published in educational Horizons, Fall 2002

The Practice of Special Education:
Definitely Immoral, Potentially Illegal

Edward G. Rozycki, Ed. D.
Widener University

reedited 3/25/05

It has been said that Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. -- Winston Churchill, 1947

Getting Matters Clear

To begin, let us concede the goodness of everyone's intentions, even though we may suspect that the profession of pious intent may, occasionally, mask aggrandizing self-interest, or pie-in-the-sky delusion.

Let us also emphasize that our discussion is to be about the practice of special education as it is today, limping along, underfunded, in our democratic society where there is little specific consensus as to what kids are to be doing in school in the first place.

Finally, let us place aside this consideration: as some people fight to gain all children access to schooling , the courts agreeing, it appears, that schooling is some social benefit not to be denied without due process --, others perpetually depict this same schooling as lacking some essential ingredient or another, a threat to the commonweal.

The Moral Violation

The practices of Special Education, particularly, that of Inclusion, use people without their consent, indeed, often despite their resistance -- as the means to other individual's ends. This is a violation of the principle, recognized in many cultures and formulated by Immanuel Kant to the effect that we should always treat individuals as ends-in-themselves, not merely as means to our own, or others ends.

During IEP committee meetings, and court hearings pertaining thereto, the question is often dodged whether other students in a given classroom will be harmed in some manner -- by the placement of the Special Education student among them. It is often just taken for granted, particularly by non-educators , that there will be no harm.

A case in point: a principal in a Pennsylvania district reported to his school's IEP committee that the inclusion placement of Jason X was doing his obvious good. The number of assaults on other students that Jason committed during the Spring semester was only half that of the previous Fall. The technique: for every 10% drop in assaults in a given week, the principal, amidst great public fanfare, would personally take Jason out to lunch. Wow! That's ejukashun!

Special Education advocates have a litany of benefit descriptions ,whether they apply to facts or not is irrelevant -- to be recited should this issue be broached. The teachers and parents of "normal children" are seldom consulted.

Or, even worse, Special Education students are placed in inclusive classroom over the misgivings of their own parents because of obscure, usually financial, institutional reasons. School districts then drag out their special education experts to recite whatever chapter and verse conforms to the policy initiatives undertaken by the board. In Philadelphia, in the early days of implementing special education directives, it was discovered that 70% of all the students were identified by testing as "learning disabled." The test was thrown out and 30% was declared to be the upper limit.

But let's get back to the moral violation: special education, as now practiced, treats people -- despite their lack of consent --  as tools to ends devised by others.

But, you might object, so does taxation and military service. The objection is not based on a clear parallel. Taxes and military force provide,  -- at least in theory, otherwise we can importune the courts for adjustment , benefits for all those taxed. These benefits are generally recognized as such, protection of commerce and property, social services, basic infrastructure, etc. Furthermore, the risk of loss incurred is in some degree proportional to the surplus enjoyed: for example, wealthier persons pay higher taxes. If there is some perceived injustice here, legal recourse may be sought.

But the injustices of special education practice not only remain inadequately articulated, they are overlaid with a veneer of benefit-descriptions. If kids lose academic practice or preparation, or are taught that some people are exempt from disciplinary requirements, is this a loss? Prithee, sir, not at all! This is a benefit in disguise! They are learning tolerance, nay, acceptance, even, of difference.

But does anyone test to see of these "benefits" have it fact been learned? And, even if they are, do they balance out the losses? And do those who are subject to those losses get any options? Of course they do. They can go to private school.

The Potential Illegality

The practice of special education ought to be seen as the practice of segregated education is: a loss of property rights without due process. If any group of people is restricted from access to public schools on the basis of their race, this is a denial of their rights as taxpayers to enjoy benefits that they materially support.

Special education, in the process of developing IEP's, not infrequently results in reduced, yet uncompensated for, access to benefits enjoyed previously by the parents of the children affected by the placement. What is needed is a Brown vs. Board of Education with respect to special education practice.

I have heard from many, many special educators, who are dismayed how inclusion is used indiscriminately to satisfy parents of the special child, often with sad results for the other, unrepresented children in the classroom.

I have taught special education students , back in the days before they were officially recognized as such. I have special needs children in my own family. But I would not hesitate to pull my kids out of any classroom that has been reduced to a sad circus of multiple adults , or children, even -- barely constraining the attempts at mayhem of an undersocialized child.

If my attitudes, my valuing of academic and social development are shared by other parents who enjoy the affluence to "talk with their feet" then we will really see the public schools devolve , degenerate, into warehouses for the indigent.

See also:
The Ethics of Educational Triage