Saturday, 18 December 2010

Language and Down syndrome - a view via Google books

Google has recently introduced the ability to search the text of the books it has content for, consequently we can get an interesting insight into the use of language over the last two centuries and also an indication of how fashion has changed (click on the image to go to the full chart).

I decided to look at mentions of language for Down syndrome,for example:

This shows the relative decline of 'mongolism' and 'retard' and the increase in more use of the word 'idiot' as a non technical term with general social acceptability. Down syndrome unsurprisingly has grown in use since the 1970s as mongolism fell away.

What would appear more surprising however is the greater use of the term Down syndrome than any previous use.

I suspect this increase in mentions tracks screening in pregnancy, unfortunately most terms used in relation to this are too general to track accurately.

One additional comparison is interesting - if we add in autism in comparison, which far exceeds any recent mentions of Down syndrome:

Sunday, 19 September 2010

When the numbers don't add up

Before the autumn Green Paper on Special Educational Needs the press is ramping up the discussion on numbers. The Daily Mail often is first into the breech with stories that are then echoed by the rest of the establishment media. Their recent article (17th Sept. 2010) entitled 'The Special needs industry is a gigantic con. What pupils really need is to be taught properly' - the fundamental argument is one based upon criticism published by Mary Warnock some time ago, that figures before inclusion reported that 2% of pupils had SEN and post inclusion that the figure of 20% was reported.

In fact this, like much reporting about special educational needs is playing with language as much as the figures. The Guardian reported in 2009, that the figures for children with statements fell to 2.7% - much more in line with the numbers reported (but difficult to verify), back in the Warnock report in 1978. SEN and statements are blurred in the press reports, as the emphasis is to de-SEN the majority of the 20%.

With plans by the coalition government to further extend their 'Free Schools' and academy programmes, the last thing they need is for the private sector and non-profits looking at running schools to be put off by the seemingly large numbers of pupils who need additional support. Additional SEN education costs money, one of the reasons why schools have been accused of identifying SEN in these pupils in the first place.

In some ways, were it to be for a different agenda, then some of the debunking of the difference in SEN would be positive. The message that all children need extra support at some time in their school career. However the danger is that the message being pushed out in the media at the moment results in a further justification for segregation of the children designated as having 'real' SEN.

The current media coverage is going hand-in-hand with the government's consultation for their Green Paper - which already, pre-consultation, states that it will improve SEN provision by 'prevent[ing] the unnecessary closure of special schools'. In a 'for their own good' argument, the state is rehabilitating segregation on the purported rationale that it did the children who really and SEN a disservice and that inclusion was merely a liberal ideal too far, which mainstream schools were ill equipped to deal with and hurt all. In a re-writing of history Mary Warnock had written that it was inclusion in the shared undertaking of learning that was important, not the physical location of these children that mattered.

Yet without inclusion, physical inclusion in mainstream schools, what hope is there for inclusion in society itself.