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The History of Inclusion in the United States

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team teaching, flexible grouping, more stimulating curricula, better training and specialization among teachers and staff, and more sophisticated technology. Dunn also referred directly to the efficacy literature, which he stated failed to demonstrate the value of special class instruction for mentally retarded children. Such evidence against special classes convinced him that schools needed “to find better ways of serving children with mild learning disorders than placing them in self-contained special schools and classes.”25

Dunn then offered a detailed vision as to how special education could reinvent itself along more effective, and certainly more ethical, lines. He describes an “intuitive” and “clinical” approach that focused on the teacher’s assessment of the child’s educational needs and a labeling process that emphasized not the child’s deficit but rather the appropriate educational approach to be taken. He suggested expanding the opportunities for itinerant and resource room teaching that would make trained special educators available to all children in school and would involve those teachers much more in regular classroom activities. He presented a detailed approach to curriculum development that emphasizes environmental modifications, motor development, sensory and perceptual training, speech and communication training, personality development, social interaction training, and vocational training. Such an approach, he asserted, would be advantageous to all children with disabilities, not just those with mild mental retardation, and in fact would enhance the holistic education of all children in school. In concluding his article, Dunn called on all educators to accept the complex and difficult challenges of restructuring special education:

Teachers and state and local directors and supervisors of special education have much at stake in terms of their jobs, their security, and their programs which they have built up over the years. But can we keep our self respect and continue to increase the numbers of these self contained special classes for the educable mentally retarded which are of questionable value for many of the children they are intended to serve?26

While Dunn’s article has been the mostly widely cited, it was by no means the only commentary from that era that questioned traditional practices and fundamental assumptions of special education. Particularly since 1960 critics not only challenged the efficacy of special classes but also expressed great unease, even distaste, for other standard features, most notably programs rooted in segregation; the process of identifying and labeling students; the assumption that better special education most commonly meant more special education; and the stark separation of training programs for special education and general education teachers. Critics of special education also shared the desire to imagine, design, and ultimately implement alternative approaches to or paradigms for the education of students with disabilities that would most likely involve a fundamental restructuring not only of special education but of entire public school systems as well. By the early 1970s, many prominent educators both within and “outside” the field of special education were in open revolt against what had become an entrenched and mostly segregated system of special education. Such critiques helped shape the 1970s and beyond as a period of intense self-reflection and calls for fundamental change in the structures and practices of the field. Subsequently, litigation and legislation pertaining to the care and education of persons with disabilities that dramatically altered the legal bases and expectations for teaching students with disabilities proliferated, setting the stage for the eventual passage of PL 94-142, the Education for Handicapped Children Act, in 1975.


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