Drowning in the mainstream

It’s so enticing.  The mainstream.  Maybe our children aren’t so different, so unusual.  Maybe they are ‘normal’.  Maybe they belong in the mainstream.  But maybe not.  Maybe our goal ought not be a mainstream education but a mainstream life?  After all, we will spend about 12 years in elementary and high school, and, if we live to be 80, we will spend about 62 years in our post-high school life.

Maybe the mainstream is where kids drown.  I know I would have drowned in the mainstream as an elementary school student, and nearly drowned in the mainstream for junior high school and high school.  After that, things got better, and I am doing OK in the mainstream adult world.  But I am fairly  sure I would have done better had I been in special education longer.

One thing we shouldn’t forget about mainstream education is that it’s a lot cheaper than special education; and state bureaucrats love to save money.   The bureaucrats aren’t evil people – they’ve been told what to do.  Budgets are being cut.  Money must be saved.   And a law saying we should all be in ‘least restrictive environments’ sells a lot better than one that says we should be in ‘the least expensive environments’.  How often does the least restrictive environment serve the best interest of the child and the adult that child will become?  Not as often as some would like to think.

And the ‘least restrictive environment’ is often planned in one way, and then carried out in another.  Plans are laid for highly skilled aides … and then the budget act falls again.  And there are less skilled aides.  Or no aides.  And the classes get bigger, and teachers get even more overworked.

Some fish can swim in the mainstream; but some can’t.


  1. I didn’t find out my problem was called dyslexia (highly) until my second daughter was diagnosed. Fortunately, I compensated very well and fooled the world into thinking i was very intelligent. Flunked school until pushed right into high school according to schedule. Graduated from high school with honors in three years, accepted to college (age 16) for a two year degree with out taking the SAT, became a bank manager in three years, reading at best 4-5th grade level no spelling ability or spell check. Just think what I could have accomplished if i wasn’t mainstreamed. …My daughter is in a funded out of district placement making up for all I was denied. Then I owed it to myself to go back to school and got my Masters Degree with all the new tech it was a breeze in less than two years night school. I am now an advocate for special education, run a second home business, and teach pottery at a local museum. With all the years of anxiety, fear of being discovered, I am one of the fortunate dyslexics that has high functioning right brain abilities. At this point in my life, I wouldn’t trade off my gifts of dyslexia for not to have the difficulties. If I was back in second grade….yah …I am now an official Blogger

  2. My little fishy made it for 8 years.

    There’s a place for kids who learn different, but not less. It’s called “Homeschool”. You would be absolutely amazed at the number of kids who would have labels in public school who homeschool.

    I’d say somebody should do a study on that, but it occured to me many parents homeschool to avoid giving their kids labels.

    Thomas Edison, homeschooled, was “too scattered to learn.”
    I’m just saying.

  3. Hi Rosa

    I know relatively little about homeschooling for us, but I know it works wonders for a lot of kids.


  4. I’m not convinced that special education is the solution. Often, the kind of special education that many kids have available to them is not the $40,000 a year, Windward School type.

    As an educational specialist, too often I see kids fall further and further behind in special ed while the rest of their age group keeps leaping ahead.

    On the other hand, the disadvantages of mainstreaming our obvious, but one big one is that you never have enough time to work on the subskills that the child needs in order to succeed.You spend all of your time just trying to keep up.

    At this point in time I think my vote is for homeschool. I think that even a parent can’t personally homeschool, they and their child would be better off even if they hired a regular teacher to teach their child a couple of hours a day, filling the rest of the day with extracurricular activities and vocational work.

    Plus, with the option of online schooling,etc. I really can’t see how traditional schooling can outperform h/s.


  5. Hello, I work in a Canadian Life Skills classes – with students who have Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X, Cerebral Palsy, general global delays…… labels should never be used to define who or what a person is. Only as a guide for parents/staff as to how this person learns and functions best. Each person needs to be seen as an individual with their own unique abilities. I agree there are cons to being mainstreamed but there are also pros to being mainstreamed – one is the social aspect where mainstream students learn to accept and become friends with people who have special needs. Two, it gives people who have special needs opportunities they and their families may not be aware of – more access to these opportunities.
    I read a book last year about Neurodiversity by Thomas Armstrong. Armstrong has some good ideas about helping people with special needs strengthen their strengths/gifts/talents instead of focusing on areas that are weak.
    We see these people “fall behind” when they’re expected to practice harder in order to keep up with their peers; to read/write/learn everything everyone else is learning. Why not encourage learning and getting really good at something they’re interested in so they can succeed in these areas instead?
    Where school systems are not supporting staff/students who have disabilities with funds and other supports; where there is bullying towards those who have special needs, because of ignorance on the part of mainstream, I agree homeschooling is definitely the better option. Traditional schooling as in classroom setting where everyone including those with special needs, sit at desks most of the day, is not the answer for these people.
    The classroom I work in, while is in a mainstream school, is itself, not mainstream. While some of our students join some of the mainstream classes (of their interests) others will stay with the Life Skills program, learning basic reading/writing skills as well as laundry, baking, hygiene, as well as attend social skills group time, go on outings such as shopping, library, bowling, swimming etc.
    As staff we are advocates for our students sometimes between admin and student/teachers/board and sometimes with home. We also assist in doctor appointments where needed and for some students have offered in home programs where students have not functioned well in school.
    Our division also has school outside of the mainstream building for students who feel they just don’t fit in – they attend at a youth drop in center and wouldn’t be attending school at all if this wasn’t available to them. We have another location that is geared yet again for students who’s main interests are not studying text books but are more into technologies and horticulture. Many of these students would also drop out of school if they didn’t have this to go to. Our Life Skills staff and students also attend these locations if interests are there.

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