Special Education is special because it is the first area of education where parents are forced to question a basic philosophy of education: Traditional education attempts to enable all children to learn the same thing at the same time in the same way because the expertly trained teacher or school system has a predetermined curriculum which every child will follow. This philosophy is only one of many which are never spoken, but which determine how our children are treated day after day in schools across the nation. The problem is the idea that all children are created equal is unbiblical and therefore false.
Teachers and prophets and… 1Co 12:29 [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles?
Eph 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
Finger or toe, ear or hand… I Corinthians: 12:16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
17 If the whole body [were] an eye, where [were] the hearing? If the whole [were] hearing, where [were] the smelling?
18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
We are not finished products, but rather we are clay and need to be ready to be molded into the vessels God needs for His unique positions. It took a Moses to plod through the wilderness patiently for forty years, but a Joshua to wait three days after taking leadership and plow through to the promised land.
Special needs requires that every child be taught in the best way for him to learn. In actuality, that way is best throughout the world of education, but the prevailing worldview prefers to warehouse children and to force them through a single set of expectations.
According to the prevailing way of the world, the proper procedure in working with special needs is to identify the “problem areas.” Problem areas are weaknesses – which are any fields where the child does not have an “average” score. Then the proper procedure would be to medicate, remediate and/or compensate. Medication is used in many cases only to modify or control behavior, not to correct a medical problem. Remediation deals with correcting the problem – concentrating on those weaknesses in order to bring them up to norm. Often the entire focus of that child’s education becomes developing the weakness. Compensation techniques are rarely taught before junior or senior high level. Meanwhile there is no time to develop the child’s comparative strengths and his belief in his own ability to succeed drops lower and lower as neither his skills nor his passions receive any attention and cease to develop.
There are three fallacies in that procedure: First, it belies the very definition of average. Average is the middle score. To obtain an average, you must first consider all the scores. Then you divide by the number of scores to obtain the average. If all the scores were the same there would be no average. The average only exists because all the scores differ. The scores differ because God created each of us uniquely. He did this because He has a different purpose for our lives. If we were all the same, we would love and hate the same jobs, succeed and fail at the same work, have the same ideas, love the same people, and on and on and on.
The second fallacy is the underlying assumption that by concentrating on and programming toward the weakness it can be eliminated – or at very least improved. There are times when the weaknesses improve, but too often the strengths decline in the absence of practice and nurturing. And there are far too many times when all the emphasis on the weakness does not alter the pattern of strengths and weaknesses.
Third, it assumes that by “fixing” the weakness, the child will be better off, but many times, in the process, his strengths wither as they get no time, no attention, and no nurturing. It is those very strengths that make us useful to each other and to society. In most cases by far, the weakness will NOT become that child’s strength. It will always be a weakness. It is worth developing, but NEVER at the cost of the loss of his strengths.
There is nothing wrong with identifying strengths and weaknesses. There is nothing wrong with a program to develop weak areas. There is something wrong with making the development of weaknesses a lifetime focus. How and when will he find time to capitalize on the gifts God has given him? You don’t become a better piano player by spending hours in the garden. Conversely, if you have a strength in auditory learning, math, or people skills, it may wither if you spend your life in trying to develop your weak visual skills, reading, or mechanical skills. The problem, as in all of life, is a matter of balance. I often say, “Never spend more than half of the child’s time concentrating on his weakness. Spend at least half of his time developing his strengths.”
The child’s strengths are the tools God has given him to succeed in life. They are the very gifts which God will use to direct the child into a ministry – and often a vocation as well. God uses our unique package of strengths and weaknesses to direct us into the career and ministry He has chosen for us. Our weaknesses in particular also serve to keep us humble and dependent on the Creator for strength and wisdom.
Now – the balance. Carried to the extreme, if a child is weak in math we will let him read incessantly and never ask him to do math. Which is worse, to spend the child’s life remediating his weaknesses or to spend his life only developing his strengths? The balance is in doing both and committing the whole person to the service of God. It is important to spend time gradually developing the weakness. At the same time, balance this with an equal amount of time developing the strengths. He won’t become a great orator by spending hours with visual motor activities. He won’t become a world-renown artist by spending his childhood practicing auditory skills. He won’t become a baseball player unless he spends hours practicing baseball.
Let’s look at some specific suggestions in regards to individual weaknesses. If a child has no arms, teach him to play soccer. If he cannot speak well, teach him to read and write. If he cannot read and write, develop his speaking skills. If he cannot walk, develop his people skills. If he has few strengths, encourage him to be cheerful and to do what he can.
One year I was working with a child who had a significant need in the area of reading, but a definite strength and love for math. Employed by the public school, I had to follow certain guidelines in scheduling his time with me. I was not allowed to take the child out of his music, physical education, or art classes because this might be deemed as punishment. I also worked three different buildings daily, so I was only in his building two hours a day and had other children to schedule. This particular child hated art, physical education and music and would have been delighted to have missed them. Because of the district’s policy, even after appeal in this specific situation, I was forced to make him miss his entire fifth grade math program to remediate his reading – it was the only time I could schedule him. Fortunately, he had a caring older sister who did his math in the after school hours. How much better if he’d missed the subjects he didn’t even care for and not miss the important math in which he was skilled!
God created us individually so that we could serve Him in a unique way. It is important that we develop both strengths and weaknesses to their maximum, but we must do it in a way that at minimum does not destroy the very uniqueness which God designed nor limit our effectiveness for Him.
In special education, we are forced to accept unchangeable differences. At the same time, we must realize that developing strengths should be the focus of any education designed to develop the whole child into a tool in the hands of a loving God.