Education for All Children: An Imperative for the 21st Century

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

In the USA every child is entitled to a free and appropriate education regardless of ethnic background, disabling condition, or socioeconomic level. In the last part of the 20th Century, federal legislation ensured that all disabled children had a right to a free and appropriate public education. The contributions of disabled people in America have been tremendous. From Thomas Edison, Franklin Roosevelt, and Stephen Hawking to Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Helen Keller, disabled people have enriched our society. Deaf people, blind people, cerebral palsied people, and mentally challenged people have made our lives better though their accomplishments.

Many of these young people have done well in regular classrooms with average learners. Others have had to have special programs and may from time to time be in separate classes or even individual tutoring. Learning comes through our sensory input, especially our sight and hearing. However the human mind is a marvelous thing that can compensate for distortions in our sensory inputs. Think with me for a moment about how we might reach a deaf blind infant. True, there are cochlear implants that might give the child a form of hearing. There have been experiments with ocular implants, but these have not been practical to date. How then will a deaf blind infant know his or her world? They must know their world primarily through the sense of touch, taste, and smell. Unlike sight and hearing, these three are near senses.

Signs, codes, speech, and language begin in the average baby very early. The baby cries when she is wet or hungry, and her crying stimulates the mother to feed her. The baby soon stops crying when she is picked up in anticipation of being fed. Then the mother begins to make small talk as she prepares to feed the baby. This small talk begins to allow the baby to anticipate being fed, and she calms down and even begins sucking. As the caregiver talks more and more to the baby, the foundations for communications are established.

With blind babies we find them relating to the auditory speech that is in their environment. Their challenge is mostly ambulatory, that is, how to position themselves in space. In effect, how does a blind child understand up from down without visual cues. They can and do develop auditory communication skills. Cerebral palsied children develop a receptive communication skill even though they may have difficulty expressing themselves.

Technology as a prosthetic device opens new educational doors for many disabled children. A cochlear implant enables a deaf child if it works to develop almost normal speech and language. Computer aided speech gives a severely paralyzed individual, such as Stephen Hawkings, speech. Computer screens with text can change the type font and brightness that make it possible for some visually impaired learners to read.

Technology does two things for the disabled learner: (1) It can be a prosthetic device that modifies the disability, and (2) it can enrich the learning environment so that it is a more level field for all learners.

Learning on a team through a learning game the system does not know whether I am black, Hispanic, from China, deaf, a male or female, living in a New York pent house or in an isolated rural community in a desert on the New Mexico border. Technology can and must become the great equalizer, the force that gives every learner the chance to be all they can be.

When Alice in Wonderland was asked by the Queen of Hearts to do something she replied. “I can’t do that it is impossible.” The Queen of Hearts replied, “Nonsense you must think of six impossible things to do each day before breakfast and practice doing them during the day then you will learn to do the impossible.”

Technology if used wisely allows us to accomplish our impossible dreams.

Every child in the world is entitled to the best education the world can offer.

The 125,000,000 children in the world today without a teacher and without a classroom could soon have an education. The price of one day of war in the world could finance this impossible dream.

All children are entitled to learning through technology. All children deserve a teacher and a classroom. We must demand this from the world leaders. It is not an impossible dream.

6 Responses

  1. I thought a lot before replying to this post. It is important, it is imperative, it is the message that makes a difference. Here is the problem. There are so many messages and ideas that come from here and there lots of people have given up on the idea of change in educaiton, technology use and new ways of learning.

    The Speak UP survey affirms your ideas. But I have learned that forward thinking , innovative and creative people in education are quieted by the media mavens who write a bit about education without knowing anything about the process first hand. We trust our media people I guess, and so they have brought us a parade of change that
    is massive. Maybe people are tired of hearing the solutions especially since most of the solutions are well financed campaigns with lots of
    outreach and little substance. We here in Washington DC have
    endured Michelle Rhee, and when we complained, the Ivy League reporters closed in on us as if we were speaking heresy, she was anointed a Joan of Arc in working with the DC schools.. the reality
    is much different. Diane Ravitz outlined the reality, but who is reading? Who is listening , who is caring?

    Here are the ideas that I know you know and I have known since you were the Secretary of Education. Innovate, Imagine, … Involve students.. this is nothing new.. but the way the story is told and who tells it seems to make a difference. So perhaps student voices
    help to tell what needs to be done. Those of us who are teachers, innovators, idea people get sidelined.. The people who often talk the most about education are not educators.

    http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pdfs/Infographic_PersonalizedLearning2012.pdf ( Infograph)

    Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey – K-12 Students and Parents Connects the Dots with Digital Learning is the first in a two part series to document the key national findings from Speak Up 2011. This report focuses on how today’s students are personalizing their own learning, and how their parents are supporting this effort. The ways that students are personalizing their learning centers around three student desires including how students seek out resources that are digitally-rich, untethered and socially-based. The key questions being addressed in this report include:

    How are students personalizing their learning?
    How are parents helping students to personalize their learning journey?
    What are the digitally-rich, untethered and socially based learning strategies that facilitate this process?
    How can education stakeholders support students as they seek to personalize their learning?
    What are the gaps between administrators’ views of personalized learning compared to parents’ and students’ views?
    Key Findings from this year’s report include:

    Students are adopting technologies and then adapting them to support their own self-directed learning. For example, 1 in 10 high school students have Tweeted about an academic topic. 46% of students have used Facebook as a collaboration tool for schoolwork.
    Parents are supporting their children’s personalized learning journeys. 64% of parents report that they would purchase a mobile device for their child’s academic use at school.
    There is a gap in offerings between what schools offer and what students want to learn. As a result, students are looking outside of the classroom to meet their personalized learning goals. For example, 12% of high school students have taken an online class on their own, outside of the classroom, to learn about a topic that interested them.
    In math and science classrooms where students and teachers direct learning supported by technology, students’ interest in a STEM career is 27%, compared with 20% for students in traditional math and science classrooms.
    Parents’ definition of academic success for their children places a strong emphasis on learning the right skills to be successful (73%)- more than any other metric for success, including monetary success or getting into a good college.

    http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/2012_PersonalizedLearning.html

  2. I posted one passionate reply, it seems to have dissolved or is lost in the mish mosh.

    Students are thinking for the future. It is perhaps that the media has taken over education to bring us their idea of what education is even thought they know little about it except from the view of the “expert” that they choose to read the educational tea leaves.

    I worry that broadening engagement for all, becomes a dissappearing
    possibility as the bifurcation of education continues. The real people like you and others who know education are not necessarily the celebrities. Celebrities have massive media support funded by
    their supporters. Education celebrities? Who are they?

    Anyway, the children speak in this report that speaks to the future.

    http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pdfs/Infographic_PersonalizedLearning2012.pdf ( Infograph)

    Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey – K-12 Students and Parents Connects the Dots with Digital Learning is the first in a two part series to document the key national findings from Speak Up 2011. This report focuses on how today’s students are personalizing their own learning, and how their parents are supporting this effort. The ways that students are personalizing their learning centers around three student desires including how students seek out resources that are digitally-rich, untethered and socially-based. The key questions being addressed in this report include:

    How are students personalizing their learning?
    How are parents helping students to personalize their learning journey?
    What are the digitally-rich, untethered and socially based learning strategies that facilitate this process?
    How can education stakeholders support students as they seek to personalize their learning?
    What are the gaps between administrators’ views of personalized learning compared to parents’ and students’ views?
    Key Findings from this year’s report include:

    Students are adopting technologies and then adapting them to support their own self-directed learning. For example, 1 in 10 high school students have Tweeted about an academic topic. 46% of students have used Facebook as a collaboration tool for schoolwork.
    Parents are supporting their children’s personalized learning journeys. 64% of parents report that they would purchase a mobile device for their child’s academic use at school.
    There is a gap in offerings between what schools offer and what students want to learn. As a result, students are looking outside of the classroom to meet their personalized learning goals. For example, 12% of high school students have taken an online class on their own, outside of the classroom, to learn about a topic that interested them.
    In math and science classrooms where students and teachers direct learning supported by technology, students’ interest in a STEM career is 27%, compared with 20% for students in traditional math and science classrooms.
    Parents’ definition of academic success for their children places a strong emphasis on learning the right skills to be successful (73%)- more than any other metric for success, including monetary success or getting into a good college.

    http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/2012_PersonalizedLearning.html

    • Hi, Bonnie. I’m not exactly sure what went wrong with your comment posts. Normally, once a comment from a person is approved, all subsequent comments from her/him are automatically approved and published. Since you’re a staff member with numerous comments, your May 1 comments should have been published instantly. The best solution I can offer is (1) log in from a URL that allowed you, in the past, to post comments automatically or (2) log in to your WordPress account before logging in to ETCJ. In both cases, ETCJ’s comment screener will be able to identify you and instantly publish your comments. Please let me know if this problem continues. -Jim

      • might be the computer program I was using or something. I have an article in the works. Frank had some of the most far reaching programs in education . I am still bummed that he did not get to do a program on the Mississippi River that was interdisciplinary.
        I am working on digital citizenship. Loved your article too.

  3. I have attended about 26 conferences, 32 hill meetings and they all say that we need to change education. Education is always in a state of change based on so many factors out of the control of teachers, but sometimes in the hands of vendors. Lately even some of the organizations that purport to represent teachers have become vendor driven, and they have a direct line to the administrators in a given area.

    As a DC resident, I was surprised to hear the current director give her overview of what she thought online education should be , completely vendored. Oh well.

    What is digital citizenship? What are the components.. so many , and each state and group have their own way of creating the ideational scaffolding for it.

    We are in DC working across lines of information and groups on Digital citizenship. Most teachers have little information on all of the areas of information needed. So many factors here. I have had little experience with LGBT and did not in fact know what it was since various groups use different were saying. I was priviledged to attend the Born this Way Symposium at Harvard as an invited educator and I learned a lot.. What about others. What do we all need to know?

    BTWF has 2 million followers on twitter. Force of change or not? B

  4. I appreciate your advocacy of FAPE (free appropriate pubic education) for all children. However, to move even more into the 21st century, I’d also like to suggest that we advocate for “people-first” language. All the people you referred to were or are people who have a condition that is considered to be disabling to some degree or another. However, they are not the condition. They are a person who has a condition and may need some degree of support due to the condition. I recommend Kathie Snow’s short article on the topic: http://www.disabilityisnatural.com/images/PDF/pfl-sh09.pdf

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