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As Liberty University professor Lucinda S. Spaulding states, “History demonstrates we must learn from it lest it perpetually repeats; reflection on the past is necessary for a better future.” (p 105).” Research identifies Learning Theories as related to Special Education from past and present efforts to advocate and educate students who have physical or mental challenges. This paper highlights a historical perspective to address a) the treatment of people with disabilities and evolutionary trends in education; (b) changing conceptions of disability as a phenomenon during the 1950’s and today; (c) analysis of Special Education; and (d) the current viewpoints of Special Education.
Evolution of Learning Theories in Relation to Special Education since 1950
In hindsight, individuals with special needs often received notice for reasons of charitable, medical, or social issues (Spaulding, L. S., & Pratt, S. M.; 2015). In the United States, during the 19th and 20th century, the first “special educational programs” were private or residential schools mostly occupied by deaf, blind and / or students in need of “moral development” particularly those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds and children considered “at risk” for bad behavior (Wright, 2012; Spaulding, L. S., & Pratt, S. M., 2015). Spaulding, L. S., & Pratt, S. M. (2015) reference the years prior to 1950 as being a stagnant or regressive period as researchers, such as Darwin’s theory, came to view disabilities as deviant; therefore, in need of segregation or institutionalization. Although deaf and blind students lead the path towards formal education, attention to mentally challenged individuals was left for parental advocacy. Eventually, when training was offered, it was more in terms of vocational rehabilitation, rather than academic enhancement and was always segregated from the general educational setting. In time, Thomas Gallaudet proved positive results within Deaf education, the perception of teaching intellectually challenged individuals took notice. In 1843, Dorothea Dix addressed state legislature and according to Spaulding, L.S., & Pratt, S.M., (2015), Dix “framed disability as a quantitative rather than a qualitative difference among individuals; that although a person’s physical or cognitive functioning may be restricted, they were no less worthy of dignity and deserved the same rights as others.” As time progressed, the theory of nature vs nurture took hold and the philosophy gave way to family style educational training, yet attitudes and funding waned. One hundred years of flux, with slow and steady court cases along with new legislation, by 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court passed Brown v. Board of Education declaring education is an equal right and critical for all students to live within a productive civilization. Although that legislation focused on race equality, it raised a social moral compass to view minority groups as deserving citizens worthy of justice. Continued parental advocacy over a ten year period, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, amended it in 1966, to address equality and anti-discriminatory acts of handicapped youths (Wright, 2012, Spaulding, L.S., & Pratt, S.M., 2015). After another decade, Congress enacted the Education of the Handicapped Act (P.L. 91-230) in 1970, aiming to provide additional funding. Even with such efforts, investigations proved very little progress for disabled students. From once believing that deaf, blind, mentally challenged, and handicapped individuals were simply a burden to society, parents and others like Gunnar Dybwad’s testimony in 1972 for the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) in a class-action suit against the state of Pennsylvania, were seeing evidence that education could manifest productive tax paying citizens. Because of the validated research conducted during the 1950’s, especially the evolution of cognitive psychology, various theories evolved and fed off each other and provided additional knowledge that justified attention to, and expectations from special education classrooms. Knowledge forming Theoretical Changes during the Period of 1950 – Today
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2004), influential learning theories, such as: Gestalt (1937), Social Learning Theory (1941), Behaviorism (prior to 1950) Cognitive Psychology (1950-60), Constructivism (1970-80), and Social-constructivism (1980 – 90), onward to Connectivism (2005), Multi-Intelligence Theory (2006 – present) and more recently the 21st Century Goals Theory (2002 – present), to name a few, allows educators to adapt theories of how students learn to individual needs of a student and guide learning by manipulating the environment and adjusting the context of subjects with increased effort to include students with exceptionalities into the rigor and social aspects of school performance.
With states being fully responsible for educating exceptional students, Congress enacted Public Law 94-142, also known as The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This Act has been renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and in 2004 was amended to improve accountability, especially with literacy, measurable student outcomes, data-driven instruction, and insisting on highly qualified teachers. Procedural safeguards, then and now, protect the students’ and their parents’ rights to due process. This effort aims for a transparency of classroom theoretical changes based on individual needs. IDEA 2004 perspective is to ensure special needs children are college and career ready, with equal access to curriculum and the various supports, resources, and social, athletic programs available to all students. Each year, with new political agendas, the expectation for achievement, including special needs students, has brought about No Child Left Behind. This Act attempts to address equal access for students to be proficient at state academic standards while having highly qualified special education teachers who have passed subject area performance tests. The drive to make constant comparisons with non-special needs student performance has an idealism to maximize potential; however, the debate is still unfolding as to the means, methods, testing, accommodations provided in various educational settings, be it fully mainstreamed, partial self – contained, or residential institutions. The theory was that special needs students learn differently and so needed to be in segregated classrooms. Today an opposing theory challenges the old and ensures that all children are capable of learning. After WWI and the devastating discrimination against Jews by Hitler, the American society embraced more nurturing ideology and parents advocacy insisted on nondiscriminatory acts pertaining to special needs children (Wright, 2010).
Analysis of the Enhancement of Special Education
Although the path towards equality has been a long battle, the debate continues whether new expectations of teachers and students has pushed away ideal, specialized programs and institutions that highlight a difference in how students learn, rather than requiring all students to progress within the same environment. Although there is no debate that learning theories and social consciousness has given attention to the spectrum of learning disorders and their place in society and equal access to all aspects of educational and social gain, the viewpoint that disabilities and labels are not necessarily something to be ashamed of or acquiesces to the belief that negation occurs with labels (Osgood, 2006).
Current Learning Theories Affecting Special Education Today
From the 1950’s the shift in advisability and integration of special needs children occurred; however, the effort as Osgood states, “to more fully accept disability as a natural and serving aspect of the school and the human condition in general (p 142),” has not necessarily helped all students. The goal of “social justice” has at times caused fewer socializations, more restrictions, and increased isolation, at least for many of the linguistic minority Deaf student population. Labels that started with the idea that the disabled need to be cured; to then needing to be saved, pitied and protected; to the current view that the child with exceptionalities is not tied to their label at all, allows an IEP team to sift through various learning theories to ask relevant questions that can individualize a program and placement best suited to all stakeholders. As leaders aim to enhance the special education system along with the input of parents, student, teachers, and advocates, the awareness of a historical plight, and the ever-expanding learning theories will allow options, respect, an understanding that match the unique needs of the student to optimize growth.
Connor, D. J., & Valle, J. W. (2015). A socio-cultural reframing of science and dis/ability in
education: Past problems, current concerns, and future possibilities. Cultural Studies
Of Science Education, 10(4), 1103-1122.
Osgood, R. (2006). Language, Labels, and Lingering (Re)considerations: The Evolution and
Function of Terminology in Special Education. Philosophical Studies In Education,
Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropieri, M. A. (2013). Individual Differences and Learning Challenges.
Theory Into Practice, 52(sup1), 63. doi:10.1080/00405841.2013.795443
Spaulding, L. S., & Pratt, S. M. (2015). A review and analysis of the history of special education
and disability advocacy in the united states. American Educational History Journal,
Wright, P. (2010). The history of special education law. As Retrieved from
I am currently pursuing my EdD in Orgnaizational Leadership at Grand Canyon University. Want to know why I have attacked this challenge? I see a need for kindness and collaboration in understanding and celebrating deaf culture and also advocating for their needs and an education they are worthy of which will benefit our whole society. The PhD education will increase my network, sharpen my focus and lifelong learning, and give greater weight to my voice.
To Whom It May Concern,
There has been two previous periods in my life where I have sought to attain a Doctoral Degree in Education. After completing research and publishing articles in Scotland, pertaining to Deaf Culture, Rights of the Deaf, Bilingual and Bicultural education of the Deaf, I requested admission and advice from the University of Hawaii Linguistics Doctoral program. Being only 27 years old at the time, I was encouraged by the Head of that division to seek experience and employment prior to starting a EdD endeavor. Having it been the early 1990’s, most professionals had not perceived American Sign Language as a recognized whole language to be compared equally to printed or spoken English, and thus my focus was not necessarily favored by this department. Five years passed, and Dr. Judy Coryell of Kapiolani Community College on Oahu, approached me with her recommendation that I seek an EdD in Exceptionalities, for the State of Hawaii, was in need of a teacher of my caliber to train other Teachers of the Deaf at the University Level. At this time, I had given various presentations at the Hawaii School for the Deaf in regards to academic and social achievement of Deaf youths through the Bilingual Bicultural approach and documented intensive parent involvement in ASL acquisition as key to student language success. Although enticed to begin the EdD endeavor, I had a small family of my own, three pre-school children at home; hence, the time demands to attend weekly courses by flying to Oahu from Maui was simply unimaginable. Recently, I was approached again to consider gaining Doctoral status. Having actively worked with Senator Ing, Senator Roz Baker and the Aloha State Association of the Deaf to pass three new laws in Hawaii addressing equal access to language, I met Dr. Angel Ramos, the new acting Principal of the Hawaii School for the Deaf. Within a few weeks of meeting him on the picket line at the State Capital, he and I collaborated to offer an hour long informative presentation to the Maui District Administration & Maui High Faculty, Parents, and members of Maui Deaf Community regarding least restrictive environmental issues and opportunities for the continuum of placement for Maui’s Deaf youths. After this presentation, Dr Ramos strongly encouraged that I seek my Doctorate’s degree. He informed me that he and I have the passion, knowledge and desire to change a system and lead an international Deaf Educational Training program, pending my Doctoral Degree.
It is my intention to achieve this degree by 2020. I am an intuitive organizational team leader. I’ve been active in many non-profit organizations and I wish to bring the status of the Hawaii Deaf community’s needs to a larger scale in order to reap the funding and support to improve the social, academic and employment opportunities provided in the Islands of Hawaii. In addition, and as the opportunity arises, I envision that I will be employed by the University of Hawaii to offer international ‘Teacher of the Deaf Training’ seminars and/or develop protocol to assure positive exposure to current data that guides global leaders to improve the lives of Deaf people worldwide. I intend to bring my life’s passion to the international Deaf community.
Currently I am on sabbatical from my job as Teacher of the Deaf at Maui High School. I have returned to my childhood town, Fort Kent, Maine, in order to care for my father’s aging needs. My own children are successfully independent enough to allow me this time to pursue my own goals. My husband has always supported my educational goals, and realizes that the timing and financial support to achieve this lifelong goal seems extremely appropriate at this time, and over the next 4 years. I am working as a substitute teacher in Fort Kent, Maine. Winter is approaching and I anticipate plenty of time to focus on the EdD curriculum. I’ve received an Educational Interpreters certification via an online program out of Colorado in years past, and thus, I’m familiar with the protocol of this type of online learning environment. By 2020, my eldest son who attends Rochester Institute of Technology, my youngest son who is a Freshman in High school and I should all be celebrating the diploma’s to which we seek.
In closing, thank you for considering my application to Grand Canyon University this September 2016.
Beth Daigle King
Why Celebrate Deaf Awareness Week??
The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is to increase public awareness of deaf issues, people, and culture. Activities and events throughout Deaf Awareness Week encourage individuals to come together as a community for both educational events and celebrations.
Messages during Deaf Awareness Week include:
- Celebrate the culture, heritage, and language unique to deaf people of the world.
- Promote the rights of Deaf people throughout the world, including education for Deaf people, access to information and services, the use of sign languages, and human rights for Deaf people in developing countries.
- Recognize achievements of deaf people, including famous deaf individuals.
- Educate about the misconceptions of being deaf and the challenges the deaf population face during everyday life.
- Learn about types, degrees, and causes of hearing loss.
- Be exposed to sign language and other ways deaf and hard of hearing people communicate.
- Learn about the types of educational programs, support services, and resources that are available to the deaf and hard of hearing community, including children.
- Gain a better understanding of deaf culture.
- Understand that deaf and hard of hearing individuals are just as capable, able, and intelligent as hearing individuals.
- There is a difference in the way those that are deaf and hard of hearing communicate, but it is not a handicap or disability.
At the age of 10 I was handed this poem by a friend of my Dad. I read it and was hooked! I’m hearing, I don’t claim to know or have the experience of being Deaf, but I watched and learned directly from the core Deaf community at Gallaudet and Western Maryland College (now McDaniel college )
You Have to be Deaf to Understand
by Willard J. Madsen
(written in 1971)
What is it like to “hear” a hand? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like to be a small child, In a school, in a room void of sound – With a teacher who talks and talks and talks; and then when she does come around to you, She expects you to know what she’s said? Or the teacher thinks that to make you smart, You must first learn how to talk with your voice; So mumbo-jumbo with hands on your face For hours and hours without patience or end, Until out comes a faint resembling sound? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like to be curious? To thirst for knowledge you can call your own, With an inner desire that’s set on fire – And you ask a brother, sister, or friend Who looks in answer and says, “Never mind”? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like in a corner to stand, Though there’s nothing you’ve done really wrong, Other than try to make use of your hands To a silent peer to communicate A thought that comes to your mind all at once? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like to be shouted at When one thinks that will help you hear; Or misunderstand the words of a friend Who is trying to make a joke clear, And you don’t get the point because he’s failed? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like to be laughed in the face When you try to repeat what is said; Just to make sure that you’ve understood, And you find that the words were misread – And you want to cry out, “Please help me, friend”? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like to have to depend Upon one who can hear to phone a friend; Or place a call to a business firm And be forced to share what’s personal, and Then find that your message wasn’t made clear? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like to be deaf and alone In the company of those who can hear – And you only guess as you go along, For no one’s there with a helping hand, As you try to keep up with words or song? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like on the road of life? To meet with a stranger who opens his mouth – And speaks out a line at a rapid pace; And you can’t understand the look in his face Because it is new and you’re lost in the race? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like to comprehend Some nimble fingers that paint the scene, And make you smile and feel serene With the “spoken word” of the moving hand that makes you part of the world at large? You have to be deaf to understand. What is it like to “hear” a hand? Yes, you have to be deaf to understand.
Advocating with the deaf is an honor. It is a commitment many of us make every day. We do it in a spirit of collaboration, cooperation, education, communication, and kindness. Below is an example of a small effort made to make a difference.
To Hawaii’s Department of Education,
Last night I attended the Maui Disabilities forum. The evening presented research and insights on four topics that disabled people face on Maui, including issues regarding housing, transportation, employment and mental health care. Education was not on the agenda.
At the end of the evening, I along with the entire political assemble, took a pledge to do and accept various claims on behalf of supporting people with disabilities. I support the Deaf population. During my training, in college, a major component of the graduate studies was to do the necessary footwork to educate not only families of deaf children, but administration. Those in charge of making decisions, who mostly have little contact with deaf adults, and who certainly have had little to no training in the social educational issues pertaining to the history of Deaf people. I am but one voice. I do not wish to rock the boat, but only to shine a light on this population; to look at current educational practices, and through a team effort, create a more realistic successful educational system that lines to core values and high expectations of student growth to prepare them to be college or career ready.
The biggest issue facing Maui’s Department of Education (DOE) is the very same issue I faced 20 years ago when I first arrived. The misuse of contracted Teachers of the Deaf (TOD). In the early 1990’s there was an abuse of this, trying to include the Deaf students in specific classes that lead to visual modes of education, such as math and art and drama, were the beginning of mainstreaming deaf children; however because of the lack of interpreters, the Teachers of the Deaf became the interpreters. The TOD had to leave the other Deaf children in the language rich American Sign Language (ASL) classroom environment with only educational assistance (EA). Since then, the DOE eventually developed the job description for ASL interpreters; however, because the pay equals that of an EA, no certified trained interpreter can live on that pay scale. Sadly, still today the practice of using Teachers of the Deaf as ASL interpreters is being mismanaged at all levels. There are two flaws with this practice. First it is too demanding and exhausting, esp at the middle to high school level. As witnessed last night, most schools on the mainland and any federal or state agency in need of an interpreter for a 4 – 6 hour position are required by law to hire two interpreters. These interpreters switch off every 30 minutes. This practice is the norm. At the high school level it is extremely exhausting to interpret a full hour of physics, then head to interpreter a movie like, ‘Private Ryan’, and immediately move to English and interpret all literary devices. Life Skills 101 is next, and interpreters must translate not only what the teacher speaks out loud, but what each and every student verbalizes. I’m sorry to let you know, but Teachers of the Deaf are not interpreters. Some of us are skilled enough to do the job, but we can not be expected to work a 5 hour day interpreting when even the best certified interpreters would not accept that assignment. Secondly, let’s look at the student. Do ASL competent college professors at Gallaudet University or the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) or Kapiolani Community College (KCC) teach a class in psychology, then follow the deaf college student to their calculus class to teach or interpret for them there? No. Students at the high school level must learn to work with a variety of ASL interpreters. Mainstreaming Deaf kids is not about spoon feeding them the answers or pointing to the answers in the book or on another student’s paper just so they can copy and get credit to receive a degree.
Third, the same issue 20 years ago is happening today, the misuse of Teachers of the Deaf, not because there is a lack of certified interpreters, but because it is cheaper to but the burden on the Teachers. I know of three certified ASL interpreters who have availability in their day to take on assignments in our public schools. They should be hired. I believe I have the right to not accept the abusive request of the DOE who expects me to ignore one Deaf senior in order to provide intensive one on one with a college bound freshmen. If I allow the system to continue to mismanage the role of TOD, then the child suffers, and the system repeats the same poor practice that it used to before the concept was even accepted about creating a job description called interpreters. We need to recognize that both are needed to run a Deaf Education program, even if the numbers are low.
I pledged to make a difference. I know this is an economic burden. But the funding for Deaf ed CAN NOT be placed in the SPED bucket. It needs to be separately obtained and handled, and it needs to be larger than $100 / year of spending money, and hiring one staff member to do the job of two individuals.
Thank you for your time and effort to make this change happen.