NOW with Alex Wagner | February 20, 2013
>>> the individuals with disabilities education act of 1975 declared that to improve learning for children with developmental disabilities , schools had to ensure access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom. nearly 40 years later, while one in every 88 children is born on the autism spectrum , students with learning disabilities are still struggling to be included. in many schools, even if students spend part of the day with their peers, they are regularly pulled out of class. one school in new york is making the idea of full inclusion a reality and alongside it, teaching lessons of compassion and self empowerment .
>> i am doing a paper on jfk, so he's definitely one of my heros.
>> every year, the 104 students at the ideal school in manhattan create their very own civil rights museum.
>> this bulletin board supports our civil rights museum.
>> they are at the forefront of the fight for a more equitable society.
>> that is not a nice sun.
>> i think they love hearing about people who struggled and then also overcame something.
>> many of the students are overcoming their own challenges. the founding principles of the school are based on inclusion and diversity. children with different levels of neurological ability, who may have autism, downs syndrome , or a physical ability.
>> when we talk about inclusion, what we're talking about is diversity. that's the essence of the entire school . that's the philosophy that underlying everything we do.
>> audra zuckerman is the co-founder of the school . she has a seventh grader with down syndrome.
>> i think one of the things they do really well here is they speak about injustice. they teach the kids about situations in history or contemporary situations where people are not treated fairly or differently because of their differences.
>> with lessons tailored to each students' level of learning, teachers focus on equality and diversity.
>> what struck me is here the students are learning about robin island, nelson mandela , martin luther king .
>> we believe every single child is going to change the world , and that's our philosophy, and if that's our philosophy, we need to give examples of people who have changed the world.
>> ideal's curriculum and philosophy is to foster compassion.
>> we have, like, a life skills class on fridays. one of my goals was to use what i learned here to not fight with my brothers, my sister. aurora, andy the tragic newtown, a national dialogue is under way about education and mental health . ideal's model offers students a kind of social education .
>> if i'm respecting you and who you are as a learner, then a child with downsyndrome in my class, that's a person to me, my friend, not a kid with downs syndrome .
>> the school encourages students to seek out those who are different, rather than stigmatize them.
>> they are curious when someone looks different, talks different, but at least here they can ask those questions.
>> as the nation tries to make our society more just, the ideals school raises profound questions about how we look at differences and how we respond.
>> i think that just because someone's smaller or different than you, then you shouldn't be mean to them.
>> do you ever get involved if you see something like that happening?
>> maybe not physically, but i definitely try to be an upstander instead of a bystander bystander.
>> the ideals school is private but made financial aid a key part of their mission to make sure it remains diverse in all senses of the word. dr. richard rosenthal joins us now. thanks for coming on.
>> thank you.
>> richard, how important is it for children with differences, neurological differences, to have an education that is both social and academic?
>> well, the reality is that kids with disabilities are kids. if you're going to have a floor, everybody deserves, in a sense, the opportunity to develop themselves as far as they can go. this school is really quite a remarkable and somewhat unique in the fact that it offers the diversity sort of in your face, and i love the focus on compassion, because what that does is it reduces interpersonal distance and it allows people to really be friends, to connect, to be real with one another rather than object fiing someone as someone with a disability and not so much. it really fosters a much more civil approach and in doing so lays the foundation where people can actually move towards their objectives in terms of their best emotional and intellectual growth.
>> howard, seer and knower of all things new york , "the new york times" in september of 2011 talked about autism and i'll quote from the article, "some advocates of neurodiversity call this the next civil rights frontier. society, they say, stands to benefit from accepting people whose brains work differently."
>> well, the principles behind a public education that we've always claimed to in this country is every kid should be able to go to school , get an education, and rise to their god-given promise. we excluded lots of people over the years from schools. we are slowly making progress in this arena, and kids who otherwise would have been shunted off to special schools in different buildings are now being in the same buildings as other kids and even in the same classrooms. we are not as far along as we would like to be towards that goal, but much farther than we were ten years ago, certainly, 20 years ago, and i expect in ten years, 20 years, you will have this kind of full integration in most of our classrooms.
>> that's happening in the public schools in new york . this is a private school , obviously, but introducing neurodiversity.
>> depending on the condition of the kid or the kids' abilities or talents, you have kids in the classrooms for part of the day and another part of the day they'll go for some tutoring or other services. that's been the way that the education system has worked for a long time. there's always been opportunities for some kids to come out of the classroom and get some additional assistance. this is the next civil rights movement .