what are exceptional children and what place do they have in our schools?
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"Exceptional children", in the most simlistic sense, are children who are not "normal children". A child might be labeled as "exceptional" because s/he has a physical disability that means s/he needs adaptive equipment or special assistance in order to participate in class activities. A child might be considered "exceptional" because of intellectual variations from what is considered the norm for the age peer group of the child. A child might be "exceptional" because s/he is emotionally "different" from the usual pattern of behaviors.
"Exceptional children" belong in our schools in the same way that "normal children" belong in our schools. The United States has historically placed emphasis upon the right of every child to be given access to educational opportunities. As our society has matured and become more responsive to accommodating the special needs of "exceptional children," the integration of children who bring special circumstances and needs with them into the classroom has brought this goal steadily closer to realization.
While it is true that "exceptional" children have the same place in our schools that "normal" children have, we must be careful not to treat them in ways that allow them to get inflated expectations of what is possible. I have been in IEP meetings where 11th graders with 3rd grade reading levels were talking about becoming registered nurses and no one was trying to tamp down their expectations. I know this is only anecdotal, but I have heard similar stories from other teachers (and that's anecdotal too, of course). We have to do our best to give exceptional children the same experiences that “normal” children have, but I do not think we do them any favors when we tell them they can be whatever they want to be when some things are clearly going to be beyond their control.
So I guess what I’m saying is that their place in our schools is the same as the place of “normal” kids but that we need to be sensitive to the ways in which they truly are different.
Exceptional children, either those who are gifted or those with other special needs, deserve an education just like anyone else. They have IEP's, or Individual Education Plans. These plans indicate what goals the students have and how they are going to be assessed.
Exceptional children most definitely have a place in our schools, right next to all of the other children. Educators have come to terms that students come in all different kinds of shapes, sizes, and abilities. With so much research and advancement in Special Education, classroom teachers are much better equipped to meet a variety of different students' needs, whether those needs are met through IEPs, grouped classes, or inclusion. I firmly believe in the benefit of inclusion for both special and regular education students; however, it is imperative that exceptional students, as well as the classroom teacher, must be given the support and attention within the classroom environment in order to succeed.
Though we live in a world characterized by specialties and niches, I'm not sure how to think about niche education. There is, or should be, an overall (social and practical) aim of education and we should construct policy and programs to help all students meet that aim, exceptional or not.
I agree with post #3. While every student must have equal opportunity as well as needed accommodations, we shouldn't lie to them or their parents about their capabilities or lack thereof. From what I've seen, though, parents in IEPs tend to understand the situation better than we do and are honestly aware of strengths and limitations of their child. One parent in an IEP said that he knows full well that his autistic son will always be living with him and his wife due to his extreme disabilities to read and comprehend. However, the SPED teacher wanted the father to know that there was a way to have the son graduate from high school and not to just give up on him. The other students learn to be tolerant and patient when this awesome kid is in class, too. Having a diverse group of students helps us all to practice good traits of love and kindness. Teachers must remember to be good examples in those areas, for sure.
We are in a place right now in American Education where anything short of high school graduation and college enrollment are seen by most as failure on the part of the school district. This is a shame, because it ignores every variety of exceptional student.
Aside from basic literacy skills, I think most people would be hard pressed to come to any sort of consensus when it comes to identifying a general set of skills that are going to help an individual be successful in life. Additionally, ignoring student differences means ignoring the problems that the students are going to face in life after high school.
The biggest issue when dealing with curriculum and exceptional students is the alleviating feelings of guilt and making parents feel better. Most parents want to have their child included in as many main stream and “normal” classes as possible. While it is awesome that the child is gaining some immeasurable benefit from socializing with “normal” students, time spent socializing with peers is time they are not spending learning the life skills they are going to need to survive once they graduate.
As the mother of two exceptional children, one who graduated as a valedictorian of 687 students and the other who was on an IEP, attended school half-days if he could attend at all, and was definitely seen as "exceptional", I see both sides. Exceptional children do belong in school with "normal" students as they will live in the same society in some way. Yes, there are differences among the "exceptional" students which make decisions for parents and school staff difficult and there are no easy answers. Both of my children have high IQ's with the child on the IEP having the higher score. His disabilities have an impact on almost every aspect of his daily life, but he truly benefitted from being in the general population with some modifications such as a full time paraprofessional with him at all times. As post 8 indicates, we have no crystal ball to know which students will be successful by our definition, and by his definition, he feels quite successful.
I honestly think that it's better for everyone if gifted children are not separated from the normal classes. They will need to learn in their adult lives that things don't always move at their speed; patience is a critical life skill, and while gifted children may benefit from extra courses or homework, they should interact and learn with the common populace of children. This is also beneficial, in the long run, for the "normal" children; they will see that nobody has success handed to them, and that they will need to work hard and be responsible to compete with people who may have higher cognitive abilities.
Of course, children are cruel and do not think about the future, and so the reality is that gifted children are often bullied. A better sense of individual responsibility needs to be a high priority at home and at school; when children are entitled and resentful, everyone suffers and nobody wins.
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