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Objectives for the Special Class in the

Public Schools*


Director Bureau of Special Education, Pennsylvania State Department of Public Instruction

Author's Note: This paper has to do with the educational objectives in a special class for subnormal children-those of the borderline and moron groups. It is not a discussion of the work of special classes for restoration cases (adjustment classes), or for recent immigrants (steamer classes), or for incorrigible children (disciplinary classes). A few imbeciles of high grade may be included; but most imbeciles and all idiots have such a low degree of educability that they are not properly enrolled in school at all.


HE first and axiomatic principle that should govern the organization of all school work is that it should be adapt

ed to the capacity and needs of the pupils in content, method and expected rate of progress. A uniform curriculum that can effect a classification of pupils only by frequent failure to promote and less frequent extra promotions has produced in our schools a serious problem of retardation and overageness. This is discouraging to pupils and expensive for taxpayers. The standard elementary curriculum requires six years for the average pupil to complete five grades of school work, since it is standardized for pupils of superior rather than average ability under present teaching conditions. Even where differentiated curricula are organized for superior, average and inferior pupils, a group of pupils will still be found at the lower end of the intelligence scale who can not make satisfactory progress even in the curriculum for the inferior group. The better this differentiation of curriculum is organized, however, the smaller this number of cases of low educability will be; but it is seldom less than one and one-half per cent to two per cent of the elementary-school enrollment.

The first objective of the special class is to adapt school work to this subnormal group. To gain this end, the academic work must be of a very elementary character, and competency in the three R's beyond that of the standard fourth grade will seldom be attained. Steps of progress must be small. The material must be concrete rather than abstract. Much that will be found in the standard curriculum for these first four grades must be omitted. Motor and sense training for younger children and prevocational work in manual and industrial

* Read before the Mental Hygiene Division of the National Conference of Social Work, Toronto, June 30, 1924. Reprinted from Mental Hygiene.

arts for older pupils should receive a larger share of time and effort in the daily program.

The mental-age levels of these pupils will range approximately from four and one-half and five to nine and ten years. But even pupils with the same mental-age scores in the Stanford-Binet and other standard tests will vary in their ability for different kinds of school work. Therefore, although group instruction is continued, the class must be small enough to allow a large amount of individual attention.

The second objective of the special class is a psycho-educational analysis of each pupil. Where possible this should begin with a careful individual examination, in which the school physician's report, the previous school record, if any, and the main facts of family history, home environment and individual development should be reviewed and studied. Interpretation is facilitated by a careful psychological examination-not just a Stanford-Binet mental-age result, but an all-round mental analysis. Remediable physical defects should receive attention. The co-operation and intelligent good will of the home should be secured. The psycho-educational analysis should determine a tentative classroom procedure and should be followed up by diagnostic teaching by a trained teacher.

The health education of the pupils of a special class, as in the case of normal children, is too frequently considered an added activity rather than an integral part of the educational program. Through well directed physical exercises, games, supervised play, folk dancing and the like, the pupils not only gain health and physical vigor, and improve in motor coordination, but acquire self-control, a sense of fair play and ability to get on with other children. In the formation of habits of personal cleanliness and attention to other matters of personal hygiene, they can compete on almost equal terms with normal children of the

same ages. Developed in ways suited to their mental handicap, much of the content of the regular course in health education can be adapted to their needs. A large portion of this content is within the comprehension of eightyear mentality. No one of the health habits that are emphasized in such a course need be omitted. Moron girls can learn not only to know the difference between wholesome and unwholesome foods, the importance of fresh air, and why we must have a pure water supply, but can learn to bathe a baby, to care for young children and to practice some of the simpler forms of first-aid work. Health education that will carry over into the home and into adult life is an important objective in special-class work.

No special class should ignore the importance of mental hygiene. Both preventive and corrective work can be done. An even temper, a pleasing disposition and responsive personality count for more in social adaptation, both in school and adult life, than long division or English grammar. Extreme shyness, emotional instability, sullenness and the like, may be corrected in most cases. To this end, no matter how much individual teaching seems to be needed, there must be a large amount of group activity so motivated that the children participate eagerly and happily. A cheerful, sunny schoolroom with plenty of pictures, plants and pets, if possible, a varied program with short periods for work that requires sustained attention, a well dressed teacher with a well modulated voice, all play their part in this mental-hygiene work. Pupils who do not respond to favorable conditions of this type should be studied carefully. In many cases a psychiatric examination is desirable. Problem children may be truly psychopathic, but their difficulties are more often found to be a combination of lack of intelligent home training and the failure of the school to understand them. Those of the subnormal group who fail to make satisfactory social adaptations as adults are more frequently the ones described as "emotionally unstable" or of "inadequate personality." One of the major functions of the special class is to stabilize these boys and girls.

The unskilled or semi-skilled occupations that these boys and girls enter on leaving school at the age of sixteen are of so varied a character that it is not usually practicable to attempt strictly vocational training. The

trade skills, except for the increased efficiency that comes from practice on the job, are not complicated or difficult in most of these occupations. The industrial arts work of the special class should therefore be primarily prevocational rather than vocational. Wood work for boys and household arts for girls will develop some manual dexterity which may be expected to transfer to most of the occupations that are likely to be open to these children upon leaving school. Exceptions may be made where a locality has only one or two industries into which these boys or girls go. Sewing, cooking and the care of young children are more or less vocational for girls who will live at home, or marry and have homes of their own. But the primary objective of these industrial arts in the special class as prevocational training is to cultivate an attitude of work-following directions, punctuality, dependability, cheerfully sustained effort, interest in the job and the like. Many moron girls can learn how to run a stocking machine or tend a loom in two weeks and compete successfully with normal operatives, if this attitude of work has been well established in the special class.

In smaller communities the special-class teacher, and in cities a trained social worker (visiting teacher), should be responsible for some guidance and supervision of these boys and girls in the community after they leave school at sixteen. Local industries should be studied to find the types of work that these boys and girls can do. Some placement work and even training on the job should be done. If the teacher has made the contact with the home that she should while the pupil is in school, it will be easy through occasional visits to the home to impress upon the parents their responsibility in home supervision. Whenever the pupil is clearly unfit for marriage and independent home life, this fact should be made clear to parents. Whenever the home is an undesirable influence, institutional care or supervision by some welfare agency in a boarding home should be arranged. The priest or workers in the church to which the pupil belongs should be interested. Much of the success of the special class as a substitute for segregation in an institution, in the case of mental defectives, will depend upon this guidance and supervision after the child leaves school.

Private schools for subnormal children from wealthy families have taught us one thing

of great importance. It is one of their primary objectives to make the subnormal child inconspicuous by making him as much like other people as possible. Courteous manners, becoming but inconspicuous clothing, clearly intelligible speech, erect carriage and normal gait all count. Children who do not seem queer make social adaptations more readily than those less carefully trained. The well behaved child, whose rating on a social conformity scale-manners, morals, speech and conduct generally is high, can overcome much of the handicap of his deficiencies on the intellectual scale. Much of the training in good citizenship of the standard curriculum has its place in the special class. Speech-correction work must be patient and persistent. Awkwardness can be overcome by physical exercises, eurythmics and dancing. Moral training can go far without any clear comprehension of moral principles. In other words, the special class can do much to make the subnormal child grow up "just like everybody else."

The last objective of the special class that I shall mention has little to do with the pupils in the class. One aim of the special class should be to influence the trend of elementary education for all children by directing attention to the needs of normal children who differ among themselves in so many ways. Superintendents tell me that starting a special class in a school district stimulates other teachers to make the child and not the curriculum the central fact in school work.

Let me summarize these objectives of the special class:

1. An adapted curriculum. Trained teachers in well equipped rooms, by modifying the standard curriculum, give these children an opportunity that is not possible in the regular grades.

2. Mental analysis. A thorough analysis of each child must be made. Physical condition, family history and home background, as well as differences in intelligence, personality and emotional stability, must be considered. Teaching must continue this diagnostic process.

3. Health education. The development of physique and of health habits is both possible and desirable.

4. Mental hygiene. Mental as well as physical hygiene can be corrective and preventive. Emotional stability and normal social reactions in simple life situations should be sought.

5. Prevocational training. Much of the

academic work of the standard curriculum should be replaced by industrial and household arts. This work is prevocational rather than vocational.

6. Guidance and supervision. Responsibility for the mental defective should not cease when he leaves school at sixteen.

7. Conformity. Well behaved boys and girls with courteous manners and clear speech are less conspicuous than others, and more likely to succeed.

8. Influence on school organization and method. The special class can and should influence the organization and method of all elementary school work by emphasizing the fact that schools are made for children and not children for schools.


CORA FRENCH BOULTON Pennsylvania Field Secretary, National Kindergarten Association, State Chairman Kindergartens, Penna, P. T. A. "Education moves ahead!" is a favorite slogan of the day, one that has become almost trite. It does move ahead, but how fast is it moving?

We have a vast and steadily growing army of children eagerly pushing forward to take our places in the world. These future citizens of ours have an exacting task before them, for on them devolve the sanity, beauty, moral balance and efficiency of the next generation. Each year living conditions become more difficult, social contacts more intricate, economic problems more acute. Never before has it been so vitally essential that our children should be provided with kindergartens in order that their minds, bodies and spirits may be developed and trained, and the foundation of normal habits and reactions be laid as early as possible.

Before the war Belgium had given kindergartens to over half of her children between three and five; in our country only one in nine of our children of kindergarten age is receiving kindergarten training, and in Pennsylvania only one in fourteen!

At the present rate of increase it will be exactly four hundred and twenty years before kindergartens are provided for all of our children, and then only in case the population does not increase!

Can we not speed up and move ahead a little faster? Can we not give our children more kindergartens and prepare them for the stupendous task before them?


An Educational Gold Mine

University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa.

HE average school assembly is a well organized affair in distribution of pupils and teachers about the auditorium. Teachers are usually assigned sections to patrol or are distributed through the audience in order to insure tranquility, so that the principal may continue his sermon without stopping to deliver a parenthetical exhortation to "keep quiet," to send some offender to the office; and that he may not have to apologize afterwards to visitors for the noisiness of his school. Occasionally too, there are a few extra seats off to one side to which the socially inclined pupil may be banished, if necessary. The principal and faculty assume that there will be trouble so they prepare for it in advance. The whole room takes on the atmosphere of a prison. No matter whether or not the program is interesting, the pupils must sit and endure it and say nothing. If they do not, the eagle-eyed guards will be upon them instantly.

And the program? The usual assembly program goes something like this:

Call to order.

Hymn (all pupils are urged to sing) Scripture reading and Lord's Prayer. Hymn


Speech by prominent townsman, "The Fundamentals of Constitutional Law" "Piety and Truthfulness; Twin Elements of Good Citizenship" or some other topic which would anaesthetize both faculty and pupils.

Announcements (pupils are urged to give close attention now) Dismissal

One of the outstanding characteristics of adolescence is physical and mental restlessness. Yet in the name of education we do the most absurd thing, psychologically,-put the pupil into a seat and expect him to remain quiet for half or three-quarters of an hour through an uninteresting assembly program. Naturally a patrol and guard system is necessary. If we began at the other end and put our efforts into making the programs interesting, good behavior would result with less trouble and friction.

A year and a half ago we spoke to a Junior High School assembly in New Jersey. The principal desired that we should see his "discipline" so he piloted us to the platform before the pupils entered. At the proper signal


the pupils marched in, silently and in step. Each row, after it had marched into its proper section stood facing the walls until all were in. When all were in the principal shouted "Face" -and they faced, "Sit," and they sat in uniWhile seated they folded their arms as the soldier sits at "attention." After the usual dose of devotions the speaker was introduced in a manner that made him feel cemeteries and sepulchres. What an atmosphere in which to speak! We did manage, among other things, to make the pupils laugh a bit and we were really afraid that the principal later would accuse us of being irreligious or sacreligious or of breaking down his morale and discipline. After the speech he arose in his authority, bawled "Rise"-they rose, "Face"— they faced, "March”—and the slaves marched out. He was "disciplining" his 1,800 pupils. That to him was the main purpose of the assembly.

A few weeks later we spoke to another school assembly in another state. All of the correspondence arranging for this speech was carried on by a pupil committee. We were met at the train by this committee and taken to the high school. The committee introduced us to the principal and then, since we had an hour before assembly time, took us around the building, introducing us to teachers, showing us interesting work, equipment, etc. At the end of the hour we were taken to the auditorium and there introduced to another committee which handled the meeting. One pupil led the singing, another, the devotionals and the third introduced the speaker and thanked him very courteously at the end of his speech. Only these three pupils and the speaker were on the platform. The principal and faculty sat off by themselves and not among the pupils. The best of "order" prevailed.

The first principal was robbing his pupils of educational opportunities. The second was providing them. The first principal was a warden, a policeman, whose idea of assembly was that it was a sort of "church" where the boys and girls would be made good by sitting patiently and listening to sermonettes exhorting them to be "good." Moreover he was educating his youngsters in things which are done only in prisons. All of this would have to be unlearned some day. "Administrative ex

pedience" could not justify it. The school exists for educational purposes and not for "administrative expedience." The second principal was in the educating business. He understood educational principles. He had a harder job than the first but he was after bigger things. He knew the possible values of the assembly and he tried to attain these values. Of course no assembly could be justified on the ground that it gave practice to six pupils in conducting it. In this case the suggested means of arranging and conducting it was typical of the whole program of handling this activity.

The father of high school assembly was the college chapel. The older colleges prepared for the ministry and held a religious service every day. Times are changing, however, and the "chapel" is fast giving away to "assembly" or "auditorium period" as school folks realize the wonderful educational opportunities of this type of school activity.

In the main there are two purposes of the assembly period. The first is that it is an administrative device. Through announcements and the like it makes for a common basis of knowledge, rules, traditions, which means unification of public opinion, and school spirit. This administrative aspect is important but not nearly so significant as the educational phase. How many assemblies are largely rccitals of announcements, long and confusing! The proper place for such announcements is in the home room, or smaller group, where the pupil, if he does not hear, or cannot understand, can ask and have his difficulty cleared up. The main value of the assembly is educational. It should instill the common ideals and virtues indirectly, by dramatization, rather than by sermonizing and moralizing about them. It should supplement and motivate classroom work, develop self expression, widen interests of both pupils and teachers, correlate the interests of the school and community and be a place for the recognition of worthy achievement. Good organization and administration will do wonders in helping to accomplish these ends.

The assembly should be carefully planned. Frequently the assembly is not planned until just about time for it to begin. Little wonder that the pupils have to be patrolled.

One plan that is meeting with success is that of having an "Assembly Committee" composed of several pupils and two or three teachers. This committee is responsible for

all assembly programs for the entire year or semester. It canvasses the school, surveys material and abilities and makes up its programs from available material. It may assign one program or one day to each of the more important clubs or organizations about the school, classes, home rooms, etc., and thus start competition among groups to see which can put on the best program. Organizations are scheduled at times suitable to them and are entirely responsible for the program. Such a program should be reviewed by this committee before it is staged. Of course other attractions, speakers, musicians, etc., are often available on short notice and the principal may secure these, if it is inexpedient for the committee to make the arrangements. The principal will act through the committee wherever possible. Postponement of regularly scheduled programs should be very infrequent but it is justifiable occasionally if a fine outside number is then only available. A serious study of the situation can do much to make the assembly interesting enough that teacherpatrolmen will not be needed.

It is safe to say that there are far too many outside performers at school assemblies. There should always be a few of such. They represent high development in art, music, law, education and travel. But the majority of programs should come from the school and its work. There is a wealth of material in every school out of which good programs can be made. Having the pupils put on the programs increases interest in two ways; in the first place, the pupils are interested in what their friends do and second, they are interested in the things that happen about their own school. The following list of topics and subjects is merely suggestive of what can be done along this line. Note how many of these topics could be handled by the pupils themselves.

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