Accessing the General Education Curriculum: Students with Disabilities


One of the first assumptions that underlie
the requirement that students with disabilities have access to the general
education curriculum is that the general education curriculum is aligned with subject
matter or content standards–and this notion that students with disabilities have the
right and should have the opportunity to access those standards. And, particularly,
because we now think of content standards as representing–or as making explicit–that
enduring essential knowledge and skills that we want all students to learn–and all
students means students with disabilities. So we think it’s very important for students
with disabilities to have access to the standards, and the way that they should do
that is through a curriculum that is aligned with those standards. It’s very important
from both the needs of these children, as well as a social equity, that if someone–a
state, for example, or a local district–has determined that this content is important
information for students to learn, that it must be equally important for students with
disabilities to learn that material. A misconception that many people have,
however, when they start talking about content standards or general education
curriculum, is that students with disabilities can never learn this material:
its’ too cognitively difficult; it requires too many skills; it’s too complex. And in
many ways this represents a misconception or reflects a narrow understanding of
curriculum and also a lack of knowledge about special education’s history of
educating individuals with disabilities. I would just ask people to think about
probably the most classic examples from our history. And that just a very few decades
ago we used to think that individuals who had Down’s syndrome were uneducable. They
were placed in institutions; they were not given any specific education. Now we know
from our own everyday lives and experience that not only do these individuals learn,
they learn very well. They graduate from high school, they have a number of literacy
skills, they hold jobs, they live independently in the community. And this
didn’t just happen, this happened through education. Now, for us to make the reality
of high standards and high expectations for students with disabilities, we need to turn
to an overview of what is the general education curriculum, and how do we need to
think about this for students with disabilities.

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