What we can learn from a half-century of federal special education reform (part 2)

In part 1, I looked back at 50 years of education reform focused on students with disabilities and explained two of the five factors that shaped the last half-century of this history: political efforts to secure the educational rights of individuals with disabilities; and efforts to plan or design either education policy or educational techniques that could be used to help individuals, classes, or systems. These two factors lean heavily towards deliberative action, and I hinted that intentional action was not all that shaped the history of education for individuals with disabilities. Now it’s time to explore that other side.

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What we can learn from a half-century of federal special education reform (part 1)

Two major historical anniversaries in American education passed by this summer without significant public comment: consent decrees that ended two federal lawsuits in May and August 1972, lawsuits intended to open up educational access for children with disabilities in Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. Before these lawsuits, it had been regularly practice since early in the 20th century for school districts to simply deny education to children labeled mentally retarded or any one of a range of other disability labels that presumably rendered the children unable to benefit from education. These exclusions were the result of both prejudice and convenience, and the lawsuits forced public schools in Pennsylvania and the nation’s capital to open their doors to all school-aged children. 

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The evolving shape of a project (educational broadcasting history)

Three items on desk: 1. DVD package from Shalom Sesame: "Grover plants a tree." 2. Very large coffee mug in the shape of Kermit the Frog. 3. "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" branded 3M sticky notes.

For the first time in my career, I’ve started receiving gifts that colleagues thought I’d enjoy related to a research project — i.e., they identify me with my current research into the post-1945 history of educational broadcasting in the United States, a project that is less than half a decade old. For an historian, that was fast!

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The Guano Caucus

Guano Point sits 75 miles north of Kingman, Arizona, on the southern lip of the Western Grand Canyon, and on it perches the remnants of a tramway system, a launching point for failed dreams and a missing 99,000 tons of guano. 

We’ll return in a bit to the missing guano. 

As Roger Smith tells the story in his book Batchit, Arizona, Harold Carpenter says he spotted a gap in the north canyon wall while boating down Granite Gorge in the Great Depression. Returning later, he spent several days climbing up to it. 

Holy bat cave! Who spends three days getting to a literal hole in the wall? Apparently Mr. Carpenter, and he found a lot of … well, guano. That’s the term for what leaves the hind end of a bat. 

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Bulwer Lytton of the Caliche

“The corporate communist globalist satanic Uniparty is the faction our founders warned us about,” Arizona Senator Wendy Rogers tweeted August 4

It’s the type of unhinged comment we now expect from Sen. Rogers, but it would also make a great first sentence for a spy thriller— okay, a hilariously-awful one. 

Or take the grandstanding of state Senate President Karen Fann, August 3: “Build the case, set the trap, and boom the Maricopa lies will come back to haunt them.” 

Not exactly brimming with clarity or insight into her twilight struggle against the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, but wow, you could imagine this spinning into the worst Philip Marlowe novel that Raymond Chandler never wrote. 

Senators Rogers and Fann have an untapped skill as bad novelists, and I for one wish they’d entered these sentences into the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest, that annual homage to “It was a dark and stormy night,” and which honors the worst first sentences of unwritten novels. Here’s the grand prize winner for 2021, from Stu Duval of New Zealand:

A lecherous sunrise flaunted itself over a flatulent sea, ripping the obsidian bodice of night asunder with its rapacious fingers of gold, thus exposing her dusky bosom to the dawn’s ogling stare.

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