Emphasizing Cultural Attributes: Identifying Special Education Students by Their Cultural Qualities

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Emphasizing Cultural Attributes: Identifying Special Education Students by their Cultural Qualities Lynne Anderson

National University

Abstract
Students identified for special education programs, either for the gifted or for students in need of more intensive instruction, are often identified solely by their qualifying label or diagnosis in close to all circumstances. The emphasized focus on this one attribute often results in a lack of acknowledgement for the culture of the child and how that culture affects learning style and social behavior. The students in these programs may not have the self-awareness to know and be proud of their heritage nor might their peers have an idea of how each are the same and different because of these ancestral qualities. This lack of recognition disrupts the efforts that both schools and communities put forth in establishing multicultural environments for learning and socializing. It causes people to view special education students with a narrow perspective which then affects the manner in which they ultimately view all other groups.

Reversing this trend and helping people to consider special education students as whole persons is achievable through simple yet intensive education of both students and professional educators. A combination of special education curriculum and professional development focusing on differentiation between cultural characteristics and label-related behaviors would provide the framework, tools, and training needed to implement a consistent education about cultural diversity as well as broaden the awareness of administrators, teachers, and instructional staff regarding different cultures and ways of life. Resistance from districts or schools would be challenged with research based findings and statistics as well as active experiences from educational establishments already piloting the program.

By infusing a diversity curriculum for special education and helping professional educators to consider these students for all of their natural qualities, including but certainly not limited to their qualifying factors for special education, the multicultural movement is perpetuated. Teachers are the greatest role models for both students and community members. Providing curriculum and training in the area of cultural diversity empowers teachers to make subtle and grand changes to their schools and communities.

Throughout our education system, students are labeled and categorized so as to ensure proper delivery of instruction and academic services. This labeling process occurs via a series of assessments, observations, and includes correlation with any accompanying medical diagnosis or characteristics of such. Students whose assessment results place them outside the average or normal range are grouped either as "gifted" or "in need of more intensive instruction" and placed in special education. Once in a special education program, these students are primarily identified by their diagnosis, such as autistic or cerebral palsy, or label, such as gifted or savant. While this information is crucial to developing an academic plan that will challenge the student and initiate academic growth, these labels tend to cause educators and instructional support staff to lose sight of the student as a whole person.

By failing to identify the cultural characteristics of students in special education, the school system makes itself vulnerable to failing the child. Children and their behaviors are shaped by their lifestyles at home and in the community. Households adhere to a variety of procedures and routines from how to manage hygiene to cooking practices to sharing and interacting with others. For students with additional traits that yield enrollment in special education, it is crucial to consider the cultural aspects of their lives so as to enhance the effectiveness of...
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