Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Culture in Special Education - Individualism

Culture in Special Education - Individualism
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Americans are individualistic. There may be many faults with this, but there is no getting away from the basic truth. In reading Chapter 2 of Culture in Special Education I learned that there is a very intentional affirming of this in our special education laws. The laws are set up to make every American as independent as they can be, "to ensure that individuals who posses a trait -- an 'immutable characteristic' -- that could reduce their chances for making choices toward the pursuit of happiness will not be denied these opportunities." (p. 27) The law also seems to require an independent American parent to advocate for the services a child qualifies for.

The point the authors make is that this culture of individualism does not work for every sub-culture in the United States. Certain "families may be both unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the prevailing 'culture of rights' on which American special education policy and therefore, practice are based." (p.26) If the goal is pursuit of happiness for all Americans, is it acceptable that we would have certain sub-cultures who cannot access the services that would give them this right. One could argue that in figuring out how to achieve the services the sub-culture become more American, but one could also argue that if they never get the services the sub-culture risks never joining the greater culture. Either way, this is a great example of two cultures tugging at each other as they work to reshape each other.

In my setting I wonder: how have I as a technology coordinator set up an individualistic foundation in our policies, and who am I missing because of this? In my context I still get students who claim to not be computer literate even though they have had a laptop every day of the school year since eighth grade. I wonder if this is because there is little formal help for students who need help using programs. They are told to ask a teacher, a friend, the helpdesk if there is no hardware issues, or try Atomic Learning. We assume that they will advocate for themselves in their learning of computer skills, probably because most of them do. However, the most vulnerable to this problem have the greatest need. I think it will be important going forward that we have student ambassadors that help students new to the school learn about the use of the laptops.

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