Having gone to a mainstream school from the mid 90's up until 2005, and then completing my high school education in a school for the blind, I definitely have perspective on both sides of this issue.
I've heard that mainstreaming is handled much better these days. I sure hope so, because my experience, in a tiny school where no one had ever dealt with a blind student before, at least not in the elementary school I attended, was damaging on many levels. it's a shame that the term bullying gets thrown around so casually these days, and has been diluted from its true meaning, because what I experienced there on a daily basis was far from a laughing matter. Having said that, I at least knew that I was being held to the same standards as every other student, and was, in fact, called out frequently for things like not doing my homework while the class clowns and worst bullies got away with everything. The reason I went to the school for the blind in the first place was due to an incident which I definitely don't want to go into, but suffice to say it was a result of the culmination of over 10 years of pent up rage directed towards teachers, students, and even my family, who never supported me in all that I was going through either. They were against me going to the school for the blind at all, because they were afraid that it would cause me to become lazy, and that I wouldn't amount to anything once I left. That turned out to be true, sadly, but they really had no choice after the incident that got me kicked out of the public school I had attended. It was their easiest option, because otherwise we would have had to move.
There are many, many things that I could tell you about my time there, not all of them completely negative, but I'll stick to a couple of major points.
One of the very first things I noticed, within days of being there, was how unprofessional many of the staff members were. Teachers, and teachers' aides, would congregate in the doorways of classrooms while we were all doing an assignment, and talk loudly about their problems with other students. More times than not, said students were sitting right there. I was horrified at this practice. Not even my worst public school experiences could hold a candle to that. So, me being 15 years old and thus stupid and rebellious, I confronted two of the worst offenders one day after class. I might as well have put a target on my back for the rest of my time there, because after I did this, not only did they not change, they, and other teachers as well, actively encouraged students to shun me. not that I would have gotten along with most of them anyway; I had never learned to socialize properly due to being treated like either a leper or a punching bag at public school, but it was just the fact that they couldn't stand to be wrong, so they made me out to be this horrible person who would lead anyone who dared to come near me down a bad path. I did have a few friends, who mostly were misfits themselves for one reason or another, usually because they couldn't stand the school either, but I know they took a lot of crap for hanging around me. I'll be forever grateful to them for standing by me; they really did not have to do that and sacrifice their reputations for me.
I'll give one example that illustrates what these teachers would do. So one year, we were going to have one of our school dances. I don't remember which one it was, but I think it might have been the Halloween dance. Anyway, they didn't want to hire a deejay for this particular event for some reason, so they asked for a student to volunteer to do it. I did, naturally, because I did, and still do, have an extensive library of music covering tons of genres. Although admittedly it was much smaller in those days. So they told me they would think about it. A few days later, a friend of mine said he'd heard two teachers' aides talking about who was going to provide the music for the dance. One of them said I'd asked if I could, and the other said, "No way that's happening, she would just play devil worshipping music the whole time." They knew damn well that my friend was standing right there and would tell me they'd said it, too.
I could go on for hours and hours about this. I could talk about the guy who verbally and sexually harassed me for years, but no one would do anything about it because they felt sorry for him due to his additional disabilities, which were not mental in nature, so he knew exactly what he was doing. Or maybe the fact that, if you lived in the dorms, as i did, you weren't allowed to sit outside, let alone go anywhere, unless it had been preapproved by your parents and the staff weeks in advance. Don't even get me started about the disastrous pilot project that they called apartment living, either, where you were supposed to learn how to take care of your own apartment, but actually caused me to go into a severe depression, which one certain staff member literally laughed in my face about, no less.
The only other thing I will say at this point is that I think it's true that academics suffer at these schools, or at least they did where I was. I remember hearing, although I can't recall who said it, that it was because the school was comprised of mainly students with additional disabilities, they got special exceptions and were not held to as rigorous of standards by the state. So the pacing was definitely slow, but it was more than that. Most nights, we either didn't have homework at all, or we got study halls, and while I can appreciate that some students did struggle with the workload, I could basically get my assignments done in 5 minutes. I don't say this to boast, because I'm really not intelligent. I know this because during my senior year, I decided to do a little experiment. For the last half of that school year, I decided that I was not going to do one assignment for my health class, because if the experiment failed, I knew that no one in their right mind would care if you failed a health class. So, I didn't, and guess what? I didn't fail. It was literally impossible for anyone to receive a failing grade in any class, because if you missed assignments, the teachers would breathe down your neck, offer extensions, and, if all else truly failed, you couldn't participate in sports or other activities until you completed your work. Come to think of it, though, the health teacher didn't even bother to chase me down while I was analyzing the situation, probably because I wasn't enrolled in any activities worth taking away from me anyway.
What I'm getting at is that, after I graduated, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that i was completely unprepared for college. Sure, I took the ACT, and I had an average score, but I knew that had I stayed in public school, I would have at least felt somewhat ready to tackle college. I did not, however, want to put myself through the humuliation of having to take remedial classes, or have to ask for tutoring, and be known as that stupid blind girl that the tutors would probably snicker about over drinks later, since, as I understand it, most tutors are just volunteering students. I had a few other more personal reasons to not attend college too, but, although my parents still resent me for it, and throw it in my face during fights, that is one thing I absolutely do not regret. I'm glad I didn't put myself through all that stress.
The glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just holding half the amount it can potentially hold.