Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Special Needs/Disabilities

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How can we best teach children with disabilities?

There are many different approaches to the idea of teaching children with disabilities in the public education system. Some feel that all children with special needs are better off participating fully in a mainstream or regular education class. Others take a less accepting approach; they question if the whole idea of inclusion, specifically full inclusion, has gone too far. Still, other perspectives are shown in the focus of some on the study of the methods used to teach students with special needs. There are even those who might argue that attitude is the key component in teaching disabled children. Undoubtedly, these questions will only increase as more and more children are educated. However, no matter what the viewpoint is, the important thing is that students with disabilities are given the same rights to education as any other student in school.

What is Inclusion?[edit]

In the year 2000, an article called “I Believe in Inclusion, But…” was published in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education to show the rate of success of regular education teachers who taught both children with and without disabilities. While demonstrating the differing points of view on the idea of inclusion, the article seems to emphasize one over the other. “Selection of the participants was made from among early childhood teachers in kindergarten through 3rd-grade regular education classrooms in a small urban school district in Nebraska. This district served approximately 5,000 students, with 10 elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. This is a "pro-inclusion," rather than a full-inclusion school district. In a full-inclusion district, "...all children with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability, will be educated in general education: in a full inclusion system, separate special education placements would no longer exist" (Hocutt, 1996, p. 79). In a pro-inclusion district inclusion is the preferred choice, whenever possible and appropriate, decided on a case-by-case basis.” (Smith and Smith 2000) The authors of this article are not as concerned with the success or failure of mainstreaming special education students, as with whether or not the teachers are having success. Though some feel that they have been “hindered”, all teachers participating in this study agree that inclusion works. However, in order for it to be achieved, there are some standards by which all teachers must abide when dealing with their students. “Even when a student has been diagnosed, these teachers will be responsible for providing for the needs of that student, meeting the needs of the rest of the class, and maintaining a classroom of mutual respect and academic standards. This initial experience is critical since it forms the foundation for later school success; hence, the positive and negative perceptions, beliefs, and experiences of early childhood regular education teachers are at the core of the issue of successful inclusion.” (Smith and Smith, 2000)

Methods of Inclusion[edit]

While some studies focus on opposing views of those teaching special needs students, others emphasize methods used in instructing these children. For instance, in the later part of 2006, the Science Scope featured an article that briefly summarizes just a few of these methods. The first method is the “Primary/Supplementary” approach, in which one teacher delivers the lecture, while the other teacher moves throughout the classroom to make sure all the students understand what has been taught. Another approach is the “Tag-Team” approach, which is basically the same as the previous method. The difference is that the teachers switch places and teaching roles. Other instructional means include the 50/50, where students divide up into two groups, and two teachers work together leading their individual group. Though there are more methods used in teaching children with special needs, it appears that these are the methods on which the others are based. (Peters, Erin, and Timothy Johnson 2006)

Arguments Against Inclusion[edit]

Although many feel that several strides have been made in full-inclusion education, others are somewhat skeptical with the idea of full-inclusion. “Critics of full inclusion ask whether even students with the most severe disabilities benefit from placement in regular classrooms.” (Cromwell 2004) Other concerns about inclusion are expressed in the idea that teachers may have to completely change the structure of their class. For instance, they may need to seek the aid of an assistant, which can be time consuming. Also, with technology being more prevalent in schools now than ever before, teachers may be required to receive additional training with any assistive equipment the student might use. (Cromwell 2004) The author also points out, “While few educators oppose inclusion completely, some express reservations about how full inclusion works in the classroom.” Albert Shanker, writing for the American Federation of Teachers in 1996 in "Where We Stand," asserted, "What full inclusionists don't see is that children with disabilities are individuals with differing needs; some benefit from inclusion and others do not. Full inclusionists don't see that medically fragile children and children with severe behavioral disorders are more likely to be harmed than helped when they are placed in regular classrooms where teachers do not have the highly specialized training to deal with their needs.” (Cromwell 2004, sighted quote from 1996) Not only has the idea of inclusion been troubling to some professionals in the field of education, but it is also troubling to the parents of the students being taught. These parents fear that their children might end up getting “dumped” in a regular education class, without the proper support they may need to succeed, and to progress with the other students. These are some of the reservations that cause some parents to question the virtues of full-inclusion. (Cromwell 2004)

An Argument for Inclusion[edit]

Being visually impaired, I can personally identify with the struggles faced by students with disabilities. I was born with an eye condition known as Retinopathy of Prematurely (R.O.P.). I have no sight in my right eye and very little vision in my left, and from the time I was a little girl, my family constantly encouraged me to pursue any goal I wanted to achieve, to the best of my ability, including education. In my case, it seemed that a full-inclusion situation was the best thing. Like all students, I had my share of good and bad teachers, and there is a lot I could say about many of them. However the most influential teacher who laid the foundation for the person I am today is Dianne Fitzkee. She was my first vision teacher who taught me to read Braille, and surprisingly, it was not so much what she taught me in class that affected me so much, but her positive views about her student’s capabilities. Without question, her methods were good, and she was highly qualified to instruct in her field. However, it was her high expectations and willingness to help me reach my full potential as a student, which led me to where I am today.

Teacher Attitudes Regarding Inclusion[edit]

The success of any inclusion program relies heavily on the attitude of the general education teacher involved. However, the views of teachers toward inclusion programs differs. Some teachers may not want to participate in inclusion classroom settings simply due to their apprehension of special education students. This may be due in part to the separation of special and general education in teacher training programs. Teacher training programs typically had separate curriculum and did not prepare new teachers certified in specific subjet areas to work with special education students. (Coombs-Richardson, 2000) This may have left many teachers feeling unprepared and frustrated when faced with inclusion classrooms.

Project Inclusion in Louisiana was enacted to attempt to help general education teachers feel more prepared in inclusion settings. This program offered general education teachers college level courses that focused on techniques for working with students with disabilities. Classes included topics on behavior identification and intervention, collaboration with special education teachers, and teaching strategies for learning disabled students. Comparing the scores of teachers from before they completed the program and after completing the program indicates tht teachers not only felt more knowledgeable about special education students but also felt more accepting of the inclusion of special education students in their classroom. (Coombs-Richardson, 2000)

Classroom Management[edit]

To be fair to general education students as well as special education students the teacher must have some type of management system so that every student in the class can benefit from her lesson. One approach is to consult with an Intervention Assistance Team (IAT) whose job is to create appropriate interventions for children with problem behaviors (Goodman, Williams, 2007). In many cases being a stern educator is just not enough to help children with a disability pay attention, sit still or focus on the subject matter. These are the symptoms of many students with behavioral and learning disabilities. Susan Cahill, an occupational therapist feels that "maintaining order in the classroom is the responsibility of the teacher regardless of the subject area or certification. The challenge lies in balancing the time required to teach the curriculum and the energy it takes to manage the needs of each of the students in the classroom" (Cahill, 2006).


The debate of the opposing views and methods of teaching special education children continues endlessly. Many researchers and professionals will all point in their own direction on this issue. Yet, the main thing is that all children with varying degrees of ability be given the same access to a public education, so that they can become all they were created to be.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following is not one of the methods used in teaching children with special needs?
A. Primary/Supplementary
B. 50/50
C. Tag-Team
D. Two Teacher

D. Two Teacher

Which of the following is an example of the 50/50 approach?
A. Two teachers split the class into two groups, and each teacher teaches, and then switches roles with the other teacher.
B. 50 percent of the class is taught one thing; while the other half is taught another.
C. Two teachers split the class into two groups, and they each teach their own group.
D. One teacher teaches the class; while the other circulates throughout the classroom to make sure the class understands the content of the lesson.

C. Two teachers split the class into two groups, and they each teach their own group.

Which of the following is needed in order for inclusion to work?
A. Good-natured parents
B. Children who are easy to teach
C. Good programs
D. The same standards for all students

C. Good programs

According to the article by Smith and Smith, who was the focus of the study conducted?
A. The students
B. The administrators
C. The teachers
D. The school as a whole

C. The teachers

Attitude is key in laying the educational foundation for students?
A. True
B. False


How should a teacher attempt maintain order in an inclusion classroom?
A. Ask for assistance from an IAT.
B. Ask the parents to come to school everyday.
C. Provide positive reinforcement to discourage the negative behavior.
D. Find a new job.

A. Ask for assistance from an IAT.

What does IAT stand for?
A. Intervention Assistance Team
B. Individual Academic Team
C. Individual Assistance Team
D. Internal Academic Team

A. Intervention Assistance Team

What are some of the behavioral problems of special needs children?
A. Pays attention and listens well.
B. Inability to pay attention,sit still or focus on the subject matter.
C. Assists the teacher and respects the other students.
D. Sits still and does not disturb others.

B. Inability to pay attention,sit still or focus on the subject matter.

Schools that plan to implement inclusion classes can best assist teachers by providing training in which of the following areas?
A. Behavior intervention for special education students.
B. Identification of special education students.
C. Lecture style lesson presentation.
D. Writing effective IEP accommodations.

A. Behavior intervention for special education students.

Which of the following is not a reason that general education teachers may feel apprehensive about working in an inclusion classroom?
A. They were unprepared by their teacher education program.
B. They are unprepared to deal with behavior issues that may arise.
C. They do not know about teaching strategies to utilize with special education students.
D. They do not know how to write effective IEPs for special education students.

D. They do not know how to write effective IEPs for special education students.

What was the purpose of Project Inclusion?
A. Assist special education teachers working in inclusion classrooms.
B. Assist general education teachers working in inclusion classrooms.
C. Increase the number of inclusion classrooms in Louisiana.
D. Decrease the number of inclusion classrooms in Louisiana.

B. Assist general education teachers working in inclusion classrooms.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

According to the information from Albert Shanker which you read in this article, what are some of the arguments against full-inclusion?

Shanker asserts that full-inclusion is not always the best thing for every child for many different reasons. First, he explains that children with disabilities have individual needs and therefore should not be put into a box. Some children with severe mental or physical needs would not necessarily benefit from the instruction in a mainstream classroom. Another argument he uses against full-inclusion is that teachers do not always have the training they may need in dealing with students who are severely impaired. Teachers might possibly be hindered because of a lack of knowledge in dealing with assistive technology the student will likely be using. Finally, Shanker believes that a full-inclusion setting may present more harm than help to the child because of all these roadblocks. It is something that should be considered on an individual basis.

Albert Shanker makes a number of arguments against full-inclusion in the school system. He is feels that children with disabilities are individuals with varying degrees of needs. He also states that, children with disabilities can be more harmed than helped when placed in a regular classroom. In school bullying is a problem in schools as it is. Now, if we integrated children with serious disabilities, they too are now subject to the cruelty and danger that bullying offers. Will they be able to defend themselves? Will they be able to even understand what is happening? How will that help in creating a positive learning environment? Shanker also points out that teachers are not trained appropriately for dealing with some disabilities. For example, a child with a severe case of autism probably would not function in a regular classroom. There are specific training techniques for every type of autism. Teachers in a traditional classroom will not have that special training. In the end, the child is the only one to suffer. Not all disabilities are equal and they should not or sometimes cannot be taught the same. These children should not be forced to fit in a cookie cutter type of educational system. —Erika Murdock


  • Cahill,S.M. (2006). Classroom Management for kids who won't sit still and other "bad apples." Teaching Exceptional Children Plus, 3(1) Article 6. Retrieved 11/6/2007 from
  • Carlisle, Mary (2007). Personal statement. September 14th 2007.
  • Coombs-Richardson, Rita (2000). Supporting General Educators' Inclusive Practices in Mathematics and Science Education. Retrieved November 5, 2007 from
  • Cromwell, Sharon( 2004). Inclusion: Has It Gone Too Far? Education World. Retrieved September 5th, 2007 from
  • Goodman,G and Williams,C. (2007) Interventions for Increasing the Academic Engagement of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders In the Inclusive Classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, Volume 39. no 6 pp 53-61. July/August 2007. Retrieved on November 6, 2007
  • Peters, Erin & Johnson, Timothy (2006). Thriving in the Co-Taught Classroom.(special education) Science Scope. Retrieved September 5th, 2007 from mi_hb4993/ is_200612/ ai_n19230272
  • Smith, Mary & Smith, Kenneth (2000). I believe in Inclusion, But… Journal of research and Childhood education. Retrieved September 5th, 2007, from custom /portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ611829&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=eric_accno&accno=EJ611829