If I had to summarize my philosophy of education into a single word, it would be inclusion. The problem with reducing this huge topic into a single word (I mean, beside the fact that it makes for a lousy blog post) is that Americans tend to interpret things they hear/read according to their intentions, not those of the speaker/author, and that also won’t do for a blog. So let’s fill it out a bit.
Inclusion is a term used in special education to describe the placement of a student with special educational needs into the general education setting as much as possible, regardless of whether they are completing the same assignments or even working on the same educational. Often times, Inclusion also means that whatever services a student receives will be delivered in their regular classroom, rather than taking place in an isolated location.
Here’s a great example: Back in my paraeducator days, my 1:1 student was non-verbal, so he was learning to use a Go-Talk for communication. Instead of going to the Speech-Language Patholgist (SLP)’s office to practice using the device, the SLP came to the classroom. And damn, it was a beautiful thing! It was so cool to watch our school’s SLP crawling around in the middle of a 30-kid dodge ball game to help my student with his Go-Talk, then recruit another student to do it so he could have an authentic interaction with a friend! Now that’s Inclusion!
Buuuuuut (there’s ALWAYS a “but,” isnt there?)…. that’s not what always happens.
Sometimes a school will claim they’re doing Inclusion, but it’s really mainstreaming. Mainstreaming is used to describe when a student with special needs is placed in some selected regular classes (usually the ones that aren’t subject to state-mandated tests) for “socializing,” but as soon as that child acts in a distracting or disruptive way (which is entirely subjective and probably worth its own post), they’re sent back to their self-contained SpEd class. And yeah, I am using that abbreviation pejoratively because in my experience, schools that mainstream instead of Including are doing so because they don’t respect people with disabilities.
Now here’s the really interesting thing: I suspect that schools that opt for mainstreaming, rather than Inclusion, are also schools with more authoritarian admins, more rigid course structure, far more restrictive disciplinary codes and rules, and some alarming discrepancies in how students from diverse backgrounds are treated and disciplined. That’s based on my personal experiences teaching in different states and in different kinds of schools here in the South.
DISCLAIMER THO: I have not yet found any empirical research on this. I would be very interested in finding and/or doing this research some day! But until that day comes, please just remember that this is only a loose theory I have.
The reason I believe this happens has to do with the deeper belief system that underlies Inclusion. Inclusion is really only ever discussed in the context of special ed, and that’s awfully limiting. At its heart, Inclusion isn’t about how we serve particular individual students – it’s about recreating the entire culture of schools and education. Inclusion philosophy seeks to affirm the humanity of and meet the educational, social, and behavioral needs of all students: disabled students, students of color, poor students, female students, queer and trans students, ELL students, Muslim (and other religious minority) students…. like I said, all students.
If you do it right, Inclusion can eradicate discrimination in your school.
But if we really want to do it right, we have to get the entire school system and all of its related contractors on board. Every aspect of schooling can be an engine for Inclusion – how we deliver instruction, how we discipline, how we allow students to dress, how we feed and protect the health of students, the textbooks we use, the assessments we administer, the power structures that staff and students are subjected to, how we get families involved in schooling…. Inclusion can only be its most effective if it’s the basis for the whole system.
That’s why Inclusion is my one-word philosophy. Education isn’t revolutionary if it isn’t accessible and responsive to everyone’s needs. The revolution is Inclusive. Our schools must be, too.