Contemplating Special Education makes me think about my childhood toy Slinky. In theory it work fine. In the real world, it's been a snarled mess. It is indeed getting better.... I think. This is my version of the history of Special Education .... it bears little resemblance to reality .
The perfect name for an flexible coiled spring that hopped from palm to palm by seesawing your arms left..right...left...right.....up.... down. I remember the TV commercial featuring a young boy topped by a monstrous pompadour setting his Slinky down at the head of a staircase. Without pausing he would flick his hand into the air, a prepubescent imitation of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Philharmonic, and thus launch one end of the steel coil upward and outward through the void. A stroboscopic rendition of the death-defying leap ofan Acapulco cliff diver astounding tourists from Akron. Arcing up and over and down. Each coil pulling the next behind.... ringing like a bicycle bell....sight and sound perfectly blending ceasing only when the final coil reached its brothers on the step below. But the adventure was not over ladies and gentlemen. Powerless fight the laws of science, its momentum stored in the spring steel would cause it to reverse itself. The butt would become the head and the entire process would repeat itself over and over again butt.. head... hutt... head until reaching the bottom of the staircase. A beautiful sight to behold... at least in the TV commercial.
It never worked for me.
I always had trouble getting the darn thing started. It knew I was a fraud and so did I. Slinky responded obediently but only to a professional hand sweep which, despite constant practice, I was never able to perfect.
It would sit there on the top step with its cold stare, taunting me... daring me to make a move. We would glare at each other like gun fighters paused for the moment of truth. Suddenly I would grab its head like some fearless snake handler facing a black mamba and thrust it headfirst down the first step. But, instead of cooperating it would flip and stick like a javelin. Or worse yet, tumble like some unfortunate astronaut, victim of a calamitous spacewalk, tumbling hopelessly through the cold void and ultimately crashing in a pile of metal vaguely reminiscent of the hopelessly twisted coiled cables connecting my teenage sister's Princess phone to a marathon conversation with girlfriends.
I loved it and hated it at the same time. Sadly, I buried many deceased Slinkys in the backyard without benefit of eulegy.
Yup. Slinkys were just like Special Ed system.
Each new school year would start with a new plan that looked great on paper. It always sounded good on paper. But as soon as classes started something would happen to make the system falter and crash. After a year or two, when everything got all snarled up, the old plan would be chucked in favor of some new program. But things really were improving.
The 1950's saw the educational paradigm challenged by a dramatic increase in urban truancy and delinquent behavior. By the '60's many schools resembled war zones where students and teachers gambled daily with bodily harm at the hands of kids who "just didn't want to learn". The use of "600 Schools" - originally designed to educate adolescent inmates - was expanded to segregate incorrigible offenders. Housed behind locked doors and barred windows, these students' academic and social needs were supposed to met by specialized treatment. The label "600" derived from the fact that teachers received an additional $600 stipend to serve there.
- Read the entire ERIC Abstract ED002079 on 600 schools
It wasn't just truants and felons who being turned off by the educational system. There was a growing disconnect between the system and real life. Kids just didn't see the point. This was especially apparent in urban inner-city schools. By the 70's, people like Byron Preiss were exploring unorthodox approaches to reengaging and motivating students. Preiss created a super hero comic magazine to engage inner-city kids and wound up building a publishing empire.
- The SIE system -
- The Continuum of Services for Students with
meets Rube Goldberg
- The promise of The Ideal School
"When I began teaching in 1969, I was issued a cattle prod for self-protection against a class of 4 5-year olds - and that was at a progressive private school with wonderful credentials!"