I am always searching for arguments for and against inclusion in schools so that I better understand all sides of this important concept. While I am not a proponent of full inclusion in schools for all, I am ever hopeful that there will come a day when I can support that.
I just cannot support full inclusion for all because of the way we do it now.
Aside from the fact that full inclusion is not FAPE for all kids, we just don’t do inclusion well enough to subject already fragile kids to even more ineffective methods.
As I have mentioned in other posts, there are any number of brilliant experts on the subject of inclusion. These experts have provided us with some highly effective strategies and best practice models. No doubt. Their research is invaluable and we are moving forward because of it. I gobble it up like candy. This stuff gets me going.
But no matter how much I agree with the research and methods, most of us in schools are not embracing these inclusive practices with any depth or breadth. What I most often see is bits and pieces in and out of some classrooms with some teachers. And most often those bits and pieces are not what I would call inclusive.
We all know inclusion is not special education students sitting to the side, or in the back of the general education classroom with a teaching assistant or special education teacher hovering close by. We know it isn’t one day a year of special needs awareness in the form of some all-school assembly. But this is not what today’s post is about; what inclusion is or is not, what it should or shouldn’t be.
I read this article on belonging a while ago. It’s worth the few minutes it will take to read.
The author starts the post with this.
“Having a sense of belonging is a common experience. Belonging means acceptance as a member or part. Such a simple word for huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter.”
And while there are any number of ways to feel one belongs in school, I know that our kids with different capabilities and needs rarely feel they belong to the greater whole. Yes, they know they belong in that room down the hall with that teacher and those particular pals, at that lunch table in the cafeteria and on that bus. But do we want that to be their greatest sense of belonging during their school experience?
I want my own kids to feel they belong to the greater group. I truly value the peace and acceptance they find in their particular special education environments because those people and places allow my kids access to what others without specific needs are able to access easily. Both of my kids spend their days in and out of specific needs environments. I know they have a sense of belonging in those places.
But neither of them has a sense they belong, really belong, to the greater group. Movieman is desperate to fit in and that has been cause for some very scary situations. Drawman is just lonely. So lonely. And it’s not just my kids. I am connected to many moms of kids with specific needs. What we want more than anything else, including academic learning, is that our kids experience that sense of belonging.
Here is why.
From the article.
“Some seek belonging through excluding others. That reflects the idea that there must be those who don’t belong in order for there to be those who do. Yet a single instance of being excluded can undermine self control and well being and often creates pain and conflict.”
So, from the their first days in school, kids with specific needs have been excluded. And not just by their peers. Simply by design, this is what the structure of school does. It excludes. I would argue that special education programs exclude others as well. It goes both ways. (I will address that in a post later this week.)
So let’s consider this. If, as the author states, a single incident of exclusion has significant impact on us, imagine years and years and years of being excluded in your own school. And every kiddo with specific needs knows all too well they are excluded in varying ways. Imagine how our kids define themselves because of it. Imagine how our kids internalize limits imposed on them because they don’t belong.
So, I propose we go back to the beginning of the inclusion discussion. The inclusion cart came before the horse. Instead of focusing on methods, let’s get everybody (well the majority anyway) to truly believe that every single student, every single human being, belongs, and without that sense of belonging to support and hold us together, there is no authentic inclusion.
The goal, the starting place, should be to make sure that everyone has every opportunity to feel that sense of belonging. If we start there, where our goal is to make sure every student feels that sense of belonging to the whole, we will then make meaningful progress. If everyone in schools believes in and works to ensure that all students experience that sense of belonging, we wouldn’t even need to debate or take sides in the inclusion debate. It would just be the norm, how we do school.
And you know what? I bet social skills of all would improve and learning would be more authentic.
In my world, this could even help us achieve world peace.