“Hush, Truth!”

Longtime visitors will remember my affection for Robert Weissberg’s Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, which I recommend as a bracing tonic against the scourge of “No child left behind” educational romanticism — the notion that all children are capable of learning at a high level, and the notion that drives much of the current nonsense about how we need to send more people to college.

One of the practical ramifications of this mentality is that kids with severe intellectual or behavioral deficiencies (who are euphemistically referred to as “exceptional children”) are often “mainstreamed” — a term for dropping them into the regular classroom. I’m not talking about wheelchair-bound kids or kids with speech or hearing difficulties — I’m not even talking about Asperger’s sufferers or high-functioning autistics; I’m talking about children who can’t function in the traditional classroom without significant intervention in the form of handlers or moose-tranquilizing levels of medication. However, because everyone is a special snowflake, these kids are too often inserted into the traditional classroom, to the detriment of their classmates (and honestly, with little benefit to the mainstreamed student, excluding some boost in self-esteem either for them or their parents.)

My wife is a public school teacher in Mondoville, and a damned good one — she was named one of the top five teachers in the state a couple of years back, and has earned other awards and achievements as well. Although she wouldn’t say this, I’ve noticed that when she talks about her day, a disproportionate amount of her effort (and her frustration, although Mrs. M will put up with stuff that would exasperate Job) is devoted each year to a very small percentage of her students. Does she love them? Absolutely, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that they often drag the rest of the class down, either because they act as a brake on what can be covered or because controlling their behavior consumes ridiculous amounts of instructional time.

And on the other side of the desk, students like the Spawn are overlooked and unchallenged, at least in part because of the resources that legally have to go to the “exceptional” children. Indeed, the first governmental function I attended in Mondoville was a school board meeting that targeted gifted and talented programs for cuts, and even in some cases for elimination. One school board member told us that he saw his job as working on things for the majority of students — the fat part of the Bell. That’s reasonable, and those kids are probably due a lion’s share of resources; however, when their needs are met (more or less), and when services for exceptional children are mandated, what does that leave for the kids at the Bell’s right end? (Answer: not much.)

Again, I realize the kids didn’t choose to be messed up; they can’t help it. Neither do I think they should be treated with less dignity than any other child of God. However, we are confronted again with the scarcity of resources. Classroom time is a zero-sum game. The more time Mrs. M has to spend going over a point for Susie (who still won’t get it,  because she can’t) or keeping Timmy from assaulting his classmates (or from assaulting her — ask her about the scars on her arms that perfectly match the size and shape of a 7-year-old’s fingernails), the less time she can spend encouraging, explaining… teaching the other kids.

All this leads me to a post by GhettoPuter chez Gormogon. ‘Puter has a public schoolteacher for a spouse as well, and has seen much of what I see. His observations are trenchant, possibly inflammatory, and worth your attention.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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7 Responses to “Hush, Truth!”

  1. A few of us at the Castle have wives who work in public education. Mine is a teacher.

    I like to describe it as the 80-20 rule. 80% of the classroom time is spent on 20% of the students, and vice-versa.

  2. Oh my, but that does have some good meat to it.


    General ed parents should fight against mainstreaming as hard as special ed parents fight for it. Simply put, special ed students mainstreamed are harming your child’s education.

    Would suggest I’m exactly the kind of parent about which he’s complaining. However, this…

    Heck, special ed teachers even have their own special union, dedicated to drive tax expenditures ever higher, with an even whinier battle cry of “exceptional teachers for exceptional children.” And parents of special needs children, understandably, are driven to extort from the school district as many services as they can for their child.

    …would suggest ‘Puter and I are engaged in a common crusade.

    I think what we’re looking at here is a change in the standards of discipline. Teachers of mainstreamed classes, motivating the kids to pay attention when the kids are about as motivated to do so as any kid of equivalent age was back in my day, are put in a situation not unlike eating broth with chopsticks. For the reasons ‘Puter describes, it seems nothing can ever be simple anymore. Kid A feels like paying attention, Kid B doesn’t, the conversation’s over before it can begin and Kid B must have a learning disability.

    I got a feeling the public education system has met the enemy and it is it. The one thing that used to be simple, and no longer is, is getting down on to the child’s terms in the early years, and ruling out all options for that child other than participating appropriately in class. That simply isn’t being done anymore, so we have these specialized classes and SLDs, which are “needed” in intensity and frequency way, way, way beyond any need that ever existed before. Something’s busted. It could very well be that nobody wants to tell the overly-indulgent parents no. I’d go along with that. But the educational machinery has been changing as well.

  3. The Ancient says:

    ‘Puter writes: “Services for these individuals are social services, and ought be funded by a broad-based tax (sales, payroll, income) as all citizens, not simply property owners benefit from them.”

    This is an interesting thought, but it strikes me as something which, in practice, would tend to take the responsibility of financing grade school and high school education away from local communities — and with it, curriculum control and many other things. I might not object to that, but most people would.

    Beyond that, a smart guy like ‘Puter should know that officially classifying certain numbers of children as helpless creatures with no real future is a political non-starter in this country. It is not, in Sir Paul’s words, “the world in which we live in.”

  4. I’m not mainstreamed enough to figure out how to e-mail ‘puter.

    I agree with his objections, as well as with his comments about the veil of secrecy around the problem. Parents are lacking in awareness about what is changing in the school system and how fast the change is taking place. But it’s just as big a problem, if not an even bigger one, that students are being placed in these special ed programs in the first place who ought not be.

    The problem, I think, is that ultimately it is the student’s job to do his part to create and maintain an adequate learning environment for himself and the rest of the class. But of course, being a kid means you can’t necessarily be counted on to do the things you’re supposed to be doing. If kids came out of the womb showing real reliability there, we wouldn’t need school. So what was happening was, the teacher was stepping in to do the kids’ job — partly in service of being a teacher, partly in service of being an adult who didn’t care for being interrupted, but mostly in service of this social contract we had that the overall community stepped in and helped parents do their parenting when the parents weren’t around.

    Now, as ‘Puter points out, we have unions. And it’s really the same bullpuckey you get everywhere else you have unions…union says “that is not part of this person’s job description,” so until someone comes up with a new answer about how the job gets done, the job goes undone. Because the job actually belongs to the student, and it was addressed by others only out of practical necessity, there is a lot more harm than good being done when someone else steps in to “Work with Johnny on a one-on-one basis and give him the help that he needs.”

  5. Oh, and I’ll tell you what happened to Val Kilmer. Batman happened to Val Kilmer.

  6. 'Puter says:

    @Ancient: I don’t want to fund general ed with a broad based tax. I believe that if we were only paying for truly educational expenses, a property tax, along with local control, is fine. But probably 75% of special ed is not education at all. It’s social services. Hence, my support for a tax that is broadly applied, like the ones for welfare programs (OASDI in payroll, food stamps etc. through income taxes).

    @MKF: You can email me at puter[use at symbol]gormogons dot com. I spelled stuff out because I don’t want troll robots pulling my email address. I try to answer all email, but I can’t promise. I still have to work for a living.

  7. Pingback: No Child Left Ahead | Professor Mondo

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