Special Education In American Schools | Happy Student Education ™

Special education in American schools

Article Category NYCDOE | Parents | Principals | Schools | Students | Teachers
Published June 9, 2021

Special education


Special education in American schools has significantly transitioned over time. Priorities have been distributed accordingly, considering the rights and needs of all students. Special needs students have been able to succeed in the modern world. The inclusive, and modern classroom, through IEPs that include accommodations, in part to thanks special education pioneers, has changed dramatically.

President John F. Kennedy, although briefly in office, contributed to special education changes. For instance, President Kennedy instituted the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation in 1961. Although not directly addressing the needs of special needs students in the classroom, this legislation lay the grounds for major changes and reform.

Special education
Special education

In a time when the special education classroom was nonexistent, America was becoming aware of the mental disabilities, and the general impact.

President’s Panel on Mental Retardation, “presented more than 100 recommendations for a comprehensive federal approach to intellectual disabilities and urged him to think and plan boldly (JFK library, 2013).” As a result, awareness as well as federal support, and research, crafted a long-lasting impact that pioneers the special education classroom to this day.

The domino effect of president Kennedy’s legislation saw the birth of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the subsequent president after Kennedy. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, relatively addressed the needs of special needs students, focusing on classroom issues as well.

President Johnson, a former teacher, was aware of the needs of all students, including students in deep poverty who may be troubled youth, oftentimes requiring an IEP in the modern classroom.

For intake, “A former teacher, President Johnson believed that equal access to education was vital to a child’s ability to lead a productive life … legislation constituted the most important educational component of the ‘War on Poverty” (Villard, 2004). President Kennedy, Johnson’s bills significantly impacted the development of a countrywide educational reform through federal funding, directly affecting the way Americans saw education.

Additionally, amendments based on new research and administrations further improve the path to an efficient classroom as seen to this day. Thus, “The Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 was amended in 1968 with Title VII, resulting in the Bilingual Education Act, which offered federal aid to local school districts to assist them to address the needs of children with limited English-speaking ability” (Villard, 2004). Therefore, through the presidency of Kennedy, and Johnson, the modern special education classroom was taking shape.

Funding by the Elementary and Secondary School Act offers the students an equal opportunity while promoting professional accountability, and planning, and professional development practices, fermenting growth and improvement (Devine, 2009). As special education transcended, and people became familiar with the topic, many changes took place.

Special Needs in American schools
Special Needs in American schools

Considering the broad spectrum of special education, it is clear that many “disabilities” may not be obvious or clear outside the classroom, such is the case of an emotionally challenged student. Therefore, when Samuel A. Kirk introduced the term learning disability, and arguably pioneer the modern IEP in 1963.

Dr. Kirk’s observations and insights at those early jobs informed his later research, which among other things led to his discovery that many failing students who were clearly not retarded nevertheless suffered from various neurological disorders and could be helped by specific regimens of training (THOMAS, 1996).”

In an era where special education was centralized on mental retardation and obvious disabilities, Dr. Kirk’s illustration of what is still to this day seen as learning disabilities in the classroom dramatically changed special education.


Deaf Culture

Deaf culture is rich in individuality and includes sign language, cuisine, socialization, as well as education. Throughout the readings and research, many aspects of deaf culture were highlighted. However, aside from some interesting and specific cultures and perspectives, deaf culture does not differ much from other cultures. For instance, cultural influences play a significant role in the development of deaf children.

Deaf students, who may come from a Mexican family may enjoy Mexican food and share Mexican cultural features. In reality, “There are no comparable ‘Deaf-cuisine’ customs, no ‘Deaf foods,’ no community-wide ‘Deaf feasts.’ There is no Deaf counterpart to Thanksgiving. Deaf people eat what their hearing families or schoolmates eat, and enjoy what’s popular in American cuisine (MSM, 2016).”

Therefore, much like students from the “hearing world”, deaf students do not differ in what they eat, and how they dress, aside from perhaps showing deaf pride in their outfits, or preferring to eat what their parents eat in terms of cultural perspective.

Deaf culture shares several aspects that go beyond food. For example, deaf students may worship differently, and share social aspects related to their disability. For example, “Deaf social protocol is based on Deaf people’s need to maintain good eye contact and visibility, and to make signing easier and more comfortable.

Deaf Culture
Deaf Culture

Deaf culture does have this in common with ethnic/religious cultures” (MSM, 2016). As such, deaf culture focuses more on face-to-face interaction rather than distant communication. However, considering deaf culture is likely most recognizable for sign language, distant communication is still part of their daily lives. Hence, digital applications such as Skype allow students to communicate using their smartphones, computers, even TVs through simply video conferencing and sign language.

In other words, deaf culture is rich in forms of communication that go beyond traditional verbal communication. Part of deaf culture includes relying on technology and many other mediums as forms of communication. “Deaf Culture manifests itself both within the language (ASL) and within the social norms of the Deaf community itself, which differ substantially from those in the “hearing’ world” (EOHHS, 2016).

Deaf culture is rich in forms of communication, arguably more so than the traditional verbal medium. Hands shake, hand waving, visual contact, technology, as well as general body language are highly mastered by the deaf culture within and outside the classroom. People who may be deaf may prefer to integrate themselves into deaf social clubs and other similar types of communities as part of that traditional culture.


“It is understandable that many of their traditions are based on the face-to-face gathering of people who are Deaf because communication—the lifeblood of any culture—only happens visually in this community (DHS, 2013).” Ultimately, deaf culture is a culture rich in individuality, forms of communication, integrated into cultural and ethnics backgrounds.

Ultimately, special education as evident today did not arise by the effort of three or five individuals. But rather the efforts and hard work of many people determined to reform, and offer an equal opportunity to all students. Hence, in an age where students with special needs have the opportunity to become doctors, lawyers, or anything they may work hard to achieve. The difference between now and then is enormous and compelling.


DHS. (2013, 11 02). Deaf culture. Retrieved from dhs.state.mn.us: http://www.dhs.state.mn.us/main/idcplg?IdcService=GET_DYNAMIC_CONVERSION&RevisionSelectionMethod=LatestReleased&dDocName=id_004566

EOHHS. (2016). Understanding Deaf Culture. Retrieved from mass.gov: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/mcdhh/culturally-deaf/understanding-deaf-culture.html

MSM. (2016). Comparative chart: Deaf and ethnic cultures. Retrieved from deafculture.com/: http://www.deafculture.com/ethnic_culture/

Devine, E. (2009). The History of Special Education in the United States. Retrieved from Special Education News: http://www.specialednews.com/the-history-of-special-education-in-the-united-states.htm

JFK library. (2013). JFK and People with Intellectual Disabilities. Retrieved from JFK library: http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/JFK-in-History/JFK-and-People-with-Intellectual-Disabilities.aspx

THOMAS, R. (1996, 07 08). Samuel A. Kirk, 92, Pioneer Of Special Education Field. Retrieved from NYtimes: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/28/us/samuel-a-kirk-92-pioneer-of-special-education-field.html

Villard, O. (2004). Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Retrieved from The social Welfare: http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/programs/education/elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965/

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