This is in response to a recent vote regarding removing classroom limits for special needs students. (Times-Colonist article no longer available)
I believe that we all can agree that the world of K-12 schooling is a multidimensional world continually being buffeted by historical issues as well as issues that change due to fiscal realities, political whims, and the evolution of technologies, pedagogies, and the ever-changing shape of our societies. Issues of special-needs children may or may not get the attention they deserve in our school system yet to make a decision that impacts every aspect of the life of all the children in our schools today without a clearly demonstrated appreciation of its impact on everyone in the system as well as the system that attempts to hold all of the parties in place, is irresponsible and betrays the trust of all who rely upon the Board to shepherd a school system forward in these very trying times. Everyone talks about the cost of today’s K-12 education system, as you allude to in your proposed change regarding class composition, yet those that provide the money; the government, have been very clear about its contribution: there is no more money. You are disrupting a very fragile system with this current move and playing with your constituents with dreams of money that is clearly not there.
In no way am I speaking against the values and needs of students who require additional supports in their education journey. I speak up because there appears to be an elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about and that is the day-to-day challenges of a so-called, normal classroom and what is and is not being done to support the learning of the needs of the many. Yes, the needs of the many. I speak from multiple perspectives but more specifically from the standpoint of an engaged parent of an elementary school student.
From my perspective a normal classroom in an elementary school in Greater Victoria today ranges from students who come to school having eaten chocolate bars and coke for breakfast or even less to those who have had everything that the Canadian food guide suggests and more. It consists of students who bring their anger, their frustration, and their feelings of aloneness and being lost as a result of home life situations that they can neither control nor understand. It consists of students who should have never been moved into the next grade academically to those most squarely placed into their grade as well as those who are bright beyond their years, their peers and much of the world around them. Our normal classrooms also consist of a great range of challenged individuals, those we refer to as special needs students; those who are not only faced with great life and personal challenges but who work ever so hard to be as much a peer with all in the classroom as are those less noticeably challenged. These special needs individuals bring as much richness and diversity to the classroom as they bring inherent challenges for the classroom dynamic and learning for all.
How do we offer a rich and challenging curriculum in these normal classrooms? How do we offer a comparable “normalness” to the very bright children who are left to their own devices and are disheartened and become disillusioned because the teacher in this normal classroom is stretched to deliver a “down the middle” education to children with undiagnosed learning difficulties, cultural mismatches, dietary anomalies, and an ever increasing number of special needs students? Do we encourage the delivery of mediocrity in the classroom? In the overall spectrum of learners what makes the particularly bright student in any less need of special attention than those at the other end of the cognitive spectrum? Do we just assume that the bright ones can fend for themselves? Don’t be so blind regarding those students at this end of the spectrum: these students disappear off the radar and fall off the system at an alarming rate: why?
I am not an elementary school teacher but I have been privileged to see the wonderful work that is being done in elementary classrooms: some better than others, some who should not be there, and many working very hard shaping lives with little support and outside encouragement. What you are proposing will alter a particularly tenuous and fragile learning eco-system and potentially damage my child’s education and countless others. At what point am I allowed to ask for special status for my child?
I will repeat: In no way am I speaking against the values and needs of students who require additional supports in their education journey: let us look after all of our students today and fund our schools appropriately and keep the balance where it should be in the classroom. However what you are suggesting will only exacerbate the challenges that my child is faced with on a daily basis. I, like many, am in agreement with the mixing of as many different learners as possible in the classroom but let us open our eyes to the balancing act that currently exists in the classroom. There are few resources in our classrooms today to keep what is currently normal on an even keel. When you can provide me clear evidence that my child and all the other children currently in our school system are being cared for, and challenged, and educated in the way that the system promises then we will listen to your ideas of changing the current dynamic. When you can show us proof; not talk and not promises but proof that our children in the system at this moment have everything they need to succeed based upon their individual needs, then we will listen. Until then you have no right to upset the balance that has the potential for damaging the many for the sake of the few.