Looking beyond the educational, social, and esteem needs of students, the practical considerations of LRE have given substance to the argument for LRE. Given the tight monetary budgets that many school districts are faced with to provide the bare essentials of conventional education, the provision of special education services is virtually impossible. Citing previous court rulings, the school districts often claim budget shortfalls as a selling point for the implementation of LRE.
Socio-cultural Framework of LRE
Looking beyond the legal and practical ramifications of LRE, consideration must be given to the socio-cultural implications of LRE within the American educational system. In its most basic sense, socio-cultural theory holds that human beings learn through a cognitive and interpretive process, which uses the senses, primarily sight and hearing, in order to gain and retain knowledge (Houng, 2005). Based on this, the integration of students in an interactive learning environment makes it possible for practical knowledge, cultural norms, and social skills to be learned, which will benefit the student in real-world work and interpersonal settings. If socio-cultural theory is correct, the conventional learning methods that are utilized in the modern classroom are geared toward those who have the ability to use their senses to interpret, process and retain information and skills-hence, education in its most basic form. This being the case, it becomes apparent that should someone have an impaired sense-be it sight, hearing, comprehension- that individual would be at a distinct disadvantage in a classroom that geared the curriculum toward those who had complete abilities to see, hear, and process information that was delivered to them. With this in mind, a discussion of the possibility that in the specific case of the deaf community, the LRE on socio-cultural aspect does more damage than good to these individuals because it separates the deaf individuals from each other through language is appropriate and will now be presented within the historical and socio-cultural framework presented thus far.
Are Deaf Students Suffering in Silence?
To fully comprehend the gravity of the situation when the deaf are not properly educated and assimilated, consider this real life scenario:
Jose Flores has been in jail in Passaic County, New Jersey, since June 1992 awaiting trial on charges-kidnapping, burglary and sexual assault. The 29-year-old Flores, profoundly deaf, has not received a speedy trial because he cannot read, write or use sign language. Raised in a remote rural area of Puerto Rico, Flores had neither access to appropriate education nor a deaf community, both of which are needed to foster language in deaf children. People such as Flores, deprived of language until after puberty, are like feral children; they have a very difficult time acquiring language as adults. Because Flores cannot communicate, his lawyer claims that he cannot aid in his own defense and therefore cannot stand trial. Experts who evaluated Flores say that he cannot understand concepts like "guilty," "innocent;" "trial" and "jury." Nevertheless, the prosecutor insists that he be tried.
Throughout America at this very moment there may be hundreds of people, most of whom are poor minorities. languishing in jails and mental hospitals, their rights to justice-- including a speedy trial and" due process -- ignored. These people have two things in common: They are deaf and they cannot sign or speak" (Davis, 1993).
The brief passage presented here speaks volumes about the unfortunate position that deaf students are placed in because of LRE; essentially, because of the fact that the deaf student is placed in the mainstream classroom setting, there are disadvantages that the deaf student is faced with. For those like Jose Flores, it may be too late; for others, there are points to discuss that can make a difference.
To begin, one wonders why deaf students would be placed in LRE in the first place. While this answer may vary by school or school district, overall, this is done to a large extent because of the intention by school administrators to introduce the deaf student into the general classroom population in an effort to give these students the communication and interactive skills that will be needed in society, the workplace, and the home. There is one major flaw with this initiative, however- all good intentions aside, without giving deaf students the specialized and individualized education that their needs dictate, the least restrictive environment is cruelly and tragically transformed into the most restrictive environment. Without the learning of essential skills, conduct and cultural norms, the deaf student can be turned into a confused, dysfunctional member of society, and end up on the wrong end of the criminal justice system, and/or institutionalized as they were so frequently in the past when special needs were not so fully understood. Perhaps the most ironic part of this dilemma is that the special needs of deaf students are fully understood today, but misguided good intentions have placed special needs on the wayside in favor of liberal programs of self-esteem, which are heavy on intentions and objectives, but light on results and progress.
Aside from being alienated from the majority of the population, through LRE, deaf students can ultimately become detached from each other, leading to yet another loss of identity and the understanding that there are others in the world that are like them, which could provide some solace and a sense of belonging to a select community. The way that this detachment and alienation unfolds is as follows: deaf students, being given no special designation as being i9n need of education and interaction within their abilities to understand and process information, are placed in the "rank and file" of the student population. In this setting, the deaf student usually stands alone and confused, unable to communicate adequately or understand anything that is happening around them. Also within this mainstream population, one will likely find any number of other deaf students, separated from those who are like them, likewise receiving an ineffective education and growing increasingly isolated and upset.
The dilution of the deaf student population into the mainstream classroom environment does little but advance LRE. Not only don't these students have the opportunity to receive tailored instruction which will result in a fruitful educational experience, they are also deprived of the chance to develop special communication skills like sign language that they could use to their benefit in real-world situations as well as the chance to learn how to interact with others in the deaf community. The end result of all of this is a person without an education, communication skills, or a sense of community or belonging. Unleashing such an individual on society is a recipe for disaster at worst, and a burden to the social service system at best.
Cost arguments against specialized education for deaf students in favor of LRE also fail to make a valid point. Ostensibly, proponents of LRE claim that the provision of special education is cost prohibitive in an era of restrictive school budgets and an aging population that generates lower tax revenues which are needed to finance public education. However, when the cost of special education is weighed against the cost of institutionalizing, imprisoning, hospitalizing or keeping a special needs individual on the rolls of the welfare system because they cannot support themselves after high school, the investment in special education is a far better value from a multitude of points-of-view (Worth, 1999). Ethically, it is pathetic for deaf students to be forced to suffer in silence.
In this research, LRE has been shown to cause damage to the deaf community from educational, economic, emotional and ethical points-of-view. Logically, this begs this question as to what is the appropriate course of action to take in lieu of LRE? Perhaps the remedy lies in the spirit of IDEA itself. If IDEA is properly implemented, deaf students, and indeed all special needs students, will be afforded the opportunity to be placed in special education situations based on the fact that the conventional classroom cannot adequately meet their needs. So that this can be put into place, special education advocates must make sure that the quality of education and the special needs of some students are not kicked to the curb in favor of an impressive looking balance sheet or political advantage for school board members. Rather, educators need to look at the big picture, do the right thing, and make sure that every possible student be given the education, skills, and resources they need to support themselves, raise families, and make meaningful contributions to society, for society is only as effective as its individual citizens. If every effort is not made to realize the full intellectual potential of…