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Monday, July 2, 2012



I hesitate to publish this post as I know it will piss off many hard working dedicated professionals who do a wonderful job with children of special needs.  I decided that my point needs to be heard so here it is.  To those I piss off, sorry, but perhaps there is some food for thought in my opinion.

Eight years ago my youngest son was entering first grade.  He enjoyed kindergarten but his teacher felt he needed help in forming his letters. 

Before his first class started we attended an orientation at the school.  All of the teachers in the school, first through fourth grade, were introduced.  I could not help but notice that almost twelve special education teachers were introduced.  When I went to school there were no special education teachers (admittedly a bad thing.)  I thought at the time that twelve seemed like an inordinate number of teachers for special education.

Two weeks into first grade, we were called to meet with a Mrs. Ruth, head of special education.  She was concerned that my son was not reading.  I mentioned that I had three other children all now grown and out of school.  None could read until Thanksgiving of first grade and all are college graduates.  She ignored my comment and continued on rather arrogantly that the other children in his class were already reading and my son was falling behind.

I related to her that my son was walking before he was ten months old.  No other children that I knew were walking until at least their twelfth month and yet at age six all these children are walking pretty much the same.

She recognized me for the Neanderthal I probably am and again ignored my comment.  She jumped right into recommending testing for my son to see if he would benefit from special education teaching.

Grudgingly my wife and I allowed the testing. 

I was not surprised when the results came back indicating my son should be removed from the first grade and go into a special education class.  Mind you, at the time of our meeting to discuss the test results, my son was starting to read and was improving daily.  His teacher admitted that his reading was almost up to the rest of the class. 

A school psychiatrist was called to evaluate my son.  She reported that my son was one of the nicest most cooperative boys she had ever evaluated.  She gushed about his engaging personality.

Mrs. Ruth, ignored these comments, and then suggested we get down to brass tacks.  The tests (one stated he had poor hand eye coordination even though my son was an above average athlete) indicated we should enroll my son immediately into her program. 

I refused.

I felt it was too soon to label a child with a disability that would follow him for the rest of his school life.  Teachers would always lower their expectations for my son and even at the age of six he would know that “special” really meant (sorry) stupid.

Mrs. Ruth huffed that I was making a mistake and I would be sorry.  I said, “Teach him to read, that is what they used to do in first grade” and my wife and I left.

I then realized why so many of my neighbors were sending their four and five year olds to reading-tutors.


My son, Spencer, just graduated from Jr. High.  He made the honor roll every semester the last three years.  Next year he will be in the honors math and honors history classes.

I often wonder what would have happened if I allowed him to be enrolled in special education at age six.  Would his expectations and the expectations of his teachers have been the same?  I was told those many years before by his first grade teacher that she asked for the evaluation partly on the kindergarten teacher’s comment about his letter formation problem.  Would future teachers have judged him based on his early special education classes?  Did Mrs. Ruth want to recruit children to her program to fill her programs many special education teacher’s classes?

One thing I do not wonder about was my decision; and no Mrs. Ruth I am not sorry.  I was right, you the extremely arrogant expert, were wrong. 

I do wonder, Mrs. Ruth, how many young parents with less experience than me followed your misguided “expert” advice all to the serious long term detriment of their children?

Children grow, mature, and learn at different rates.  When a child has a clear learning disability the faster it is diagnosed and addressed the better.  However, rushing to assign and treat a disability that does not exist can be more devastating than any actual disability.

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  1. Wonderful post Cranky, and good on you. As someone who works in childcare, i get so upset at the ease with which some people want to label a child as having a disability or a special need. I remember one little boy in the nursery where I worked who was so bright that he really stood out from the other children. I loved to work with him. At age 2 his speech was wonderfully clear, and he used what I call math logic in everything he did. He reminded me very much of my youngest with the math logic, because he was exactly the same as a toddler. However the powers that be at the nursery kept throwing around the words autistic and aspergers, and I found the whole thing quite upsetting. One day on the quiet, I had a word with Mum and asked her what she thought. She said that she was worried that there was something wrong. I asked her if she had ever considered that her son was just exceptionally bright and needed more stimulation. She hesitated and said what do you think Lou? you spend the most time with him here at nursery. I told her I thought that her son was exceptionally bright and needed more stimulation...She told the nursery owner that she didn't want her son tested and labelled at age 2. She was going to leave him be and see what happened.....

    More parents need to be like you and the Mum from nursery.....Special Educational Needs is a nasty little label that can often cause more harm than good...

    Lou :-)

  2. Several things come to mind: First, I have heard it said and I personally believe that college Schools of Education are not turning out properly prepared teachers. I've heard this from many veteran teachers commenting on how poorly prepared the new ones are. I suspect the same goes for counselors.

    Second, I suspect the state sends more money* to the school districts based partly on how many kids are enrolled in special ed. Never rule out the monetary incentive districts have.
    *That's how school funding works in Texas at least.

    Third, a brief story: When my oldest daughter was in middle school, making A's in advanced English, the counselor called me in to tell me they had decided to put her back into what I call "remedial English" the next year. They said her standardized test scores showed she wasn't naturally talented enough to be taking the advanced class that she was in, and that her A's were only the result of hard work. Ummm....what's wrong with hard work?? Anyway, she finally agreed to re-test her if I would get her summer tutorials. I did, and they taught her mainly "test taking skills". It worked, she aced the re-test, went on to be an honors high school grad and now has a masters in accounting degree.

    Sometimes those with the most initials after their name know the least.


  3. Twelve special needs teachers for a school that goes up to 4th grade! That is ridiculous... I agree that it is probably all to do with funding.

    There is definitely a need for this kind of help -- two of my sons needed help with speech therapy and one was dyslexic. He benefited greatly from the help he received. Why oh why do things which are initially a good thing so often end up getting grossly bent out of shape?

  4. JH,
    Hard to believe this episode happened that long ago. I recall these discussions vividly - and they were replayed when our youngest had issues in second grade. You were right for standing your ground - but many here looked at you as a first cousin to Ted Kuzinsky based on your behavior. Glad to read about Spencer's successes this last year in a new school. Know you are proud of him and all he continues to accomplish. Thanks for sharing.

  5. A very interesting post, Cranky, and one that touches me personally. I was one of those kids that almost ended up in "special class." I was rather slow when it came to math and then I had problems when the schools converted to "New Math" in the sixties. My parents refused to let them place me in special class and I went on to become a college graduate and the superior human being communicating with you now. So yes, you were definitely right!

  6. Good job, dad. Standing your ground and defending yourself to a "professional" in any area can be daunting, especially when your only credentials are common sense.

  7. I think Lowandslow nailed it. With 12 spec ed teachers on staff, it sounds to me like they were trying to justify and maintain their budget. Good for you for not allowing your child to become one of their statistics. They sound more like business execs than educators.

  8. Amazing how one can justify their existence with the support of "scientifically obtained fact(s)".

    I worked in Special Ed - with adult workers - who had literacy and numeracy problems derived from failing to finish grade school and going straight into a 'hard yakka' labour workforce where the ability to physically endure and complete physically exhausting tasks was an attribute (to a point where they 'toughened up' and assumed an ethos that hard work and not 'smarts' was what the working world demanded.)

    Then the modern workforce of rules, regulations, knowledge-based tasks and competency-based learning caught up with them and they needed 'specialists' like myself to get them through their skills assessments (written and practical) to gain accreditation.

    Maybe school-based 'special education' grew out of a sense of mass educational failure and a need to redeem itself - "Let no child pass who cannot understand E=MC2!"

  9. This is a post about a teacher high on her authority.... not about special ed.

  10. Sometimes, people get way too excited about what they think SHOULD be.

    As they say, when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


  11. One of the worst things about our public educational system is the total disregard given differing lengths of "getting up to speed" for different children. If you don't fit in a box the way they wish, they will try to put you in another box, then another, then another, until they run out of boxes. Some kids just learn differently, or at different speeds, or need some individual attention. Labeling a kid as "special", when (as you rightly point out) it means "dull" or "stupid", is sometimes just an easy out for the teacher who can't teach.

    Now, that's not to say every kid who is put into a "special" class has been given the wrong diagnosis. Some kids benefit. But I shudder to think of the kids, like yours, who might end up there even though there is no good reason for it.

    God bless you for standing your ground. You were a great dad.

  12. What a great post! I think we need to be aware of our children and not label them. You son is so lucky to have the parents he does. Rachel

  13. I've only been in this parenting gig for 2 and a half years now but I've learned very quickly to stick to your instincts. So many time in the early days, I would cave in to the opinions of the "experts". Screw that. They got it wrong, time and time again.
    Good for you for sticking to your guns.