Special Education is BS

I know I will ruffle a few feathers with the title on this, but I am serious. The system of Special Education is BS in my very humble opinion. My perspective is based upon my own experiences as a teacher and as a father whose son is in a fantastic early childhood program. I say this for three reasons:

  • Special Education labels and “indentifies” kids. These labels are often the defining characteristic of a child. If a kid is given a label of ADHD, which is currently a crowd favorite, they are looked at a certain way. It is very easy to say “that kid can’t focus on the lesson because of their ADHD”. Instead we should be saying, “how can I make this lesson more engaging or interactive to get that kid plugged in”? I don’t want to have a kid’s life determined by the label they are given. I recognize the numerous medical diagnoses that are places upon children. Those diagnoses are real and as a teacher I like to know what a child is working with. This informs my decisions and how I support and teach them. I am going to support the needs of every student regardless of what paperwork has been filed on their behalf.

  • Special Education is a way to provide supports and services for students with identified disabilities. Naturally you would think this is a good thing but I disagree. If we are doing our jobs as educators we should be providing support for all students in their areas of need. We should not need to convene a meeting and fill out paperwork to determine how to help a kid. In addition, we should not be confined to the “approved” supports listed on this paper work. If a kid needs help, we help them in any way we can. Isn’t that what we should be doing anyway? 

  • Special Education is often used as a crutch for students, parents, and teacher alike. Students with indentified disabilities are often given watered down assignments, less work load, and lower expectations. Human beings in general often rise to the level of expectations put upon them. Students can figure out pretty quick when they are not expected to “do” as much as other kids. This sort of enabling has damaging long terms effects that I see almost daily in my classroom. Parents can also fall victim to this as they rely on the “label” to justify anything and everything their child is doing. Teachers are not innocent in this as well. It is easy to give up on a kid when you think they are not capable due to their label.

For the record, I am not against helping kids and providing every single support available to a school. Quite the contrary, I will do anything to help a child succeed in my classroom and in life. However, don’t tell me I have to give extra help to a kid because his label and paperwork says so. I am going to give that kid some extra help because it is the right thing to do and because they need it. I understand the legal and financial implications of a special education. I also understand that my son would not have been given the opportunity to be in the fabulous early learning program he is in with being “labeled”. I find it sad that helping a child is something mandated rather than something we do because it is what we are supposed to be doing.

Special Education is not going away and honestly it probably shouldn’t. I just hope as educators we are helping all learners succeed in our classrooms and in life. I also hope that we don’t define our students by their label and hold all our students to high yet appropriate expectations.


Anthony said...

This is a great post! I agree with you 100%. Too many people want to place labels on students because they need the help. Well, if the teacher was helping them in the first place, then they wouldn't need this label. Thanks for sharing your thoughts? Do I think some people might be offended? Possibly, but maybe those are the ones that are not doing their job correctly.

Andy Hanson said...

Agreed-although I think all the paperwork and meetings has more to do with a perceived need to hold teachers accountable rather than documenting things well. For some reason, someone at the higher end of things a long time ago said, "If you don't MAKE teachers do it, they won't do it." and so now we have laws to be sure we do what the meeting and limited system of supports says we need to do.

How many times, teachers, have you had to provide an accommodation or modify a lesson for a student who didn't need it in your class just because the IEP said so?

Are we following least restrictive learning environment, or are we often providing one that is least challenging?

Molly said...

I am not sure whether I agree or not, but I do agree with this specific thought, "I am going to give that kid some extra help because it is the right thing to do and because they need it."

Josh Stumpenhorst said...


I would agree that the paperwork is an accountability piece for both teachers and parents. It allows parents to see what is being done for their child. In a perfect world wouldn't we want to meet with every parent and discuss how their needs will be met?

I also agree that some things are being done because the paper says so, not because it is needed.

Thanks for your comment.

Mrs. Tenkely said...

Along the same lines...why is it that only SOME students get an individualized learning plan? Should this be a requirement for every kid?

sram_socrates said...

Josh - I will say that I have struggled with this post and that it took me a while to decide how to respond, especially being a Special Education teacher.

I suppose the largest issue I had with the post was that, your frustration lead to lumping all sped teachers together. Like saying standardized tests are good to assess all students or that yes all teachers should be evaluated dependent on how their students preform.

However rather than writing an extremely long comment I will refer you to Insight - Special Education is not BS http://wp.me/pVUIM-eV

In regards to Anthony, I guess that I am not doing my job correctly - I will try and have my students transferred to him. Being offended can be due to being passionate and committed to something and having someone trash your attempts, but that is my opinion.

Morgan said...

I think my feathers may also be ruffled, but possibly just because I am also a special education teacher. Also because I know that if I wrote a post to discuss how unwilling gen. ed. teachers are to collaborate, include, and differentiate for students with special needs (both diagnosed and undiagnosed), I would get roasted for it. Probably because that would be lumping all gen. ed. teachers into the same category, and I don't think they would appreciate that.

It's true. Kids are kids. People are people. If your expectations are low, you will likely get what you expected. But who says that just because I cut a worksheet in half or give a kid some extra time that I have low expectations of him? He is in the gen. ed. class, right? He is achieving there with necessary supports, right?

Or... if he is pulled to my classroom, you might see him working on his own e-portfolio or creating a "glog" or trialing our new iPads. You will see him reading and writing and doing math. And probably learning 3 times as much because he also had to learn what the smile on my face meant and what the tone of my voice indicated and how to wash his hands step by step and also why its important to walk in the hallway (the "hidden curriculum").

And... if "everyone" knows a student's label and can automatically categorize them for life, perhaps the confidentiality clause needs to be reread and discussed in your building.

I do agree that EVERY student should be taught WHERE THEY ARE. EVERY student should get "special" treatment. EVERY student should have a teacher that differentiates. But... do they?

And for those of you who think that EVERY student should have an IEP... I invite you to write an IEP for every student in your class... once yearly... and re-evaluate every 3 years... and collaborate with his/her service providers, parents, home team coordinators, private tutors, advocates, and anyone else that has a vested interest.

To call my whole profession BS to make a few points was nothing but hurtful and a little thoughtless, and I'm guessing that the parents of MY students would probably disagree.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...


Thank you for your comment. To be clear I was not calling your profession BS. I greatly value the special education teachers that work with students and could not imagine a world without them. I was simply expressing my views on the ways in which it often plays out in schools. For a little more, check out another post and my responses. It might help clear up my obviously unclear message. :)