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A Real Education

By Eleanor Bailey

All of us have the legal right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. That means a real education that prepares us for a happy, full and independent life.

Now that I am finished with school many parents ask me ‘how did you do it?’ How did you avoid self-contained classrooms? The best answer I can give is to fight for your rights.

This means parents must want a good education for their child. As a student gets older they must learn to participate in their IEP meeting. And the student must take responsibility for their own success.

I was always in regular classrooms. It was not easy. In high school it was hard. But that is what I wanted. I was willing to do the work necessary. My family was always available to help me. But it was up to me to learn. By being in a real classroom with real work I had the opportunity to get a real education.

If I had been in a self contained classroom I would have learned nothing. What I saw was that staff in self contained classrooms did not expect people with disabilities to learn anything. The students were treated like babies. Eating cookies and drinking apple juice is not school. That is what I call a fake education.

Mostly those classrooms are ‘happy gatherings.’ A place where teachers all seem so happy in a very odd way. When I visited those classrooms it made me sad to hear that constant sweet voice saying "good morning children. Today we will go for a walk and buy French Fries.”

I also heard teachers say that they did not care about the IEP. They just wanted everyone to be happy. School requires work. If the teacher does not expect or require some work no one will learn.

People with disabilities often lack social skills. I learned social skills by being around lots of different people. When children with disabilities are herded together and not given the opportunity to learn it’s no wonder they are shy, poorly behaved or have bad hygiene. I saw all of that in self contained classrooms.

Children in those classrooms just play childish games. School means working classrooms and good teachers who know how to teach everyone. Life is not experienced in a self contained classroom. That is what I call a fake education.

A fake education is being happy all the time, walking, snacking, preparing calendars, playing games and singing children’s songs. Then one day you are done. And you have no skills of any kind. And no wonder.

Who can be prepared for real living after wasting all of that time?

My advice to all parents is to remember that everyone has the right to a real education. Do not be fooled with a fake education or happy gatherings.
Our future depends on all of us getting the real education we deserve.