Doublethinking Special Education

“Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic agains logic…” George Orwell 1984

Double-think is not new the special educator. In order to commit to the profession of special education for more than a few years, one must carefully hone this skill. My current teaching position is somewhat unique, and filled with its own doublethink requirements, but I worked as a classroom special educator for years, and as such:

  • I was required to plan and teach a full day of individualized instruction for a classroom of students, with only a short planning period to prepare these lessons during the school day.
  • I was required to conduct IEP meetings, contact parents, maintain detailed records of student progress, write and update IEP’s on a regular basis during the regular school day.
  • I was required to provide consultation services to general education teachers in inclusive settings and supervise teaching assistants in and outside the classroom during the regular school day.

My itemized duties required me to be in more than one location at the same time. I dutifully felt guilty when I was unable to do so. Now, new directions in US special education policy require special education teachers to reach new heights in our mastery of doublethink. From the U.S. Dept. of Education news release:

With this year’s IDEA determinations, the Department used multiple outcome measures that include students with disabilities’ participation in state assessments, proficiency gaps between students with disabilities and all students, as well as performance in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to produce a more comprehensive and thorough picture of the performance of children with disabilities in each state.

This change in special education evaluation is intended to address the concern Arne Duncan expresses that “Two-thirds of students with disabilities are performing well below grade level in reading and math. By the eighth grade, that figure rises to 90 percent.” He finds this concerning despite the fact that the eligibility requirements for the most common disabilities include proof that the student performs well below grade level in reading and math in order to qualify for services. Let’s review:

Yes, the special educator must now raise student test scores so that students with disabilities test on grade level, but the students cannot test on grade level in order to qualify as special needs students under the most common categories. We special educators must now meld those two realities into one and dutifully accept reprimand when the requirement is not met.

“That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.” George Orwell, 1984

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8 thoughts on “Doublethinking Special Education

  1. This is definitely hard on teachers, and what a travesty for the kids. Holding them to standards that they aren’t necessarily capable of reaching for a multitude of reasons will just increase the amount of stress they deal with in their day to day lives. I really think that this speaks to our society’s inability to value differences within people. Our society as a whole values conformity, and therefore believes that what is important for improving the lives of typical people (in this case academic achievements) must be important for everyone, which, as we know, is not always the case.

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    • Yes, I think you’ve hit it on the head. Americans value individuality, but recent directions in education reform stress all students having the same achievement. If we are to fill the variety of niches needed to make a society work, we have to return to our core values – respect for individual difference. That is what has made America work and will continue to be our strength – if we let it.

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  2. Doublethinking is rampant in general education these days, too. No Child Left Behind guarantees many children are left behind. Race To The Top ensures masses of children will be pushed to the bottom. Students First works to take away the teachers, schools and resources students need. Those who claim to care about children are reducing them to numbers and labeling them winners and losers at younger and younger ages, and punishing them, their teachers, schools and communities as a result. It’s maddening.

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    • You’re absolutely right. Sometimes when you listen to the language of these groups, it feels unreal. In a “race to the top'” don’t some people get trampled at the bottom? I wouldn’t think that sort of imagery would be acceptable to anyone when talking about children and learning. And Students first is just plusgood doublethink.

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  3. I can see why doublethink applies. It reminds me of school districts’ free tutoring for the disadvantaged, where kids are at least two years behind their assigned grade level in a given subject.

    When the average of three months of tutoring services expires, they haven’t made sufficient progress. Thanks to pretests and posttests, as long as a measurable improvement is made, that is success. That’s doubleplusgood. Tutoring agencies will stay in business with districts, and those kids may never be fully competent. Yet we are baffled when colleges claim that entering freshman are unprepared for a higher level of coursework.

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    • Yes, doublethink is bad when it is used to game the system, but is especially reprehensible when it is used to promote commercial products, services, and political careers over student needs.

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