4. History of School Speech-Language Pathology


 The end of the Great Depression and financial hardships in schools occurred with the onset of World War II.  Women worked in factories and Rosie the Riveter was a popular emblem.  The war brought the return of revenues and optimism.  “During World War II (1939-1945), many servicemen developed speech defects as a result of war injuries. The need for speech rehabilitation services attracted large numbers of men and women to the profession of speech therapy. Many speech clinics opened, and research increased into speech problems and their causes.”  http://www.a2zpsychology.com


The campaign in the early 1900s to frighten Americans of handicapped people lead to laws excluding them from schools. They were excluded the way black children were blocked by Jim Crow laws. Parent advocacy groups began to fight against the government to promote education rights.  “Parents, who had begun forming special education advocacy groups as early as 1933, became the prime movers in the struggle to improve educational opportunities for their children” (Rethinking Schools, 2002).

Parent Advocacy

The way forward for the handicapped in schools centered around the rights of the mentally retarded. It was a catch-all category including children who were deaf-blind-retarded, brain damaged, palsied, abused and emotionally disturbed.  It contained autistic and epileptic children. Improved research and testing helped sort out subgroups but still parents saw weaknesses in school programs.  Typically retarded children were placed in “self contained” classrooms. While they were now being brought into schools, segregation continued. Critics spoke of “warehousing” the retarded.

Speech correction and special education teachers emphasized “naming” as a key cognitive skill to develop. Mentally retarded children practiced lists of nouns accompanied by picture cards. Linguistic science had not come into play in 1950.  The use of repetitive tasks held back mentally retarded learners. They sat silently for long periods of time without stimulation and social interaction.  

It was not uncommon that school rooms for retarded pupils were in old in under-used areas, across the road in dilapidated buildings, or in out of the way temporary structures.  Often there were handicapped access problems and difficulties using the playgrounds.  Even though the retarded were in school there was the feeling they were locked away.

Speech therapists went to these  rooms and adapted to the learning settings in style and procedure.  They did not take on the peppy behavior displayed in the elementary schools.  They were more somber to fit the occasion.  The speech therapists of the 1950s and 1960s were quite adapted to the practices maintained in typical schools.

Civil Rights Movement

Outside of typical schools civil rights was in the air and on the move. “The history of special education in the U.S. began after World War II, when a number of parent-organized advocacy groups surfaced” (History Special Education). Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka (1954) ended separate schooling for black children, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended Jim Crow laws. President proposed his Great Society legislation which included funds for poor school children. Implications for the rights of handicapped children in schools were evident to Americans, especially parents.  The principle of civil rights protections for excluded groups was easily generalized.

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