When I was going through school to be a teacher, one of the key phrases that was always bandied about was Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Specifically, the language is used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As you would imagine, a child with a disability is required by law to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment, or in a classroom with their peers without disabilities, this includes giving students interpreters, aids, or other services necessary to achieve this goal. The student will be removed from the classroom of their peers without disabilities when the severity of their disability prevents the goals of IDEA and their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from being achieved. It would seem that most educators agree with this model and state that it prepares students better for adult life and improves their socials skills, it also, more importantly, gives them a better education and presents them with higher expectations. The last two are key.
I am no longer a teacher in the traditional sense, but I do homeschool my children. Right now, we have two that are being homeschooled, but next year we will (most likely) have four, and this provides the ultimate in LREs. My wife and I are able to create IEPs for each one of our children and they are allowed to flourish. The children find topics that are exciting and important to them, and they delve into those topics on their own; my wife and I create little projects that encourage further exploration and real world application.
While I don’t always agree with the world of mainstream education, I do think this idea of LRE is a good one and should be applied generously to everyone, and by everyone, I mean every breathing being on the planet. There are a handful of reasons to employ LRE in education, but the most important are that it allows for a better education and presents students with higher expectations – the one begets the other.
How does a least restrictive environment produce higher expectations? Where do those higher expectations come from? It’s not the teacher, the teacher’s expectations for the student should remain the same regardless of the environment in which they are taught. It’s not the expectations of the other students, in fact, the other students probably have lower expectations for the disabled child. Rather, it is through self-imposed competition with their classmates. No student wants to be seen as the “dumb kid” or the “slow kid” and most students will do their best to keep up and stay within the norm.
When we apply this to the real world, it takes on a bit of the “Keeping up with the Smiths” mentality. Often we tend to live right around our means, sometimes we pull back and live a little more frugally, saving for the future, sometimes we get caught up and spend a little more than we should, but we’re often able to dial it back and get on course. There are certainly outliers – millionaires in wholly pants and stained t-shirts, and five button suit, fedora wearing, chapter 7 filing debtors – but they aren’t the norm. We all strive to fit in with those around us and adhere to the social norms in the public spheres we frequent.
The problem is, the current system of our politics is not in the vein of the Least Restrictive Environment. The State is constantly regulating everything, from how you run your business, to what shoes you have to wear on the job site, these regulations add restrictions. When we add restrictions and regulations, it makes it harder on small businesses and the individual to better their economic station.
Further, when the State hands out monies to businesses in the form of tax-breaks or assitances to the individual, we start to see restrictions being imposed. Those restrictions come in the form of a lack of competition. If I know that I can wait on the State to feed, clothe, medicate, and shelter me, I have no incentive to compete with others for a better way of life. If I know that my business is operating at a loss until the end of the year when I get a big tax-break from the State because I installed some solar panels, or I hired some minority workers, or that my business is just too big for the State to let fail, my incentive to improve starts to diminish. When I join a union, I know that every week, I will be paid a certain amount, I know that my job is fairly secure, and I am aware of the minimum amount of work I must do. I have no incentive to work harder for a raise or to work better to keep my job. I can do just enough to get by and while this may seem ideal, it lowers our expectations of ourself and with it goes some self value.
The Nanny State that is entrenched and upheld by the duopoly, the political system in the United States does not allow for the Least Restrictive Environment. There are tomes of regulations and restrictions on the individual and the business. A truly least restrictive environment in which competition can flourish and the individual can excel exist within the freemarket. If we all had to compete for jobs and paychecks we would get better at discussing contracts with bosses, we would become more efficient workers, we would have higher expectations for ourselves, because they would be attainable. We mandate teachers to teach students in the least restrictive environment so why is it any different for adults? Why do we recognize that students have higher expectations for themselves when restrictions and barriers are removed and they are forced to compete with other students? If you threw all the students into a pot, undoubtedly they would settle out and there would be striations, levels of students, some smarter, some not so smart, some would excel at auto-tech, some would excel at physical education and others at math, and it would be normal. If we threw all adults into a pot, the same striations would occur. Not every individual is cut out to be a CEO, and not every individual is cut out to be an auto-tech or a roofer, but you would have more movement. It would be easier for the roofer to go out and start his own roofing business and become a CEO, it would be easier for the beautician to start her own cosmetology school. Unfortunately, regulations create restrictions and limit this movement – usually due to licensing fees or zoning laws. In a more free world, we would all be living in our own least restrictive environments; if it’s good enough for the children, why not the adults?