What School Should Do

The blog this week was written by George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute. In 1985, I attended a conference out in Ellensburg, Washington, in the heart of apple country. One of the speakers was Barbara Wilcox, a professor in the field of special education. Her topic was “What High Schools Should Look Like”.

She started off by stating three goals for high schools: The first was to produce good citizens. The second was to promote growth for students to become as independent as possible. The third was to prepare students to participate in community life. Wilcox then suggested when they leave school students should have social competence and a social support network. They should possess community competence and a work history, specifically a resume. Finally, parents should have been involved in decision-making along with the student.

The rest of the presentation consisted of specific activities and areas of learning that would result in these outcomes. Finally Wilcox talked about the appropriate learning environment for students with intellectual disabilities, the community itself. That is, for people who experience difficulty in transferring what they have learned in one environment to the environment in which they will be expected to execute what they have learned, the two environments need to be the same. So, the curriculum should be constructed so that all but the academic components should be carried out in the community.

It seems to me that what was true about Dr. Wilcox presentation in 1985 is true today. If learning about how to live in the community were community-based, all of our talk about transition would be quite different that it sometimes is. Instead of preparing students to enter into another socializing system only meant for students with disabilities we would be preparing them to take their place in all aspects of community, including work.

It is encouraging to me to see the extent to which students are receiving community based instructions through programs like Project Search. Not only will graduates have job ready skills they will also have contact with potential employers who will have an opportunity to help them learn on the job, who will know what they can do. Even if a graduate chooses to work somewhere other than the Project Search site he or she will have solid references. The after school experience will thus be like that of regular education students, a life in the community.