Friday’s post hit a nerve for hundreds of you.
I am glad.
But was I just preaching to the choir?
There are few things I think about more than how to get this school thing right for all kids. I have to keep myself in check so I am not only pointing to the uglies without offering solutions. Well, sometimes I can just point at the uglies because I sure as hell do not have answers for everything that irks me.
So I was thinking about all the things we know about best practice and how kids learn and tried to figure out how to use that to further support my argument against kids with special needs doing janitorial work under the guise of learning a life skill. Without doubt, what we model in school, how we segregate, label, define kids, and develop programs has huge impact in how our students organize and internalize beliefs about others. Having ‘those’ rooms, ‘those’ teachers and ‘those’ activities for ‘those’ kids communicates to our students that, ‘different’ means ‘not with’.
And all this thinking brings me to the inclusion movement. To me, it is a matter of valuing all students equally. Discussion about inclusive practice in schools is a maddening whirl of so many thoughts, beliefs, values, theories and philosophies mixed with preconceived notions, differing perspectives, logistics challenges, budget constraints, limited training and support. All things inclusion have wound into a knot. Meaningful discussions about how to make it happen are hard won. There is lots of spinning and many ill-conceived false starts. It gets overwhelmingly complicated. And like most things, it needn’t be.
I have been trying to clear away all whirling debris to find the ‘one thing’, that perfect sweet spot, from which to start. A place we could consistently refer to as we figure out how to do right by kids in school. To do what is best, to affect meaningful change, we need to clear the unnecessary stuff that is bogging us down, dragging our focus away from the very students we are working for. And we must consider this for all students, those with and without special/specific needs.
It is not like we are starting from scratch, inventing a new wheel. We have done the research. Some incredible minds have moved many boulders out of the way. We understand how kids learn, how to better teach, reach and relate to our students. We have easy access to prolific amounts of information about how to effectively differentiate, accommodate, modify, co-teach, use UDL. We have access to any number of methods and practical guides about inclusive schools. We have been shown what is best. We have googahs of information in all formats, podcasts, articles, blogs, textbooks, education books, youtube videos, seminars and conferences. There are plenty of brilliant experts out there sharing their views and valuable researched methods. We have enough evidence that supports all these things.
And we have FAPE.
I used to believe that was the golden nugget, the holy grail that ensures kids get what they need. Not so much any more.
(I heard you gasp. It’s OK.)
Here is why. Disagreements about FAPE run deep and wide and will remain with us forever. Free and appropriate public education does not have a one-size-fits-all definition. The premise is solid. The purpose is to ensure kids get what they need in school. It’s an invaluable point of reference. It’s just that the word appropriate trips us up over and over again. That word means different things to different people, including the student. (And how often do we ask the student what he/she thinks is appropriate for him or herself?) How many IEPs have I participated in where district administrators have one interpretation and understanding of FAPE and parents have another? Too many to count. And I loathe the old standby argument from administrators.
Parent: You are obligated to provide FAPE for my kid!
Administrator: Yes, but we are not obligated to provide the Cadillac version.
Parent: Well, sure, but we don’t want the Pinto version either.
Let’s just consider for a moment what FAPE is for students without specific needs. Is the current push to make every high school student college bound FAPE for all students? Of course not. College is not THE golden egg. It is an option and while it does open doors to certain opportunities, trying to cram every high school kid on that narrow path to a ‘fulfilling’ life with job security is ridiculous. It is simply not appropriate for every high school student. It never will be.
So I have arrived at what I think is that ‘one thing’, that one sweet spot from which to start.
Here it is.
Make inclusion of all people second nature in every school at every level. Put all we have into helping this generation of students develop a strong belief in inclusion as a basic and civil right that is then manifested in authentic action.
How do we make inclusion a natural and unquestioned norm in all of life for all of us? Is it possible?
Sadly, I think not.
Well, for now anyway.
So I wonder, as part of healthy human evolution, can we override this antiquated wiring and embrace something different? We know that our brains have a certain elasticity. Surely, with a concerted group effort, we can do this. Right?
Just as all prejudices and biases start early, our sense of acceptance and inclusion is developed as we see the world through the lenses of the adults and the communities that care for us. So, yes, it starts in infancy, but I believe what we do in schools builds a very important structure for developing beliefs about others.
The answer is simple. Just stop doing what we have always done. The answer is to abandon it all. Wipe it all away and start over. We start over using current and powerful information we now have at our fingertips.
Not so easy, I know. This means an entire restructure of schools. For ALL kids.
This will take bold and courageous leaps of faith. Knowing we are doing what is ethically and morally right will have to be our safety net.
That’s good enough for me.