They were different. That was the first thing I noticed about them when they began arriving at school. Marissa was especially different. She was much smaller than a typical junior high school student. She walked oddly. She grunted a lot instead of talking. Marissa and the other kids that came to school on that shorter bus were often the cause of unusual happenings around the school. One of many memorable incidents occurred during my German class. Marissa was out in the hallway, her personal teacher's aide escorting her. We all heard her coming toward the classroom as she grunted and wheezed. She mistakenly hobbled into our room and approached one of the boys. She began to pull on his arm and attempt to climb into his lap. The boy froze in abject terror and humiliation. The teacher stopped mid-lecture, uncertain of how to handle the disruption. Marissa's escort worked to loosen her grip on the boy while the rest of the class stared, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. After the two students had been disentangled and Marissa was gone, the rest of the hour was spent recovering from her visit. There are too many instances like this throbbing through the cells of my memory banks.

Mainstreaming is a concept that has long been debated by legislators, parents, and educators. One argument for the mainstreaming of severely mentally handicapped students is that every child, regardless of deficiency, has the right to an education at a normal public school. I agree that no child should be deprived of an education. Parents pay into the school system through tax dollars, and their children should be able to benefit from that system. However, the rights of all children in public schools need to be considered, and mainstreaming is not the most effective way of meeting the needs of all involved. Classroom disruptions like the one involving Marissa ruin the educational climate for students. The rights of one group of people end where those of another group begin.

Proponents of mainstreaming argue that students with mental handicaps and "regular" students need to learn to interact and socialize with one another. They believe that putting the two groups in the same school would help them integrate. Ideally, mainstreaming would create a utopian environment where all creatures great and small, meek and bold would gather together in a heavenly depiction of the lion and the lamb. But as the stench of reality clears our senses (and our sinuses), we see what actually happens when the idea is put into practice. D.W., a former staff member in a Michigan junior high school's special education department, explained that severely mentally handicapped people are often kept in separate classes. When social activities such as lunch hours occur, the special education students stick to themselves and rarely interact with "normal" students. When the system is examined, it is discovered that special education teachers and their students remain segregated from their general education counterparts.

It has been theorized that placing special education students with regular education students encourages the slower students to work harder and helps them to learn better. With mainstreaming, not only would the handicapped students be inspired to strive to greater achievement, but also the other students would serve as enthusiastic cheerleaders for them. Somehow, pitting these young people against impossible odds is supposed to be encouraging. Enrolling severely challenged students in normal classes simply ensures that they will always be at the bottom of the heap. Instead of motivating them to achieve more than they thought possible, it instills in them a spirit of defeat and serves as a constant reminder of their inabilities. Never will they be able to bring home a test and brag to their parents that theirs was the highest score. Gone are their hopes of ever being head of the class. How can these young people have anything but the dreariest of outlooks on life when put in such a situation?

Thus it becomes clear that severely mentally handicapped students do not belong in the public school system.

Educating a mentally challenged child is more expensive than educating a "normal" child. Most of the severely handicapped children require individualized attention. Schools that are mainstreaming these students have to hire additional staff to attend classes with them, tutor them, read assignments to them, and sometimes even handle their personal physical needs. D.W. explained that as the duties of the paraprofessionals get more intimate, their pay can get as high as twelve dollars an hour, sometimes more. Usually, staff members such as these are assigned to a single student. Parents of these children do not pay additional taxes to cover the difference in cost of their children's education; all taxpayers take up their burden. If such students were placed together in a separate classroom, only one or two staff members would be required to teach them rather than each having their own personal tutor.

There must be a better answer. Somewhere out there lies a hope that is not so bleak. Special needs students deserve an environment where they will be both accepted and reasonably challenged within their abilities. Perhaps the answer lies in creating a special trade school, providing practical training and teaching the students a job-related skill that they could use once they are out of school. Mainstreaming as it exists today is not accomplishing its purpose. The system should either be rethought and modified, or retired into the annals of well-intentioned failures.

Works Cited:

Mamlin, Nancy. "Despite Best Intentions: When Inclusion Fails." Journal of Special Education. 33.1 (1999) 36 (1). Expanded Academic ASAP. Lansing Community College Lib., Lansing, MI. 16 Apr. 2001.

D.W. Personal interview. 16 Apr. 2001.

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