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Special Education and Emergence

Brie Stark's picture

Special Education and Emergence

Brielle Stark,  June 19 2009


         I think an interesting question can be posed: is emergent education applicable to ‘special education’ curricula?  I have noted before that the goal of emergent education is to encourage group dynamics to prepare the student for a world that is not entirely individually-focused, as the modern education system would have us believe.  It is arguable that emergent education builds group dynamics in order to encourage success of students in further pursuing education or the workforce, but I also believe that the encouragement of group dynamics and discussion is beneficial to children who will not be completing the higher education track or finding a job in the workforce.
         There is a huge value on human and group interaction that, I believe, is enforced by emergent education.  For this reason, emergent education could appear in ‘special education’ classrooms—perhaps with slightly differing goals than that of other classrooms, but nonetheless with the same intention of forging social skills and offering a sense of independence and self-esteem in the form of opinion. Sullivan (1953) asserted that people need social interaction and social input, such as tenderness, companionship, acceptance, and confidence, in order to obtain contentment and psychological well-being. An underlying assumption is that when such interaction does not occur, people experience distress and maladjustment. 
         In psychological literature, it is hypothesized that children begin to flourish in their pre-school years—whereas they begin to form relationships, communicate and develop self-confidence.  “By the end of the preschool period, there are heavy demands on children in terms of verbal skills, behavioral inhibition, and perspective taking” (link).  It seems fitting, then, to establish this more discussion-friendly form of education in a special education classroom at an early age, in order to encourage the building of relationships, self-confidence by speaking one’s opinions, the ability to listen to others and form new ideas, and to encourage the concept of constantly changing and forming a ‘better’ idea.  I feel that all of these concepts can be adequately encouraged by emergent pedagogy, if not with more success than the modern education system.
         A previous obstacle was the common thought that education is a means to an end.  In modern society, education is often considered a means to end toward a career, or financial stability (B. Vallahba).  I argued that that it isn’t the concept of emergent education that we’re dealing with in this case study – rather, I think we’re dealing with a failed concept of individualism and lack of ability to be esteemed as an individual in order to make progress.  This concept relates back to the fact that standardized tests are a crucial key to acceptance into college, which is ultimately what this case study aims for: to receive an honorable college degree in order to ensure financial dependence following college.  Or, even more, good individual high school grades can lead to a better job in the workforce immediately following high school.  Therefore, I honestly don’t believe that emergent pedagogy is the culprit here – it seems that our concentration on standardized testing and focus on individual progress without group interaction – is what drives this argument (B. Stark). 
         From a special education standpoint, this obstacle nearly disappears.  In the case of those dubbed as having a ‘severe disability,’ college or the workforce is not a viable option.  I believe that this realization further concretes my enthusiasm for encouraging an emergent setting in a special education classroom, especially at the more severe level.  The goal of emergence, as I stated before, is to encourage social interaction—which is exactly what kind of challenge the world outside of the classroom would pose to these individuals.  For that reason, it seems logical to encourage the building of confidence and social skills through emergence.
         Often, students with severe disabilities may be unable to communicate, either entirely or vocally.  As I stated earlier, it seems that social interaction in general promotes a happier, more content lifestyle.  It has also been noted in neurobiological studies that individuals learn in more than one way—one of these ways is through observation.  If this fact is on the right track, we can assume that, by observing interactions in an emergent classroom, these individuals will be more content in their lifestyle.

More to come.