A child’s right to a proper education has followed a path laid by organizations, parents, and education pioneers who worked hard to get where the field of special educatio is today. They believed in a child’s right to a proper education and it took legislation to put those changes in place.
Pioneers and Historical Roots
The historical roots of special education are found primarily in the early 1800s. Many of today’s vital, controversial issues have been issues ever since the dawn of special education. Some contemporary writers believe that the history of special education is critically important to understanding today’s issues and should be given more attention because of the lessons we can learn from our past .
Most of the originators of special education were European physicians. They were primarily young, ambitious people who challenged the wisdom of the established authorities, including their own friends and mentors. One of the important pioneers was Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (17751838). Itard is the person to whom most historians trace the beginning of special education as we know it today. He was a French physician who was an authority on diseases of the ear and on the education of students who were deaf.
There have always been exceptional learners, but there have not always been special educational services to address their needs. During the closing years of the eighteenth century, following the American and French Revolutions, effective procedures were devised for teaching children with sensory impairmentsthose who were blind or deaf. Early in the nineteenth century, the first systematic attempts were made to educate those who today are said to have mental retardation and emotional or behavioral disorders.
In the pre-revolutionary era, the most society had offered most children with disabilities was protectionasylum from a cruel world into which they did not fit and in which they could not survive with dignity, if they could survive at all. But as the ideas of democracy, individual freedom, and egalitarianism swept across America and France, there was a change in attitude. Political reformers and leaders in medicine and education began to champion the cause of children and adults with disabilities, urging that these “imperfect” or “incomplete” individuals be taught skills that would allow them to become independent, productive citizens. These humanitarian sentiments went beyond a desire to protect and defend people with disabilities. The early leaders sought to normalize exceptional people to the greatest extent possible and confer on them the human dignity they presumably lacked.
GROWTH OF THE DISCIPLINE
Special education did not suddenly spring up as a new discipline, nor did it develop in isolation from other disciplines. The emergence of psychology and sociology and especially the beginning of the widespread use of mental tests in the early years of the twentieth century had enormous implications for the growth of special education. Psychologists’ study of learning and their prediction of school failure or success by means of tests helped to focus attention on children with special needs.
Sociologists, social workers, and anthropologists drew attention to the ways in which exceptional children’s families and communities responded to them and affected their learning and adjustment. Even in the early twentieth century, the concepts of disability seem crude by today’s standards .
Organizations such as the Council for Exceptional Children played a part in this history. As the education profession itself matured and as compulsory school attendance laws became a reality, there was a growing realization among teachers and school administrators that a large number of students must be given something beyond the ordinary classroom experience.
Elizabeth Farrell, a New York City teacher early in the early twentieth century, was highly instrumental in the development of special education as a profession. She and the New York City superintendent of schools attempted to use information about child development, social work, mental testing, and instruction to address the needs of children and youths who were being ill served in or excluded from regular classes and schools. She wanted to see that every studentincluding every exceptional child or youthhad an appropriate education and received the related health and social services necessary for optimum learning in school. In 1922, Farrell and a group of other special educators from across the United States and Canada founded the Council for Exceptional Children, which is still the primary professional organization of special educators.
Contemporary special education is a professional field with roots in several academic disciplinesespecially medicine, psychology, sociology, and social workin addition to professional education. It is a discipline that is sufficiently different from the mainstream of professional education to require special training programs but sufficiently like the mainstream to maintain a primary concern for schools and teaching.
Individuals and ideas have played crucial roles in the history of special education, but much of the progress that has been made over the years has been achieved primarily by the collective efforts of professionals and parents. Professional groups were organized first, beginning in the nineteenth century. Effective national parent organizations have existed in the United States only since 1950.
Although parent organizations offer membership to individuals who do not have exceptional children of their own, they are made up primarily of parents who do have such children and concentrate on issues that are of special concern to them. Parent organizations have typically served three essential functions:
(1) providing an informal group for parents to help one another deal with anxieties and frustrations,
(2) providing information regarding services and resources,
(3) providing the structure for getting services for their children.
These organizations came about as the result of parents’ efforts include the ARC (formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens), the National Association for Gifted Children, the Learning Disabilities Association, the Autism Society of America, and the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health.
Children’s rights to a proper education has followed a path laid by organizations,parents,and education pioneers who worked hard to get where the field of special education is today. They believed in a child’s right to a proper education.