Seattle Schools: Are All Children Special Needs?
It’s a great commentary that the “save Seattle Schools” blog hosted on is a wildly active forum for community interaction. Anytime I visit the site there are discussions on anything from the military recruiting in Seattle Schools to discussions of the budget and the school board. One of the latest really got my attention. It was focusing on the way that the Seattle Schools run its gifted program. Now I know that the Seattle Public Schools aren’t alone in their challenges of how to educate these children. But the reason it attracted my attention was because of a recent NPR (National Public Radio) segment on educating children with autism.
What struck me was the similarity in the Seattle Schools attempt to educate its gifted population and its special needs population. It left me with the burning question: are all Seattle Schools’ students really special needs students? Well, think about it. One of the hottest topics in educational pedagogy is multiple intelligences. That’s the belief that people have academic intelligence, emotional intelligence, kinesthetic (movement) intelligence, and other specific intelligences. And more importantly, that schools should teach in ways that reach children who learn best in all these different ways.
So the fact that a gifted child in the Seattle Schools requires a different sort of challenge to motivate him, or that an autistic child needs a different environment to facilitate learning, really means they both have special needs. And if a “regular ed” child is an auditory learner, while her classmate is a visual learner; well, aren’t those special needs as well? What Do Special Needs Students Require from the Seattle Schools? Frankly, I don’t think that many teachers in the Seattle Schools would argue with my characterization of all children as having special needs. In fact, the best teachers I know strive to individualize instruction in classes with 30 or more students. Of course, one issue is that the resources of the Seattle Schools, while better than most of the nation, are never enough. But the other, and I think easier issue to tackle, is one of knowledge. There’s still a lot of disagreement among parents and educators about the best ways to teach classically labeled “gifted and special needs” students. Inclusion is often seen as the most desirable option for special needs students, but many a parent will tell you that ideal is often a frustrating reality. One of the best things that the Seattle Schools can do today to make future education better is to track the success of students in different special needs environments. Since the children are required to be in public schools classes, it only makes sense to track their progress in the different venues. Again- cost rears its ugly head.
But the Seattle Schools are fortunate to have some powerful corporations and higher learning institutions helping them out with a variety of initiatives. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter whether a child’s “special needs” are extreme or not. The Seattle Schools are going to have to find ways to address them.
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