Our Journey Raising Two Children with Special Needs

This blog chronicles our life raising two children, Nicholas 15, diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome and Weston 18, diagnosed with Autism/Asperger's/ADHD. It's the ups, the downs, the joys, the sorrows and most importantly, the beauty of living a life less perfect, a life more meaningful.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Hippocratic Oath for Teachers and the Problem with Inclusion

I have just returned home from a meeting with the Special Needs Director of our schools. We are sorting through all of the issues that contributed to Weston's disastrous transition to the middle school this year. I am very grateful for his honest discussion with me and his willingness to examine some painful truths. We made a lot of progress.

I must admit however, that I am horrified at some of the things I heard.

While we discussed the importance of Weston's participation in the "inclusion program" where Weston attends regular educational classes, we also discussed the problems associated with this approach.

First, is the lack of behavioral training that regular ed teachers receive. Many students diagnosed with special needs suffer from behavioral challenges that are associated with their disability. If we are going to "include" special ed children into mainstream education, isn't it also important we give teacher's the critical and life-saving tools they need to educate these students? This year, Weston and I found several teachers woefully uneducated or unwilling to learn about the characteristics of his disability and its associated behaviors.

But what bothered me most about the discussion I had with the Director, was his soulful and honest admission that there are many teachers within the regular ed classroom that do not want any part of teaching children with special needs. After all, this is not what they "signed up for". They are resentful and angry that they are being forced to teach "such pupils". He explained that this teacher attitude is prevalent throughout his school system if not throughout the country.

Suddenly, I realized what my children and I were up against.

Suddenly, I realized what the world is up against.

If we, as a society, intend to continue our desire to "include" our children diagnosed with special needs into mainstream classrooms and society for that matter...then we must explore this "attitude", this ignorance or I would even argue this form of discrimination. If students with special needs are not welcomed in classrooms, is it so surprising that they are not welcomed and included in society? If teachers do not welcome them, why should the world?

Isn't being a teacher, a lot like being a doctor? Shouldn't we consider a Hippocratic Oath for this profession too?  Don't teachers have a responsibility to teach every student no matter what race, color, creed or disability? And if teachers are not willing to educate students diagnosed with special needs, do they deserve to be teachers?

And don't we have a responsibility to provide all teachers with the proper training and behavioral tools to reach and teach all students. And don't all students have the right to be taught by teachers who employ positive teaching techniques and care about the learning ability of every student, not just the "easy" ones? Isn't a child's self esteem just as important as his education?

I believe we need to hold our teachers as firmly responsible as we hold our nation's doctors. I believe that a Hippocratic Oath for teachers must also be developed. An oath that does not allow teachers to exploit their power. An oath that says they must provide equal chances for learning to all students and that learning must be provided in a positive and nurturing environment. No student should ever be subjected to the long term destruction of their self esteem.

I am not bashing teachers! On the contrary, I am embracing the importance of their function and identifying the pivotal role they play in shaping societal beliefs. In fact, both of my sons have had teachers who made tremendous differences in the quality of their lives. These are teachers my children and I will never forget. It is in the spirit of these wonderful teachers, that I propose we create such a Hippocratic Oath.

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