuitive at best.

I don’t know many people in the workforce who would agree to being labeled based upon whatever accommodations or supports they may need. There are enough challenges with self-disclosing in the workplace -- can you imagine if companies then "labeled" these employees as being "special" anything?

With school approaching, I’m voting to nix special education. Let me be clear...not the services, supports, interventions or therapies. But the name. Maybe we could call it Education Plus (definitely sounds better). Or Supplemental Education. Or what about No Stone Unturned Education. Education can be differentiated but as far as I'm concerned, calling it special is doing a disservice to those who benefit from it the most.

Somehow, we need to look at how we’re defining and categorizing our children who learn differently or whose needs are more complex and spin it positively in school. It’s like anything else in life…make something positive and it’ll make everyone involved feel good and the outcomes will be better.

As far as I'm concerned, I want every child to feel good about themselves -- whether they're 9 or 18, whether they have dyslexia or depression -- and making their individual needs a bit less "special" is a critical start.

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