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Sankofa:SPECIAL EDUCATION CARRIES NO STIGMA

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Source: African Spectrum

Mr. & Mrs. Berko Akoto Owner and Publishers of African Spectrum

Mr. & Mrs. Berko Akoto
Owners and Publishers of African Spectrum

As strange as it may sound, some parents of academically-challenged children in the African community don’t want to have anything to do with the Special Education Program. Now, to say that the parents’ opposition to this important educational program is irrational would be an understatement. By adopting such a wrong-headed attitude, the parents risk seriously compromising the future of their own children.

The program, which is commonly known by its abbreviated moniker, Special Ed, is designed to help children who are considered slow learners overcome their learning difficulties and catch up with their peers in the classroom. Yet, in the face of undeniable, black and white evidence that their kids are not performing up to standard in school, these parents are often reluctant to take advantage of Special Ed to help their young ones rectify their learning anomalies. The parents believe, wrongly, of course, that the program is meant for mentally retarded kids, and that their kids would be stigmatized if they signed them up to participate in it. It is obvious that the parents’ idea of what Special Ed is about is far removed from reality. It is a grievous misperception.

Special Ed has nothing to do with the mentally retarded, who must not be confused with slow learners, for whom the program is set up. There is a whole world of difference between the two, like night and day. Slow learning is a condition that is amenable to correction, thanks to a program like Special Ed; mental retardation, unfortunately, is not, the victims condemned to spend their lives in that tragic state for ever. And whereas mental retardation usually requires institutionalization, with psychiatrists and psychologists and other mental health experts in attendance, slow learning doesn’t. Slow learners live at home with their families, as all normal kids do.

What Special Ed essentially does is to help slow learners – who are actually late bloomers in need of a little motivation – unlock their latent intellectual powers through personalized, one-on-one, self-confidence-boosting tutoring by specially trained teachers. Special Ed students attend classes with the other students in the same classrooms except that their teachers spend more time with them. After a couple of years in the program, most of the children are transformed from below-average students into straight A students. Children whose report cards previously brought sadness, if not tears, to the faces of their parents would now bring smiles for a change.

When their learning abilities have been certified as normal, Special Ed students are fully reintegrated into regular classes, and once they are returned to a regular mode of learning, they amaze everyone, including themselves. They often outperform their so-called regular classmates academically. They never look back.

Special Ed has helped millions of American children, who otherwise might have faced a bleak and uncertain future due to their poor academic performance achieve phenomenal successes in their chosen fields as adults. After high school, most Special Ed students go on to college to acquire higher education, then move on to bigger things in the professions, politics, business, arts, science and technology. Former slow learners are to be found in the U.S. Congress writing laws that affect the destiny of a great nation and the world at large; they are to be found in the corner offices of major corporations; they are renowned professors teaching at prestigious universities; they are to be found in practically all walks of life, many of them in positions of responsibility. Needless to say, all these wonderful opportunities would have been way beyond their reach without the unselfish and broad-minded decisions of their parents to allow them to participate in the program.

Parents who feel uncomfortable seeing their children in the Special Education Program due to a perception of stigma should carefully consider the consequences of allowing pride to triumph over common sense in dealing with a matter so vital to their children’s future. Would these parents rather see their children’s horizons severely limited by the children’s lack of good education than seek help for them through Special Ed? And can these parents live with a lifetime of guilt, knowing that they could have acted to ensure a better future for their children but chose not to because of empty pride?

America is the land of opportunity, as we have been reminded time and again. As immigrants, we should take full advantage of all the opportunities this great nation has to offer, especially those that have an impact on the future of our children. Special Ed is an invaluable remedial opportunity for which all parents whose children have trouble learning must be grateful instead of spurning it.

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