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Leadership Of Private Agencies In Special Education

Creator: Gunnar Dybwad (author)
Date: April 17, 1963
Source: Friends of the Samuel Gridley Howe Library and the Dybwad Family

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-* Contribution to a panel discussion on Leadership in Special Education at the 41st Annual Convention of the Council for Exceptional Children, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 17, 1963-


-** Executive Director, National Association for Retarded Children-


Private agencies and in particular voluntary organizations have a major role to play in the development of special education. Indeed, one of the areas where special education is "special" relates to the role played by such organizations as the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults, the organizations in the field of the deaf and the blind, and in particular by voluntary organizations of the "consumer" type such as the United Cerebral Palsy Associations and the National Association for Retarded Children. The area of activity of these associations in the field of special education is rather broad. Most visible are activities relating to legislation and to administration. However, voluntary organizations often concern themselves also with standards of practice, with the adequacy of salaries and personnel benefits, and the quality of facilities and equipment. How, in the pursuit of these objectives, voluntary organizations interact with the field of special education in general and with individual school officials specifically depends very much on the quality of leadership on either side.


Natural leaders are scarce; good leadership must be recruited and then developed and it is in the nature of things today that there is no sure way to produce good leadership.


Hence, one of the frequently noted problems is an uneveness of leadership as between the public school and the voluntary association. The problem is apt to be more pronounced on the part of the associations which usually have a constitutionally prescribed periodic change of officers so that just at the time when four years of excellent leadership have successfully prepared the way for very effective cooperation between the two groups, an unstable or markedly less competent leader of the voluntary group may undo much of the gain. However, by the same token, effective competent leadership in the voluntary group may face disinterested or too limited counterparts in the public school system. It is a sign of good leadership to be able to work with a leader in the other group who is less competent and less adept.


In such situations very frequently the term "layman" is used to question the right of the person outside the school system to intrude upon that area. This derogatory use of the term "layman" is paralleled on the other side by a distorted use of the term "professionals." All too often, this kind of situation can lead to a stalemate.


One of the potentially most useful functions of the voluntary association is to bring into active interchange with those working in the field of special education persons with skills in other fields, persons with a good scientific background in another subject area, or just the intelligent "consumer." The use of the term "layman" in this context simply adds another stumbling block and it would be best if the term could be discontinued altogether.


It must be remembered in this context that many of the voluntary groups which interact with the field of special education have a professional staff of their own and the views of a volunteer leader which are greeted with strong reservations by the special educator as coming from a "layman" may have been the result of long and fruitful interchange between the volunteer leader and a professional staff member of the voluntary organization. That many of these associations have such a professional staff is often overlooked. Yet the fact that they set out to hire competent staff involves them rather directly with professional standards, training and performance.


In the specific field of mental retardation, it is only the national voluntary association which has a full time education consultant. There is no professional association with a full time mental retardation staff specialist.


To the extent that there exists a definite prejudice on the part of special educators and school administrators against the consumer type of voluntary association and an aversion to do business with them, we will find reference to the charge that such associations are "trouble makers." More politely, they are being referred to as pressure groups. Still it is a long recognized axiom that social change is preceded by social unrest and thus the "trouble" may well be an essential preparatory step for major change in policy, in the type of services rendered, or in the choice of clientele. The crux of the matter will rest, in such situations, on the quality of leadership of the voluntary organization.


Good leadership, for instance, implies careful timing as well as gauging of the extent to which one can press for change. To use a specific example: the National Association for Retarded Children definitely believes that all retarded children have a right to education in the public schools and that the public schools have a corresponding duty to provide such schooling and do not have the privilege of excluding any group of such children on the basis of some arbitrary limit relative to their performance on tests. Obviously this implies the principle of mandatory legislation. Yet, NARC has long recognized that it is a matter of judicious consideration on the part of the leadership in the several States as to when action is in order to press for the enactment of such mandatory legislation.

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