Education Letter to the Editor

‘Kicking Down Barns’: In Special Education, Complexities Matter

March 22, 2005 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Kalman R. Hettleman’s diatribe against special education (“The Illusion and Broken Promises of Special Education,” Commentary, March 9, 2005.) is fundamentally flawed.

Mr. Hettleman tosses away students with “severe disabilities” in one sentence, saying that high standards should not necessarily be enforced. His disgust is reserved for that part of the system that deals with children who have learning disabilities, considering them ready, willing, and able to partipate fully in the current educational world of standards and tests. At least they would be, he argues, if schools had trained personnel who knew research-based instruction, were versed in learning programs and methods, and were able to set high goals.

Mr. Hettleman comes finally to the matter of underfunding, and then jumps right back onto the backs of educators who are “slow to embrace research that discredits low expectations.” He goes on to praise “the great majority who toil heroically.”

All this rant accomplished was to make me dizzy. Why? The most dangerous kind of statements are the ones that are sometimes true. Mr. Hettleman is right, sometimes. He should know better than to think he has grasped some great, fundamental truths from a series of sometimes-correct statements.

He is dealing with very complex issues and is apparently out of his league, or at least out of his field. Just for starters, many students with learning disabilities are among the most difficult and hard to teach of any students. Their disabilities can in fact be extremely severe. The complexity of their needs may even outstrip educational issues associated with students who have severe cognitive disabilities, dismissed earlier by Mr. Hettleman. For many years, educators have questioned whether or not the full constellation of symptoms and needs that accompany the child with learning disabilities can ever be effectively dealt with in the context of a public school.

I can’t help thinking of an old adage. Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes an architect to build one. To those who know little of the complexity of educating children with learning disabilities, Mr. Hettleman’s remarks may have some meaning. To those of us who know what is involved, his remarks are worthless.

Laurence M. Lieberman

Boston, Mass.


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: October 11, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: September 27, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: September 20, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education From Our Research Center What's on the Minds of Educators, in Charts
Politics, gender equity, and technology—how teachers and administrators say these issues are affecting the field.
1 min read
Stylized illustration of a pie chart
Traci Daberko for Education Week