By: Lisa Friedman
Have you ever seen MythBusters, that science experiment show on the Discovery Channel? It’s the one where the show’s hosts, special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, test the validity of commonly held notions and myths from movie scenes, adages, Internet videos and news stories. My family loves this show. There is just something really cool about watching some long-held idea debunked right before your eyes.
Well, I may not be a scientist or a special effects expert, but I am a Jewish Special Educator. And there are many myths about special education. So here is my version of MythBusters: The Jewish Special Education Edition.
Myth #1: Students with disabilities can’t learn Hebrew.
It is a misconception that all students with learning challenges struggle just to learn to read English and should not even try to learn Hebrew. While it is true that children who have difficulty with their primary language may encounter similar struggles when learning a second language, some children have a natural propensity toward language acquisition, even if they have a learning disability. Hebrew, in many situations, is taught traditionally. Read & repeat exercises that require children to sit still and wait their turn are common. Employing multi-sensory strategies that cater to a wide variety of learning styles can enable all students to learn Hebrew in ways that meet their individual needs.
Myth #2: Special Education (or inclusion) holds back the “other” students
A classroom rich with activities to meet students at their current level of functioning maximizes all students’ potential for success. It is a misnomer that having different expectations for different students within in the same classroom isn’t fair. This is just wrong. Students should not be compared to one another or to an arbitrary level of expectation. All students should be working toward progress from their current level of functioning. When this is done successfully, no student is “held back” or exposed to less challenging content than he or she is capable of handling.
Myth #3: Special Education is just a watered down curriculum.
The strength of special education is in individualizing instruction, which is not a watered down curriculum. Modifying teaching strategies and offering multi-sensory activities does not compromise the content. Rather, it is a way to ensure that all students can be exposed to and grapple with the same content in a way that is both meaningful and productive.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of MythBusters: The Jewish Special Education Edition!
Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey where she oversees an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. Lisa is also a blogger on the issue of disabilities and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter to learn more.
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