DSM: Let's be more specific about "special needs"

Joe Jackson (shoeless@erols.com)
Sun, 8 Aug 1999 10:42:14 -0400

Hi, Rhonda - Joe from Fairhaven School in Maryland.

I believe the fundamental flaw with your inquiry is that you seem to believe
that Sudbury schools don't allow "special needs" students. They do. The
"special needs" people you seem to be referring to are accomodated to a much
higher degree in Sudbury Schools than in many segments of our democratic
society, and to a lesser extent than others.

Some of your posts imply that our society either does, can, should or will
accomodate ALL disabilities. It does not, cannot, and will probably not
ever fully accomodate ALL disabilities (whether it should is a more
philosophical question) .

Based on that fallacy, you seem to think a Sudbury School should accomodate
ALL disabilities. It should not, and it cannot fully accomodate ALL
disabilities. No school can, including public schools.

I think it would be useful if we stop hiding behind the term "special needs"
and be specific about the needs we're talking about. The term "special
needs" is kind of a copout, because it implies that "special needs" people
are a group or class, which of course they are not. It might help if you
describe the person you are thinking about when you say "special needs".

If we're both saying "special needs" and you're thinking about a spinal
injury quadriplegic, and I'm thinking about Jeffrey Dahmer, then we're
wasting a lot of time.

>Our country seems to be working on making places accessible to all
>people so that one day these limitations may not serve as obstacles for

That is an incredibly idealistic and beautiful thought, but is certainly not
true. Our country has worked and will continue to work to mandate
accessability for _the most broad and objectively-defined disabilities_. It
will not and cannot provide for ALL people. The federal government does not
prohibit, for example, an employer firing a learning-disabled person on the
basis of their disability. It does not, for example, prohibit a federal
contractor from denying employment to a person with CP. It doesn't prohibit
the military from refusing to hire someone because they have diabetes. It
doesn't prevent a private school from expelling a sociopathic student.

"Our country" is not willing or able to prevent all personal "limitations"
from serving as "obstacles for opportunity".

That is why discussing "special needs" without doing the work we need to do
to talk about specific disabilities is so useless. It's easy (and fun!) to
make grand, compassionate philosophical statments about undefined classes of
people, but we need to do better than that.

>Can you image this school on a larger scale, when a
>person is unable to vote, they get kicked out of the country?

You misunderstood Scott here - he was using federal voting rights versus
disablilities legislation to make a point.

Sudbury schools don't kick out students just because they don't vote, they
kick them out because they can't follow the rules. Sudbury schools don't
have jails and psychiatric institutions; the only way they can remove
rulebreakers from their community is by excluding them.

>perception is that SVS is analogous to a community or a country with
>democracy in action, not a specific space like a theatre.

A Sudbury school is, in fact, a democratic _school_ and not a community or
sovereign country. This is a critical difference, of course, in terms of
purpose as well as resources.

As a philosophical sidebar to what I hope is a more specific discussion of
disablities,I admire your idealism; however, if you were a "Societal Planner
:) ", could you devise a society that can fully accomodate the needs and
wants (remember that "special needs" is a greyscale!) of all of its members
without becoming a crater?

(As a "societal planner" or legislator, you must use the most extreme
scenario in your imagination as you test your creation.)

- Joe Jackson, shoeless@erols.com
Visit Fairhaven School's website at

Let's say there was a society of skydivers, and they made all of their
decisions democratically. Now, if someone comes along who wants to skydive
but they are afraid of heights and the society decides not to build a
simulator for $80,000, that doesn't mean they are not democratic, it just
means that there is no society on earth that can or will completely
accomodate every single person's special needs or wants.
> We do NOT turn away students
>> at the door whose schools declare them as "special needs" students.
>> Rather, over the course of the interview and visiting week, the very
>> particular needs of each student are explored. It is a very rare thing
>> that the school does decide that a given individual would not be safe or
>> well-served by the school, but it does happen.
>> On the other hand, it does happen sometimes that a public school declares
>> itself incapable of educating one of its "special needs" students, and
>> decides to pay the student's tuition to Sudbury Valley.
>> The implication of what you write, is that each and every school has a
>> personal responsibility to bankrupt itself whatever the expense, to
>> accomodate any particular student; the other 210 students be damned along
>> with her/him.
>> To give you an extreme example, would you advise that a small school with
>> a $150000 budget take a student who needs the school to pay for
>> round-the-clock supervision from a doctor? If so, then how would the
>> school reconcile this with its budget? If so, then how would a Sudbury
>> Model School reconcile this with its intent to NOT have special
>> supervision for its students?
>> Sudbury Valley is not unable to make reasonable accomodations. But we
>> refuse to compromise the student, the community, the programme of
>> self-direction.
>Does this mean that democratic education is not a possibility for all?
>> To answer your question directly... Sudbury Valley is not about people
>> adapting to a rigid framework, OR about going to great lengths to
>> itself for each student. Sudbury Valley has made a community where
>> must be able to find a way to fill their own needs, adatping either
>> themselves or the community around them to do so.
>> Even the state, which has a CONSIDERABLY higher budget than a tiny
>> doesn't pretend that it can accomodate every voter. There are many
>> who declare themselves physically unable to get to the polling place in
>> the town where I live -- some of which are accomodated by the state, some
>> are accomodated privately, and some of whom get no accomodation.
>I know that this is reality, but can you explain further about your
>ethical analysis of it? Do you see 'community' primarily as individuals
>getting what they need through it, or as individuals working together in
>ways that enable everyone get what everyone needs, or some combination?
>How do you see social responsibility in a free, democratic school?
>These are questions that have developed for me as I have researched free
>schools. I don't mean to put Scott on the spot, anyone can answer.

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