Education is a valuable asset to society, however, throughout history, education has not always been accessible, appropriate, or meaningful for all students.
Although education has not always been equal and proper for all students, theories regarding special education have been created and then progressed, which has allowed the field of education to become a more inclusive place for all students no matter their race, gender, or ability level.
History Of Education Explored;
Learning Theory Progression
The field of special education is a continually developing field, which has a somewhat gloomy past but a bright future.
There have been many events, laws, and theories that have paved the way for the progressive movement that allowed students with special needs to receive the education they deserve.
Education Theory Prior to 1950
Sadly, in the past, individuals with disabilities were excluded from schools. The theory regarding children with special needs was widely accepted and believed that they should be excluded from schools.
Before the 1950’s children with special needs were excluded or denied an appropriate education based on their disabilities. Along with excluding children from schools, parents were not given the opportunity to make any decisions regarding their child’s education or future.
Surprisingly, there were many Supreme Court rulings that determined it was appropriate to exclude students from school based on their mental or physical disabilities.
Incredibly, in 1893, a child was expelled from school based on their inability to learn and make progress; this ruling was later upheld by the Supreme Court. (Esteves 2008) The various Supreme Court rulings set the stage to deny and accept that children would not be given an appropriate or meaningful education. In addition to these rulings, special education programs were rare and most students these programs were not available.
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Education Theory After 1950
Thankfully, in 1954, the landmark case The Brown vs. Board of Education determined that it was inappropriate and unethical to separate children in schools based on the color of their skin; while this significant case did not specifically focus on special education, it paved the way for progressive thinking and theories to arise regarding children with special needs.
After this important court ruling, several other laws were passed and therefore set standards for how children should be educated within the public schools. New theories arose, that called for children to be included within the public school setting, to receive an appropriate education based on their needs, and importantly, allowing parents to be involved and part of the process.
In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed that began providing public schools with funding for their special education programs. This law was passed with the intention of providing all children with an appropriate education.
This law was progressive and helped pave the way for the educational theory that all children have the right to be included in the education system. This theory was only extended by the ensuing legislation; in 1975 The Education for all Handicapped Children Act was passed, further expanding on the idea that all children with disabilities have the right to education.
These two time periods had significantly different views and have changed considerably. Before 1950, children were excluded, denied access to programs or only involved in specific programs.
After 1950, it became important and widely accepted for students to be included in the school system. Not only were students to be included, but the new theory became that students should be educated in a manner that is appropriate to their ability level.
Children should be given the education that meets their needs academically, behaviorally, physically, and emotionally.
In addition, educators were no longer expected to make all the decisions regarding children within their schools. As progress was made for the education of students, it has also been made for parents and families. It is now widely accepted and expected that families be included in all the decision making.
Knowledge for Theoretical Change
Throughout the history of education, the theories of how to educate children with special needs have significantly changed. After it was determined that children should not be separated from schools based on the color of their skin, it allowed families and educators to fight for the right to allow all students the ability to receive an appropriate education.
The world gained empathy and an understanding that all children have the right to an education and an appropriate education.
In today’s school system, it is more prevalent for parents and teachers to work together cooperatively in order to create a plan that is appropriate for each individual child. Knowledge was gained that children with special needs could be educated, they just need an education that was appropriate for their needs. This knowledge and empathy has allowed children to not only be included in the educational setting but has allowed them to receive an education that is meaningful.
In the world of special education, the opportunities for children with special needs have significantly improved. It is now common and accepted for students to be included, not only within the schools but within the general education classrooms as well. The field of education has grown and improved significantly.
Not surprisingly, it is critical to understand the current theories in special education, in order to ensure that we are providing students with the most current, researched-based strategies.
One theory that currently exists is the theory of inclusion.
This extends the belief that all children should be included in schools, but further believes that children should be educated with their peers to the fullest extent possible.
Understanding where we have been as a field and where we are can bring to the forefront that the importance is the children we serve. As a leader, keeping in mind that we are educators to support children will help us focus on what children need and what we can do to support them.
As a leader, I emphasize the importance of educating the whole child and focusing on their needs. I believe that the theories past and present assist us in understanding where we want to go and how we want to see our children progress. The children are our future, and we must do right by them!
This means that although we have come so far, we have a long way to go to ensure that children are receiving an appropriate education.