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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

One Tall Voice: Six years in special ed

Published: October 26, 2007
Section: Opinions

I used to be a sped. Some people take offense at the use of this term and believe it to be a derogatory way to classify people with learning disabilities. I assume this title with pride as it signifies my ability to overcome my learning disabilities and rise above the special education system. I have moderate learning problems, having difficulties reading and paying attention. Because of these difficulties, I was put in special education classes for six grades during my elementary and junior high school years. Inside the sped classroom, I got a behind the scenes look at the fallacies of the program. I saw people who seemed to be perfectly competent disincentivized from trying hard as their safety net became a hammock. I saw people being given absurd accommodations when they should have been trying to adapt to situations in the real world. It should be noted that this article is not about people with physical disabilities or severe learning problems. I am merely directing my agitation to those who are placed in such programs with only some disabilities, and urging people to reconsider their opinions about special education in America.

As I said before, I was in special education for six years. I was also in speech therapy, handwriting therapy, and a number of other specialized programs, but Ill focus on the sped classes I took. As I look back on the experience, I realize how much of a waste of time it was. They would literally take me out of my real classes, put me in a room, and I would have nothing to do but talk to my colleagues. I couldnt get into advanced classes because of these shackles, I couldnt even take a foreign language in the beginning because I was in the special education program. I later scored high on the AP Spanish exam, enough to place out of language at Brandeis, but these fetters made it more difficult. The course, at times, even bred a behavior of dishonesty. I was given the power to star a test and receive extra time whenever I pleased. Although I rarely used this ability, my peers did all the time. They would tell me how they would star their tests, go home and look up the answers, and come back the next day having given themselves an unfair advantage. I also remember having an instructor in elementary school read our exam questions to us and place a unique emphasis on the ones that were right! The program at large did little more than reinforce my abilities to cheat, take me away from real learning, and put me back in my educational endeavors.

Looking back on the experience, I even wonder why we should have special education programs for people with some to moderate learning disabilities. Life is harsh, and the real world is not going to be as easy as in the special education classroom. If you are a doctor, you are not going to ask your patient to give you time and half to complete an operation, so why should you get the advantage in school? Even in the college arena, classes are higher paced, and schools should prepare students for these realities. I still have my learning disabilities. I dont know what it must feel like to be able to sit in a chair to read a book and not have tears run down my face. When I take tests, my fists tighten, my heart begins to race and my eyes well up in agony. Yet, I find ways that work, I adapt to the harsh realities of academia. I dont burden the system with my inabilities, but find my own ways to cope. I understand the deficiencies in my learning and am able to go beyond them to be an effective student. Schools should not provide special education students a safety net, but urge them to take get on their feet by themselves and find ways to adapt to the real world.

I was a sped for six years of my life. The experience was mostly a complete waste of time. They sequestered me in a classroom and lessened my coursework. The program incentivized me to cheat and not try as hard as I could. Also, in the difficult world of today, special education programs should not provide a hammock. Students with moderate learning disabilities should learn how to cope with their problems and adapt to the real world. I did however, take an interesting special education class my last year in the program called Study Skills. In it, I learned time management skills, and other techniques necessary to cope with learning problems. This proficiency has helped me in my hectic career at college, and I think everyone should be a sped just to learn these valuable skills!