Why the SEAC Model Doesn’t Work:
For the past three decades I have watched support for struggling students dwindle to useless amounts of academic intervention from the least qualified people within our schools.
For the past two decades I’ve suspected this has been related to Boards having discretionary control of Spec Ed funds. For years here in Renfrew I was informed that we are a “poor” County with widely spread schools and a high proportion of “special needs” children. Yet, we can afford very high salaries for our Board Executive and, by using some of the Spec Ed budget (who has exact figures for that???), we can even manage to run an elite, private program for the “gifted”. Funding for the “brightest and best” has been voted by SEAC, so it is legal.
Part of the problem, I am told, is that there is no Learning Disabilities representative on SEAC; that none is available.
The root of the problem lies in an error our Ministries made decades ago regarding the definition of “exceptional” children. While technically, the definition of “LD” declares that these are children with “average or above” intelligence, no one actually believed that definition. Within only a few years, while I worked in Quebec, it became possible for any child with ANY label to be dumped into “Spec Ed” classes – from which there was typically no exit. Imagine the effect this kind of dumping had on the psyche of the normally intelligent student who happened to have a subtle learning problem. For fifteen years, at a high school in Quebec, I watched these teens question themselves while they were grouped with the more seriously challenged. (Small wonder the foul language and bad behavior!)
This Special Education apartheid policy assured that LD students would not graduate from high school with any meaningful documentation. They would systematically be excluded from History classes and Science Labs and walk away with a “special” diploma.
From my experience at various schools in Renfrew, I observed that much the same pattern applied in Ontario. (Huge kudo’s here to the staff at Mackenzie High School in Deep River! They actually supported one normally bright boy, accommodated his visual anomaly, and managed to have him graduate as a REAL student!)
There was no way – during the 90’s and early 2000s - to argue against this exclusion policy for LD students. It was sanctioned by Ministries and served other teachers well. Spec Ed teachers in Quebec did go to their Union in an effort to advocate for these young people, but found they represented a very small minority within teacher ranks. They were powerless.
It is no surprise that more astute parents avoided having their children labeled. They were aware of the potential damage a label might do when bureaucratic whims swing erratically.
Here’s the rub. Learning Differences plague bright kids just as often as the less stellar ones. The Ministry doesn’t actually BELIEVE that, and parents who want to think their child is “brighter” (and therefore somehow “more entitled”) don’t believe that either.
Having worked in International Schools with LD students with IQs as high as 141, with students who had Asperger’s Syndrome, with Math Gold Medal recipients who couldn’t write, with highly talented athletes and actors, I have experienced the reality. You can be “ultra-bright” and still have trouble controlling a pencil; you can be a virtuoso on a musical instrument and still not be able to hold the binocular frontal focus required for prolonged reading. Etc, etc, etc.
You can, after all, be a Leonardo da Vinci and write mirror image, a Winston Churchill and struggle with Upper School English, a Wayne Gretzky and have difficulty reading.
While I can accept that these truths may not be evident to parents, those who make contact with their children MUST know. And those at the Board and Ministry levels who make policy and control what goes on in classrooms – well, for them there is simply no excuse!
It really is time to steer education away from that archaic “bright-or-dumb” paradigm which encourages teachers to view themselves as guardians of the gates – as the St. Peters who decide which children are “worthy”.
Science is daily providing us with additional proof that we are each the product of our neuro-physiological design. LD kids are simply neurologically unique; some indicators are easily evident for those who wish to know.
SEAC cannot function appropriately when ABC parents are represented while LD parents are not. If Ministries had adhered to the proper definition of LD in the first place, and provided differentiated support for identified children - instead of agreeing to dump them into “Special” classes - there may have been no need for an Association for Bright Children. One cannot blame the parents.
The area of Special Education needs a complete overhaul. Perhaps the term “exceptional” should be eliminated altogether to avoid skewing funds toward those who least need it – as is the case when we fund children simply because they are already blessed by being the “brightest and best”. But definitions may need to expand to reach students who require intervention in the area of social interaction.
SEACs, at present, serve no purpose that addresses the needs of ALL children in difficulty – which, I believe, was the original aim of “Special Education”. SEACs appear to have been high-jacked by ABC parents who feel entitled to use our public funds to provide a private education for “their kid – the Genius”.
Parents of “bright” kids will tend to be more willing to participate at committee level, are more likely to be highly articulate, and will be highly motivated by their hopes for their own off-spring. This brings me back to the question I asked repeatedly in Quebec:
“Who advocates for children who have no advocates, and who cannot advocate for themselves?”
At the moment SEACs certainly do not serve that purpose.