Correct terminology shows compassion

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

By Julia Pewitt Kinder

I'm writing in response to Saturday's article on the new Cape Girardeau School District preschool. The article emphasizes that children who "lag" behind will be chosen first for the program.

Does the author mean children with developmental delays? Or, perhaps though not as correct, developmentally delayed? Reporter Mark Bliss uses the word "lag" quite frequently. In fact, it is the only word he chose to describe these children. When I think of the word "lag," I think of a child who loiters or falls behind in a line. So why not just call such children laggards? Or stragglers or do-nothings? The word "lag" implies an intentional action of laziness.

Choosing the correct terminology is not, in this case, just a matter of being politically correct. We all tire of keeping up with the latest phrases in order to be PC. The correct term in this case demonstrates that we are a compassionate society. Describing these children as children who have developmental delays may take more ink, but it emphasizes the child first and then mentions that the child does have delayed learning. The delayed learning is not the only trait of the child, and it is certainly not the most important trait of the child.

I'm also concerned with which preschool model this new program will follow. If the school will give priority to those children with developmental delays, does it intend to have a self-contained special-education preschool? This is a classroom with only special-needs children. This model is quite outdated. We all recall the class of "special-education" kids when we were in school. Those poor kids were kept separate from everyone else all day. The only time you saw them was getting on and off the bus. Admit it. You probably made fun of those kids. You made fun of them because you never got to know them and understand them.

If every child in the room has different needs, how can that teacher possibly provide a good education to each child? Imagine how difficult her job would be trying to teach kids with autism, kids with cerebral palsy, kids with Down syndrome, kids with behavioral issues, kids who need help with personal care and kids who need help eating.

The article states that the school intends for nine of the slots in each class to be for children with special needs and six for typical kids. Good luck getting six families of typical kids who want their "normal" child in a room of kids who have special needs. My words are harsh, but I have a special-needs child and have seen this reality.

The truly inclusive preschool model is a classroom of mainly typical kids with two or three children with special needs. This is a successful approach for all involved. The curriculum is challenging to all. The typical kids learn that not everyone is perfect and that it is OK to be different. The kids with special needs have great role models.

The co-teaching model is another option. Twelve typical children and six children with special needs would share a classroom with an early childhood teacher and an early childhood special-education teacher.

There are other models as well, but my point is that as a community we are all responsible for ensuring we have a successful preschool that provides the best possible education for all of our children. A good education teaches not only academics, but teaches about daily interactions between people. Do we want to be a community that is accepting of all people, or do we want to be a community lost in time that is still afraid of people who are different?

If we want our children to be compassionate, we need to start teaching that when they are young. Preschool is a great opportunity to form those first friendships.

Dr. Julia Pewitt Kinder resides in Cape Girardeau.

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