Core Curriculum-The Right to be Different
Phil Hatlen, Co-Chair, Advisory Board, National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities
Revised January 10, 1996
(*The term "including those with additional disabilities" will not be repeated, as it should be assumed under the definition of "blind and visually impaired students.")
Some years ago, a reporter asked a prominent blind woman, "What is it that blind people would want from society?" The woman replied, "The opportunity to be equal and the right to be different."
As Lowenfeld so graphically portrayed in The Changing Status of the Blind: From Separation to Integration (Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, 1975), opportunities for equality grew tremendously in the 20th Century.
"In the field of education then the move from separation to integration is evident. Educational provisions for blind children, the administration of these educational provisions, and teacher preparation, all moved from special or separated arrangements to integrated ones. This move has been consistently spearheaded and supported by legislation...". (Lowenfeld, 1975, p. 117.)
It was Lowenfeld's belief that the American Creed (all of us are equal under the law) has resulted in educational integration for blind and visually impaired students. Integration with their sighted peers, which, for visually impaired students, began at the turn of the century, has provided these students with the opportunity to be equal.
All of us - parents, consumers, professionals, and others - continue to promote equal opportunities for blind persons. But how do we feel, and how do we react, to "...the right to be different...?" What did this woman mean by two remarks that seem diametrically opposite? Perhaps she meant that print and braille are equal, but very different; that the need for independent travel is similar for sighted and blind persons, but the skills are learned very differently by blind people; and that concepts and learning that occur for sighted people in a natural, spontaneous manner require different learning experiences for blind persons. Perhaps she was emphasizing that blind persons should have the opportunity to learn the same knowledge and skills as sighted people, but that their manner of learning will be different.
Historically, many educators behaved as though they did not believe that blind and visually impaired students had "...the right to be different." The integration (soon to be called "mainstreaming," then "inclusion") of blind students into regular classrooms in great numbers, beginning in the 1950s, brought with it an era of belief that the only need a visually impaired student had was adapted academic material so that she/he could learn in the regular classroom. The only difference acknowledged by many teachers (indeed, the profession itself), was the media and materials used for learning.
Few, if any, changes or additions were made to the curricula offered these students. Therefore, early efforts to include visually impaired students in regular classrooms sometimes attempted to provide "...the opportunity to be equal..." without recognizing the student's "...right (and need) to be different..."
It has been demonstrated that curriculum developed for sighted students is available for, and success in its mastery is achievable by, visually impaired students. If the educational system provides students who have a necessary foundation of experiential learning with appropriate educational materials, and if there are excellent support services, including qualified and credentialed teachers of visually impaired students and orientation and mobility instructors, then the existing curriculum for sighted students will provide the visually impaired student the "...opportunity to be equal...".
However, "...the right to be different..." clearly implies that there is more to education for visually impaired students than the exact same curriculum provided to sighted students. This added curriculum that is specific to visually impaired students is also well-known, but has not been diligently implemented. Could it be that parents and professionals have no problem with the "...opportunity to be equal...", but have difficulty with "...the right to be different..."?
It has not been an easy transition for professionals in education for visually impaired learners to accept the concept that visually impaired students have educational needs that are in addition to curriculum required for sighted students. Many factors have made this transition difficult. Some professionals are loathe to give up the belief that there is any difference between the educational needs of sighted students and visually impaired students. Others have difficulty accepting the idea that an expanded curriculum is the responsibility of educators. Still others find it impossible to add to their teaching responsibilities because of time and/or size of caseload.
Though our profession has documentation and ample evidence of the need for a "Core Curriculum for Blind and Visually Impaired Children and Youths, Including those with Additional Disabilities," it has not been uniformly recognized, accepted, or implemented. Goal 8 of the National Agenda will directly address this issue and bring educators and parents together to ensure the blind and visually impaired children and youths of the nation an appropriate education based on this expanded core curriculum.