Until the early 1990’s, students who were “not measuring up” to grade level expectations could be moved to the special ed classroom, often abruptly. As one of these students, you may be in your third grade classroom with your friends as usual on Monday, but by Tuesday, you are ejected from your class and sent to a different room with different teachers and students.
These students even had to start taking a DIFFERENT BUS TO SCHOOL, y’all.
This transition likely shook a child’s sense of normalcy, security and confidence.
So much has changed in special education over the past 20 years. (Thankfully!) As a society, we have come so far in our understanding of the nuances of intellectual ability. While many factors have played a part in the positive changes in education, the following elements have caused much-needed changes in educating children with learning difficulties:
- More than ever before, education majors are taking more special education classes and receiving endorsements and certifications upon entering the field. Because of this, teachers are able to have more sophisticated conversations around the many complicated aspects of intelligence, academic achievement and the differences between the two.
- In larger metropolitan areas, more independent schools are opening, catering to the needs of diverse learners, and existing schools are changing their course offerings and adding student support services. If you live in an urban or suburban area and have a child who is struggling in school, there are likely resources nearby, including specialized schools, neuropsychologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and learning specialists.
- The media has greatly increased awareness of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder and other learning differences. The media is, at times, criticized for sensationalizing content related to education. But the increase in awareness, I feel, has been a blessing for education overall. For example, popular Ted Talks by Dr. Martin Seligman and Angela Lee Duckworth have linked elements of positive psychology to education. Concepts like perseverance, grit, determination and self-discipline have become key topics in the discussion of student achievement.
- We see success stories in unlikely people, people who could have been viewed as failures under traditional frameworks of achievement. Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Mark Cuban all failed, quit jobs and/or dropped out of school before realizing their potential. Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants highlights such tales of triumph in unlikely candidates.
What a wonderful world for our children, to grow up in a time when people are having discussions around the incredible variety of talents and abilities that are welcomed in the world.
All children have gifts. Harnessing these gifts can lead our children down a road of engagement and fulfillment. Our challenge, as parents and teachers, is to help our children develop awareness of their gifts and help them cultivate these interests and abilities to fruition.