“Words, words, I’m so sick of words”, is part of a line from an old Broadway musical, “My Fair Lady.” There are lots of days when I feel that way regarding educational terms. Fifty-some years ago when special education was just beginning to gain some traction, we had three groups of children will lower intelligence. We had educable retarded kids. These were students with IQ’s between 50 and 75. The idea was supposed to be that these students could still be “educated”. Then we had students with IQ’s between 49 and 25. These young people were trainable, meaning they couldn’t be “educated” but they could be trained for some kind of work, usually in sheltered workshops. Finally, we had custodial retarded students. These people were expected to remain in custodial care, usually in some specialized institution far away from public view. The idea was to replace the previous really mean words, idiot, imbecile and moron.
Ok, these newer terms were not kind either but they did communicate to the world in general. Today’s kids with lower than average intelligence are cognitively challenged. These terms are designed to offend as few as possible and to communicate with as little specification as feasible.
We talk about “urban education” which is code when we really mean figuring out how to provide for black and brown kids who are attending sub-standard inner- city schools (the white ones too, but we tend to ignore them and falsely assume that all poor inner city kids are of a darker color). We are not talking about the upper middle class, also urban, children who are living in the new urban high rise apartments.
With all the emphasis on testing it is important that we “cover” the content whatever that means. We have long since stopped talking about kids’ learning. So teachers "cover" content to prepare kids for testing.
Kids who are poor are socially and economically challenged. Kids who misbehave are socially maladjusted as if they needed a social chiropractor to adjust their social skills rather than being taught some self-control skills. Special ed teachers who work with general ed teachers in the general ed classroom are said to “push in” which may be more accurate than it sounds since mostly those people are pushing their way into a classroom to which they are only marginally welcome.
Of course, all of this help is to ensure that the academic program is taught with rigor as if the students were dead and becoming stiff corpses. Given the way some teachers teach there may be a lot of truth to that as well. And no matter what we do, it must be done with equity as if equity existed anywhere in the world, least of all in a classroom. Children do not come to us with equal ability, equal interest or equal backgrounds and resources so why are we kidding ourselves that educators and schools can somehow fix that.
I am reminded of the cartoon where a character says, “I used to be poor but that was considered unkind. So. then I was culturally deprived, but that was bad because everyone has a culture. Then I was economically disadvantaged but that was bad because it implied that I was in a permanent underclass. I still don’t have any money but I have a helluva good vocabulary”.
Harry Truman, my favorite President, once said, “I never gave anyone hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.” Wouldn’t be a bad thing if we just all told the truth and stated it plainly.