Whether you agree with the current direction of intervention, consultation, and education of students with special needs, the groundbreaking Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) that was enacted in 1975 made it possible for thousands of disabled and impaired students to to receive access to the same public education that non-disabled students had access to for decades. Seen as a way to bring equity to those students who were being treated unfairly by the public education system, the EAHCA made it possible for many students that had thought to have been “un-educable” to attend public school, and prove that they were just as capable mentally as other students.
Why the history lesson? Because the EAHCA was reauthorized by Congress in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and following subsequent amendments over the last 2 decades, has continued to play a large driving force in shaping modern education in the United States. And this year, the legislation is 35 years old! In 2008 alone, over 6 million students with some disability spent at least a partial day in a public school, a reality that might not have been possible 35 years ago.
One of the teachers in my district sent me a link to the video celebrating the hallmarks of the legislation, and I thought it would work well as a discussion starter with older students, or classrooms that have a large number of mainstreamed students; what would education today look like if almost 6 million students had no rights to be educated in our public schools? What if their families were forced to have to pay for private education, or other services that might come to the home? How would our lives be different, and how would students with disabilities be different?
I know 6 million students doesn’t mean they all receive intensive interventions and/or assistance. Many of them have mild disabilities that are easily remedied, but the questions are still valid. What’s the big idea about IDEA? What sort of issues would we have had to deal with today if “special schools” were still the prominent way of educating all students with disabilities, and not just the most intensive group? How have schools played a part in the acceptance of individuals with disabilities in our society as a whole? Would our culture be as accommodating and accessible if not for the many generations of students that were educated with disabled and impaired individuals around them every day? For that matter, how much further does our society need to go in order to better accommodate for individuals with impairments?
Have discussion questions of your own that come from the video below? Share them with your students, your colleagues, or here!