The ABC News Turning Point series called "Sean's Story" features the issue of educational inclusion. Federal law assures a "least restrictive environment" and full access to mainstream education for students who would have once automatically been placed in special education tracking away from their peers. Individualized education plans and other methods of ensuring best practices for students with special needs are making "Sean's Story" continuously relevant. The story raises a host of issues about educational philosophy and ethics.
"Sean's Story" is powerful in that it features not just Sean but also Bobby. Bobby's mother adamantly refused to move her son from Ridge to the public elementary school because she did not believe that doing so was the best thing for her child. She thought that her son was better served at Ridge, which could at least teach Bobby basic vocational skills. On camera, Bobby's mom even states that placing a child with Down's syndrome into a mainstream educational environment is like "putting a 5-foot-2 kid on the varsity basketball team."
Sean's mother represents the exact opposite point-of-view. For Sean's mother, a mainstream education challenges a child in ways the special education schools do not do. Sean cannot reach his highest potential if all he is taught to do is flip burgers. What triggered Sean's mother's conviction that mainstream education was appropriate for her son was an early encounter she had with the Ridge principal. The principal said, "Kids like Sean never leave Ridge school," (Begg, 2010). Begg (2010) concludes, "She was determining my child's path based on his disability!" The limiting attitude of the principle highlights the most important reason why mainstream education better serves some, many, and possibly most students with disabilities. Perhaps Bobby's mom has been brainwashed into believing that the functionality and potential of her son is automatically delimited by having Down's syndrome. She has basically given up on her son because the prevailing educational philosophy was to give up on children who needed extra attention.
The contrast between the two parents, their philosophies and values, is poignant and helps raise questions for deep critical analysis. For example, "Sean's Story" questions the motives and meaning of inclusion. Who does it serve? As Goodman (1994) puts it, "Is the drive for inclusion just a doctrinaire judicial way of dealing with inherent inequalities or is it a real educational approach?" Is inclusion grounded in research or does it just sound like a nice thing to do? Does inclusion serve the best interests of the student and his or her classmates?
Sean's placement was certainly appropriate from an ethical and legal standpoint. Federal law does guarantee the least restrictive environment and mainstreams students like Sean whenever possible. Moreover, there is no apparent reason to keep Sean in a special education school unless he, his mother, or his teachers made a case for the need. Without a clear need for special education services external to the mainstream environment, Sean certainly deserves access to the same educational services and stimuli as his peers.
B. The characteristics of successful collaboration include administrative support, the availability of resources, communication, and planning. Administrative support is critical to successful education collaboration. The entire administrative staff needs to understand what is going on in the school, which teachers are involved, and which students are involved. Each member of the administrative team needs to understand the gamut of resources available and listen to teacher feedback and requests.
Collaboration will not work if administration is not on board. Likewise, administration needs to work with the district regarding funds allocation. The IDEA funding needs to be properly allocated using whatever methods are available in that state. Although "Sean's Story" does not get too much in depth about funding and other administrative issues that affect schools like Sparks, issues like these are implied to be important.
The show does reveal how successful integration depends on collaborative/cooperative teaching. Sean's success is linked with the attitudes and behaviors of those at Sparks. The students in the classroom responded well to Sean because the teachers were supportive. Communication is another hallmark of successful collaboration. The teachers need to communicate with parents, offering suggestions and asking frequent questions about home progress. Teachers also need to work with each other. Special education specialists and mainstream educators need to work together to ensure all children in the classroom are thriving. A weekly planning session, coupled with more in-depth monthly sessions, can be extremely helpful for promoting effective collaborative education. This is why financial resources need to be allocated properly. The teachers need to know what kind of technologies, materials, and human resources are available to them. Planning sessions among educators will ensure a long -- term plan for students like Sean, too.
A. My philosophy of inclusion is generally similar to that of Sean's mom. Placing Sean in the mainstream classroom will have (indeed, already has had) net long-term gains for the entire educational system. The blog written by Sean's mom shows that he has made incredible progress. He is now in his 20s. His experiences after elementary school were better than expected after watching the original documentary. Sean thrived in a least restrictive environment. Part of the reason for his thriving was the schools themselves. These were schools who were prepared and committed to meeting the needs of all students. As Sean's mom points out, "We were welcomed with open arms. Anything was possible at Hereford High School. They made it work. There wasn't a time when they said no. I cannot thank Hereford High school and their wonderful staff enough for all that they did for Sean," (Begg, 2010). The appropriate balance of cooperative teaching made it possible to help Sean reach his highest potential and graduate from high school. Sean learned to read, after many teachers said he never would. The school enabled Sean to stay longer (until he was 21 years old), which allowed him access to the full range of educational services available. Because he has Down's syndrome, the extra years of education mean that Sean can progress to a level he might never be able to achieve without the added attention. Sean also rose to the occasion; he understood the opportunities and challenges. "Sean gave 110% of himself, every day, every minute. They respected him and he them," (Begg, 2010).
Limiting students like Sean by pre-determining what they are capable of denies them fundamental rights and freedoms. It is actually disgusting that some educators still believe that students like Sean will "never" learn to read, or "never" learn to do math. What evidence would they have to support such claims? How would they know if they have never before challenged students to move past their comfort zones? Do they simply lack patience?
It is categorically unethical and illegal to restrict a child's access to education. Federal law has evolved since Sean's Story was aired, and the issues that were raised in the documentary have become entrenched in education. Therefore, my philosophy is sound, straightforward, and in line with prevailing practice. Inclusion ensures a least restrictive environment for all students. The least restrictive environment offers ample opportunities for challenge as well as leisure and other activities, and all students in the school benefit.
Sean's Story raises one question that is not commonly raised in scholarly debate. What is the underlying purpose of education? Is it to ensure that students master basic math and language arts skills? Or is it to reach their highest potential? The emphasis over the past several years has been on the former: making sure academic "standards" are being met or achieved. These standards demean students and teachers; they also devalue the quality of education. Education is not just about standards and quantifiable data. There is a human component of education that transcends achievement tests, and Sean's Story highlights that humanity. My philosophy of inclusion is like my philosophy of education: humanitarian in nature.
There will always be cases that warrant special attention, or which preclude inclusion. Federal law permits for this, and the educational system is fairly well prepared for the contingencies. There are a lot of permutations that can be applied to meet the needs of individual students: such as partial inclusion or inclusion plus extracurricular coaching at another organization. I understand and support a multifaceted education approach fully.
My philosophy of inclusion is also rooted in an understanding of the need for diversity in all classrooms. Students live in a diverse world, and to deny students of any age access to diversity is to restrict their learning -- whether or not they have special needs. The students in Sean's classroom learned as much from him, as he did from the teachers.
Not all students with Down's syndrome will be as successful as Sean. Some will achieve more, some less. The point is to at least give every child the opportunity to explore various methods of learning, teaching, and social interaction. Technologies are available to help students like Sean, and those with physical disabilities.…