Stop Leaving Children Behind
The No-Child-Left-Behind Act is a political movement that anyone who has had any interaction with school systems in the past 15 years is familiar with. The act has sparked controversy over curriculum, school funding, standardized testing, and classroom management. Often, the focus of these debates are able bodied students who participate normally in classroom activities. Marginalized populations like students in special education and ESL (English as a Second Language) are simply scooped up and herded into the numbers, blended in, and smoothed over to make the school look good on a chart. But is this really not leaving children behind? And what about those unlucky enough to belong to both a non-English speaking and a special needs population? These children are not being noticed, and they’re feeling it!
Special education has been on the forefront of many school-based agendas for a while now. Despite the popularity, funding for programs and teachers are significantly lacking.In public schools, where the option to only accept the “less expensive special ed students” is not available, a major push has been seen for complete inclusion of students with disabilities in normal classroom settings. While this may seem like an innocent and even positive idea, the heart of it is that the higher-up powers want to minimize spending on the programs, aides, and teachers that is required to have a healthy and successful special education program. From a financial standpoint, one can understand why a struggling school district with a failing bank account could want to make this call. But remember, it’s no child left behind. Saying these students’ needs are less important than those of an able bodied student classifies them as less than human.
The same thing is happening to students who speak a different language or who have parents who speak a different language. These students’ needs, too, require a different set of staff and curriculum to catch them up to the “standard” that Common Core and standardized testing inflict upon school systems. Even if your school system does provide some form of bilingual education, it is most likely predominantly Spanish that is observed as the primary language. With the growing diversity of American citizens, this is a huge problem.So when you’re a member of both populations, you’re basically up a creek. Of course, there are some preexisting legislative measures that were meant to help safeguard these innocent children from the cold shoulder of the public. IEP‘s are created as Individualized Education Plans that address the specific needs of each child, but are often manipulated to benefit the school. Similarly, there is legislation in place that requires translation for non-English speaking parents of students with special needs, but it is often difficult to qualify for this and often the services are insufficient to the need, leaving parents uninformed on what is being provided or not provided for their child.
So What Can We Do???
If we’re honest, the image that the public has on people with special needs and people who speak a different language other than English are both negative ones. The word “retard” is used as a negative describing word in common conversation. People think it is their right to tell the Puerto Rican bus boy to “stop speaking Mexican if you’re gonna live in America!” Donald Trump, a major political candidate in the 2016 presidential elections, has done far more than his fair share to instigate these negative images. His racial slurs and bigoted comments are famous, and he added to his repertoire of short-sightedness when he openly mocked a reporter with a physical disability (see video at: http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/11/26/donald-trump-mocks-reporter-with-disability-berman-sot-ac.cnn). While other candidates are not nearly as crude and blatant as him, they are just as guilty of neglecting this issue all together or of instigating prejudice in their own way. They play on the fear of immigration that the population has. There is immediate resistance to any change in the financial plans that could cut unneeded spending elsewhere to fund special and bilingual education. Despite the winds of change that so many believe we are being carried on, there is a flagrant disregard for the huge infringement of equality that is taking place so very close to home.
As voters and constituents of this government and of these candidates, we must demand that they notice this glaring issue. We can not argue for the sake of some children and not others. That means improving regular classrooms and special education classrooms. It means providing desirable jobs for bilingual professionals in the special education and special therapy world to service these children who are going unnoticed. If we do not require the conversations about this issue to begin in the political discussions, no solution can ever be reached.
And What is that Solution?
Despite the complexity of the issue with all of its many facets and individual struggles, the solution is very simple. We must keep education individualized. This means diversifying our normal classrooms to suit the needs of different learning styles. This means providing programs that help students who speak a language other than English to learn English and other curriculum successfully. This means including students, pulling students out, or having students in a separate special ed class based on their need and not to meet a certain quota for the school’s numbers. This means reforming the very heart of the school system that our children, siblings, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends are a part of. Many teachers feel defeated when they try to do right by their students but are constantly barraged with the political agendas of the schools. This has led to the mass decrease in availability of regular and specialized educators. The only way to reverse this process is to reverse the standards that the schools are clinging to.
In the height of the civil rights movements and feminist movements of the 1960s, it was difficult to be an African American woman. When both primary parts of your identity are waging war for equality, it is impossible to choose one side to align yourself with; to choose one side to be equal while the other remains oppressed. Today, students with disabilities who also speak English as a second language are faced with this same dilemma. We as a society must learn from the past and make a change, because these kids can not march the streets of Washington the way African American women once did. We must be their feet for them. We must not leave these children behind.
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