As a kid, I remember listening wide-eyed to my grandmother tell me about the “Dummy Room.” The Dummy Room was one of her first assignments as a young teacher in small-town Iowa in the 1930s. Like other Dummy Rooms across the country, it was the dumping ground for the school district’s hard cases.
The Dummy Room was supposed to be just for the “retards,” as they were widely called back then. But as Grandma quickly found out, many of the kids she’d been handed had no mental disabilities at all. Some just needed glasses. Others needed hearing aids. Many improved immediately after a few regular meals and proper grooming.
The road to the Dummy Room left scars on some of those kids. Frustrated (or sadistic) teachers had yelled at them or simply ignored them. Some of the kids had endured corporal punishment when they failed to respond to normal teaching methods. Thank goodness, I’ve often thought, that such treatment is a thing of the past. We now have special education and highly trained teachers. Ours is a more enlightened age.
Well, maybe. You could be excused for thinking otherwise after reading this editorial by U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. The piece starts off recounting the terrible story of a Texas boy who died accidentally at the hands of a teacher bent on restraining him. Sadly, Miller and Rodgers point out, there are plenty of other cases like this:
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, over the last 20 years there have been hundreds of allegations of school personnel using restraint and seclusion in abusive ways on children. It's happening disproportionately to students with disabilities, often at the hands of untrained staff. Many of these students bear haunting physical and emotional scars. And in a number of cases, students have died.
Kids involved in incidents like these are often the toughest or most disruptive students. In many cases, it is easy to see how a teacher might act in self-defense or try to silence a constant source of annoyance. But sometimes that leads to tragic overreactions.
Miller and Rodgers have been pushing to create federal guidelines that would let the states tailor their own specific rules on restraint and seclusion. That seems very reasonable and long overdue.