In education, the practice of teaching mentally or emotionally handicapped children in regular classrooms with non-handicapped children is known as mainstreaming. There has been an increasing interest in this practice since the 1960s due to numerous factors. For example, recent research shows that many handicapped students learned better in regular than in special classes. In addition, there have been charges that racial imbalances existed in special education classes. The federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, which states that all handicapped children have the right to a "free and appropriate" education in the "least restrictive environment," has been frequently interpreted as supporting the expansion of mainstreaming (Columbia University Press, 2003).
Mainstreaming has worked well with those segments of the special student population whose disabilities are compatible with a classroom setting and is felt in general to better prepare handicapped students socially for life after school. It has also helped other school children gain a better understanding of those with disabilities. It has been controversial, however, with students who have emotional or behavioral difficulties that may be disruptive to the entire class. In addition, some argue that children with special needs cannot be given adequate attention in an integrated class.
This paper aims to prove that mainstreaming handicapped children in appropriate and beneficial to all students. It will examine existing literature on the topic to determine the most effective method of mainstreaming and how to improve the mainstreaming process.
More and more parents and educators are supporting the process of mainstreaming, which is best described as "social trend of bringing exceptional people into the world of non-exceptional people" (Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, 1986, p.3). For students with severe handicaps, which may include mental handicaps, sensory impairments, physical handicaps, or chronic health problems, it is widely believed that they can learn but might require a lot of guidance, teaching of basic life skills, or assistance with daily activities (Stanviloff, 2002). The rationale for including these students in the regular routines of school life is often based on a variety of educational, moral, and legal arguments.
Supporters of mainstreaming argue that all children with special needs have a right to equal opportunity in the regular classroom, and need the regular classroom environment and stimulation of typical peers to gain functional life, social and work skills (Thousand & Villa, 1991). From an educational perspective, many proponents believes that it is important for handicapped children to be around typical peers for at least part of the school day in order to learn and utilize social skills. Stainback and Stainback (1990) suggested that all children benefit from the practice of including students with severe handicaps. Students can help one another, develop friendships, understand handicaps, and come to accept individual differences. Given the benefits to all students, its seems that there is no justification for the separation from a regular class.
Arguments Against Mainstreaming
Most studies show that teachers, like the general public, have concerns regarding both handicapped students and mainstreaming. Teachers are most uncomfortable mainstreaming emotionally disturbed and mentally retarded students. Much of this discomfort is the result of a lack of knowledge about disabilities, lack of experience with handicapped students, and minimal training in teaching these students.
While both proponents and opponents of mainstreaming believe that all children should be given the opportunity to achieve to their fullest potential, opponents argue that this cannot be accomplished by mainstreaming, saying that the benefits of special education outweigh the disadvantages (McIntyre, 1992). Opponents feel that children with handicaps easily fall behind in learning and they need special attention that a teacher in a regular classroom cannot provide. If these problems are not corrected, children will be affected for the rest of their lives. Therefore, special education advocates say that special classes help handicapped children develop the self-confidence they need to carry them through the rest of their lives.
Opponents of mainstreaming also argue that handicapped children are noticeably different and are likely being ridiculed in their regular classrooms. Therefore, they say that putting them into classes with other children who are on their level enables the children to relate to one another. Jennifer Pinland, a speech pathologist, argued, "Children with handicaps cannot be ignored and pushed through the school system. They must get the help they need in order to avoid ridicule and defeat for…