Funding for special education - a rant

I read this article by Robert Rummel-Hudson, author of the book Schuyler's Monster and author of the blog Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords, and was moved to write a rant in response.

The people who argue “How much are we going to spend on special education when there are gifted and talented kids who have so much more to…” (wait for it…) “contribute to society?” annoy the hell out of me, because they don't seem to realise that disabled people can also be gifted and talented. This false dichotomy, quite frankly, pisses me off.

Take a friend of mine, sadly now deceased. He was so impaired by muscular dystrophy that he could intentionally move only the muscles of his face, and one finger. He could not speak due to a tracheostomy required for his ventilator, and certainly could not type using a keyboard. And yet he wrote a large chunk of the FreeBSD operating system, which - even if most people use Windows or Mac OS - certainly was a considerable contribution to society.

"Oh," your arguers would say, "We don't mean people with physical disabilities who can prove their intelligence, oh no."

Okay, well. How about my ex-girlfriend, who is severely dyslexic and also voraciously intelligent? Due to her "spiky profile", she was never sure if she was intellectually gifted or learning disabled - she would spend some of her school day in the top sets for academic subjects and some in the special education section. She spent several years running a support and social group for bisexual people in her local area, and now cares for her elderly mother.

"Oh," your arguers would say, "Of course we don't mean dyslexia, lots of bright people are dyslexic. No, no, we mean people who need actual interventions."

How about my boyfriend, who has such severe social impairments due to his autism that he had never even had a friend before we met online, when he was 31? He has just changed jobs, to a place where he's happy for the first time in his life because almost everyone he works with is also on the autism spectrum, or has ADHD. The US military and space programme depend on the products designed by these highly gifted electrical engineers, all with at least one degree and some with two or three - yet most of them have some quite serious issues functioning in society.

At this point your arguers would probably get quite angry. "No, no, we don't mean them, the ones who can go to university. We mean those other ones." And they might come out and use some terrible expression for the intellectually disabled, like the R-word.

And it's just ridiculous. There are many jobs in our society which do not require high academic ability. Greeter, cashier, shelf-stacker, the person who gathers up the shopping trolleys/carts and returns them to the bay, refuse collector, street sweeper, cleaner, factory packer, gardener... Lots of blue-collar jobs which well-educated people look down on and forget even exist - and yet someone has to do these jobs. Whenever there's some sort of pay dispute and the refuse collectors go on strike, leaving garbage to pile up on the street... yeah, then people notice they actually exist. The rest of the time? Eh, garbage is magically taken away by the fairies.

How can you expect people to contribute to society if you don't give them the tools they need to do so? Kids like your Schuyler are probably not going to get PhDs, but that doesn't mean that they aren't people. Special education means that Schuyler can read and write and do arithmetic - there are many jobs she would be capable of, assuming that she's able to keep her seizures under control and that she doesn't need to speak often. People-facing jobs which require constant talking and rapid responses would be a problem because it would take too long for her to type out sentences on her speech synthesizer, but there are a whole bunch of necessary jobs she could do - provided that she could get a lift to work or lives in a place where public transit exists.

And this is where we get to the social model of disability. Schuyler's future work life is only partly dependent on her intellectual disability or her medical issues. How well she can function in society depends on society giving her the tools she needs, like a way to get to her workplace given that she's not allowed to drive. Disabled people can only contribute to society if they can get into society! Leave them trapped in their houses and sure, they're going to be a burden.

Look, I totally understand that the education budget only has so much money available, and that it has to be split up somehow. I also agree - as a former gifted child - that gifted and talented kids have considerable educational needs and challenges which need to be met. Gifted kids need help to develop their critical thinking skills and to learn about bias. In our modern world it's important that they can learn which sources on the internet can be trusted, and to what extent. And we need to be given appropriate level schoolwork so that we are adequately challenged and not bored. Some of us, like my husband, have maturity issues which mean we won't succeed, despite our high IQ, until we are adults who want to learn.

But, as a former gifted child, I can also state without a doubt that you could round us up and put us in a library, and we'd come out okay. Not the very best we could be, but okay. Able to contribute to society in some way. Whereas kids with communication difficulties, social disabilities, specific learning disabilities, and intellectual disabilities absolutely need intervention as early as possible in order for them to develop into the best possible adults they can be.

And it makes me angry when people try to deny them that.
You have an excellent brain!
I much agree with what you've said in your journal entry.
I agree! And as someone who was put in gifted education every time it was funded, then pushed out again the next school term when it wasn't, I think there's a lot of common ground between the two kinds of special education (quite apart from the massive overlap of people who are both disabled and gifted). Both are for children who suffer from being forced to fit the norm, both are for children who have difficulties with their peers, both are for children who need "interventions" to gain something out of the education system. Making different kinds of special education into a war for funding is attacking the wrong target - attack the lack of funding and an education system that doesn't fit several large groups of children, not the needs of the children!
Baratron's article and the two comments above absolutely nails it.
ya know...years ago when my now 23-year-old was 4, and i was not as impaired as i am now, i worked on the special needs school bus (several different routes over 3 years) because he could go with me. one route was kids who were able to go to school till they were 21, and some of them couldn't cross the street without holding someone's hand. some of them were pretty darn intelligent.

i worked on a summer route for kids who were profoundly affected by their mental and physical disabilities...and one of them about killed me with laughter when he pinched my behind when my back was to him...and he knew damn well what he was doing, too.

i'm intelligent...but i'm too much disabled to work and not enough disabled to get any government help. and the concussion i ended up with in april didn't help matters along any, either!

give people the help they need...whether it be financial or whatever. help them UP and they could be as much a tax payer as the next goober. good grief. (if i'm not clear, i'm agreeing with you totally. i'm aware that i'm not always clear.)
yeah...some of the kids were going to be able to go on to college and do great things, and others were not. as a parent whose kids were "normal" this saddened me.

but seeing people whose bodies or minds didn't work the way his did made my son more sensitive towards others, and I appreciated that, plus the time I could work. that was the last of my working time.
Arm failing on me so I can't chip with citations proving that it is more cost effective to educate ALL disabled people in society and enable everyone to live as independently as they want to rather than locking people away...

Thank you for writing rebuttals! I send you some rage and will run away back to essay nerding!
I worked with children who have ASD and SLD/PMLD - most of them cannot read or write or do any maths, I think only two might be able to access any kind of job upon leaving school, and most will probably go into 24 hour residential care if or when their families are no longer able to care for them. Of course, a lot can change in 10 years - especially with autism - and a year ago maybe the optimist in me would have said that good solid special education and interventions would have meant that more opportunities would be available to them.

Then I worked in special education and have now ended up so completely disillusioned that I can't see how it's ever going to get any better. For how difficult it was to get resources and interventions for the children in the Autism Resource Provision where I worked - it was ten times harder for the children who were in the mainstream with 1:1 support, sometimes only separated in terms of need by half a point from the Communication Panel, and sometimes having greater needs than those within the ARP. One of my colleages said that in the year she worked with one student - she saw a Speech and Language Therapist once...and her student was non-verbal with limited functional communication. There sure is a lot of money going into Special Education sometimes - I'm just not sure exactly which part of Special Education it's going into.

Edited at 2016-08-04 07:51 pm (UTC)