The concept of what is ‘normal’ has changed over time as society has changed. This applies in any field one cares to think about. What is important to us as teachers and educators is the concept of the ‘normal’ child.
This too has changed over time, especially since the introduction of compulsory education in the 19th century. The idea was always that students must conform to some concept of ‘normal’ to receive the best in education. Unfortunately, for most of the time those students who did not conform to what was expected as ‘normal’ behaviour did not receive fair treatment and often suffered punishment or expulsion. In the process they also failed to receive an education and so left school poorly equipped to take their proper part in adult society.
Even today, education authorities have some idealised picture of the ‘normal’ student and direct the best efforts and resources at the education of those students. Any child not ‘normal’ suffers. This situation is changing, although it looks very patchy in parts.
There are some efforts to deal will children not seen as ‘normal’ with special classes. However, these ways of dealing with such children often seem to the outsider as inadequate, or, worse still, they sometimes mark the child as abnormal in a pejorative way, and treat them as such.
One of the ways in which children can be differentiated is by their being ‘gifted’. This is a category that is sometimes difficult to define. Most efforts in the past came down to differences in social class or hereditary. Most modern researchers agree that a child being gifted in one area does not mean that s/he will be gifted in all areas. A child that is gifted in maths may be no different from others in music.
There is some disagreement on what makes a child gifted but it is most often put down to interest in a subject, encouragement from home or a psychological inclination. One of the main problems is that no-one is yet sure how to measure these things in a way that is particularly meaningful or predictable. Whatever causes them, gifted children need special attention. They are actually being discriminated against since they aren’t being educated to suit their needs.
The other type of child seen as not ‘normal’ is the disruptive or troublesome one. These children are often diagnosed with some psychological malfunction such ADHD or similar. They are then put on medication to stop them disrupting the class. The trouble then is that many do not actively take part in the class because they are incapable of paying attention due to being tranquilised.
Thus they are not getting an education. They are merely being kept quiet so that the other children can be taught. These children are also being discriminated against since many of them are not receiving much at all in the way of education.
There is some disagreement as to just how many children need special education. Most children seem to cope fairly well with being treated as ‘normal’ or ‘average’ and being in an ordinary class, but whether or not they are all getting the best in education or whether some or many are receiving less than their due is unknown. Some way of testing this situation is needed to better find out.
It may be that many more children than previously thought need some extra support. Current research into education methods and teaching are trying to resolve the problem of the child who does not fit the idea of the ‘normal’ student in various ways. It has been a problem since formal schooling began, but it is not yet solved. Only when it is solved and when education can be fitted to the individual student will everyone receive the best education to which they are entitled.
The two types of children mentioned above as not fitting in with the current idea of ‘normal’ need special education. This would involve special schools and/or classes where the teachers are specially trained to deal with them. In some cases this might involve each teacher dealing with only one child.
Unfortunately, the powers that control the education purse strings would baulk at the expense of such special treatment. Thus the discrimination against children who are not considered ‘normal’ students will continue. That the current system of education does not prepare these students for their future adult life appears not to be a major consideration of those who design and run the current education system.
But ‘normal’ is a culturally and temporally changeable characteristic. It was different in the past and will surely be different in the future. Just how it will change in the future is problematic and probably indeterminable, until it happens. What ‘normal’ will mean in the future and how it will change is unknowable at the present.
However, what is sure is that the education system must change in step with what is seen as ‘normal’ at any particular time if it is to provide the best and appropriate education to all children. Those who do not fit the ‘normal’ mould must be treated in ways that compensate for their differences to ensure that they get the best education.