One of my pet peeves with our special education system is the concept of community-based instruction (CBI). Such community trips are a regular part – actually a weekly part – of the curriculum for my children with special needs. And, I believe that is true for almost all school districts serving children with special needs.
Today Ashley is going to the Dollar Tree and to McDonalds for lunch. Trust me, Ashley already knows how to shop. She doesn’t need any further instruction in that skill! She also doesn’t eat anything McDonalds has to offer. We’re still working on her feeding program, and unfortunately, that program doesn’t include double cheeseburgers and fries. So what is Ashley going to get out of this particular CBI trip?
Yes, there will be opportunities for practicing language skills – and maybe even some orientation and mobility skills. There certainly won’t be many models for appropriate meal manners. Nothing against McDonalds, but it’s just not a place where most of us learn to use the correct utensil, where to put our napkin when the meal is finished, and how not to gulp our food.
At Dollar Tree, she is not going to learn how to find ingredients for a meal she can prepare, nor will she be likely to find any necessary clothing items she may need. She and her classmates will be shopping for classroom decorations. I agree that might be a fun way to spend a couple of hours of her school day, but I believe every hour counts when it comes to actual academic skills for Ashley and her classmates.
One of the largest gaps between education of children with significant disabilities and their regular education peers centers around this issue of community-based instruction, in my opinion.
Regular education students may take one field trip a year. Those regular education field trips strongly support the academic curriculum. The students prepare throughout the school year for the trip and normally have worksheets or testing which follow the field trip.
In special education, particularly those with significant disabilities – those who need the most time on academic pursuits just by virtue of the fact that it usually takes them a little longer to absorb the material – spend hours outside the classroom every week or every other week on trips that do not support their curriculum (or supports it just incidentally).
Some of my friends with children receiving special education services call this CBI concept the Mall Curriculum or the Bowling Curriculum. Personally, I am tired of it and want my children to have an EDUCATIONAL curriculum.