A Reader Writes by Dolores Sigmon: Maybe there are things wrong in special ed

March 25, 2002

In defense of Mr. Ed Woeten, (who is a stranger to me) before his life and career are destroyed forever, here are a few things to think about:

Most school dropouts are very bright, intelligent kids with high IQs who are bored to death with the dumbed-down, silly stuff that's taught in our schools these days.

There are few special programs or pots full of dollars or challenges for them. They are stuck in crowded classrooms of sometimes 20 or more students being taught by an overburdened, often-criticized teacher who is working many hours a week for $25,000 or $35,000 a year.

There's never enough money — sometimes there aren't even enough books. A recent survey showed teachers are spending literally millions of dollars of their own money for pencils and paper and books. Now, with the new Bush policy of everything depending on good test scores, teachers are spending their time teaching kids how to pass the tests.


Our illiterate president, who only knows about 100 words of his own and then depends on his speech writers for the rest, has threatened to take away federal funds from schools that don't meet the test standards. I hate to think about all the kids who can't sleep the night before test day and go to school with stomach aches and teachers in the same boat.

On the other hand, special ed teachers have the advantage of teaching physically and/or mentally challenged children on a one-to-one basis. If they work by the hour they are paid $40 an hour or more, or $60,000 to $70,000 a year or more on a contract.

Whether the students were physically and/or mentally handicapped because their mothers abused drugs, or alcohol, or cigarettes or because of congenital inherited defects is beside the point. The cold, hard truth is that few will ever be able to function on their own.

The few who can will do so by their own determination, and certainly no one begrudges them the advantage of early childhood education. And the courageous, loving parents who are the guardian angels who sacrifice years of their lives for these "exceptional" children are the worlds greatest heroes. Most of us could not do it in a million years.

So let's all take a time-out. Those who feel insulted should come down off their high horses and see both sides of the story. Maybe Mr. Woeten wrote his letter after a tough day at school. Or maybe he just caught a glimpse of a special ed teacher and her one little student in a quiet classroom. It might have occurred to him there was something wrong with the picture — and maybe he is right.

>> DOLORES SIGMON is an El Centro resident.

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