A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Benefits of inclusion.
In that post I linked to this TEDx talk by Dan Habib, Disabling Segregation.
In the talk, Dan advocates for the inclusion of students with differences in mainstream schools. He explains that there are benefits for typical children as well as for children with disabilities.
The benefits include:
- better communication skills
- higher academic achievements
- wider social networks, and
- fewer behaviour problems.
He also says that typical children learn to be more patient, caring, compassionate and loving.
He decries the fact that although these benefits are known most children with differences still spend most of their day segregated.
In that post I also referred to article on The Cool Cat Teacher’s blog in which Gary Dietz, author of Dads of Disability, shared 5 practical lessons for elementary classroom inclusion.
His suggestions are:
- ‘Meet the student “where the student lives” (where they need to be, at their level of development)
- Presume competence
- Be creative in your use of ‘adaptive’ technology
- Listen to parents and help them listen to the child
- Give “overlooked” children the same chance to shine as the superstars.
The post received many wonderful comments, including some by Gary, which continued the discussion. It is worth having a peek back to see what people were thinking if you are interested.
Because your response to that post was so positive, I thought I would share with you some others that I have come across since publishing it.
On her blog, teacher versus mum, an Adelaide teacher wrote a post called When inclusivity becomes exclusion. In the article TeacherMumWife questions whether it is the attitude of teachers towards students with disabilities that impedes the progress of inclusivity.
TeacherMumWife describes a situation at a school in her local area as one promoting exclusion, rather than inclusion, through its lack of preparedness. She describes the aggressive and fear-inducing behaviour of one child and condemns the attitude of parents and teachers who question whether the school is the best place for the child. She asks, “isn’t it about time teacher attitudes got a kick up the bum, and teacher training programs and systemic funding be modified to reflect this need in our classrooms?”
I personally favour the idea of inclusion and believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and given a fair go. However in a situation such as that described by TeacherMumWife, a situation that many teachers are faced with on a regular basis, I have to admit teacher guilt in also questioning whether the regular classroom is the best place for the child.
A child with aggressive and disruptive behaviours, who injures teachers and classmates and who disrupts the learning of other students, in my opinion, is not giving others a fair go. I do not think accepting them into the classroom is equitable. If a child with special needs is placed into a classroom that is unable to provide for those needs, then it is not any more satisfactory for that child than it is for any other participants in the classroom.
There is already a great deal of pressure upon classroom teachers. The expectation that a general classroom teacher should be able to cater for a great diversity of special needs in addition to the range of diverse abilities and needs in a group of twenty-five to thirty or more students is, I believe, unrealistic in most current educational systems and environments. Qualifications to teach special education requires additional years of study. Teacher training, here is Queensland anyway, is already four years. How many years will it take to prepare teachers to cater for all needs that may present themselves at the classroom door?
I agree with TeacherMumWife that more training is required so that teachers may develop a greater understanding of differences, and develop a genuine empathy for parents of and students with those differences. Additionally education must receive more funding to provide trained teachers and support personnel to work with students with special needs, and enable them to be more integrated into a situation which caters to their needs as much as to the needs of others.
A commenter on the blog agrees, saying, “The teachers involved in any class environment, have a right and expectation not to be placed in a situation they are not trained for or feel threatened by the situation they find themselves in.” He describes the progress of his ASD daughter from early primary to high school years.
Blake Wiggs, an instructional coach shared an article called Rethinking tolerance: Ensuring all students belong on Edutopia. He explains an exercise conducted with his students that highlights a similar situation to that noted by Dan Habib in his TEDx talk: that people form friendships with those who are similar to themselves and that perceptions of those who are different may be influenced by stereotypical thoughts. Blake’s article did not address disability specifically but the activity and attitudes are relevant just the same. He noted three necessary ingredients for creating a more tolerant environment, including:
- Create a culture of acceptance
- Address feelings of isolation
- Foster meaningful relationships
I think Jamie Davis Smith would agree with those. In her post, I’m so sorry my daughter’s disability is such an inconvenience for you shared on HuffPost Parents, Jamie expresses a parent’s frustration at the lack of consideration shown to those with disabilities. However she is not talking about school inclusion, but acceptance and inclusion in society.
Linda Petersen has a many positive suggestions on her Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Staying Sane Blog. Linda shares stories of her lifetime living with people with disabilities. In her recent post she says,
‘Every child is a joy! Imagine yourself in the mother of a disabled child’s shoes. Have empathy for that mom. Join in her admiration of her child, and maybe you will also internalize the concept that “God don’t make junk!”
I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.
I am definitely in favor of inclusion – to a point. If a child who had no disability was continually disruptive to the point of interfering with other students’ learning, he or she would be given detention, suspended, or perhaps even expelled. In Spock’s immortal words, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one. Why should it be any different because a child has special needs? I do, however, think that there’s much to be said for placing children in environments that replicate those that they will encounter in the real world, when they and their classmates finally get out into it. Socialization is a big part of the “secondary” education that formal schooling offers, and isolating those who are different does little to prepare either those children or their peers for the real-life situations in which one must be able to relate to individuals of all kinds and all walks of life.
Thanks Lori, I really appreciate your ideas. I agree with Spock! Well said! I also like your suggestion of placing children in environments that replicate those they will encounter in the real world. School is about as far from that as you can get with masses of children of the same age grouped together doing meaningless tasks under the watchful eyes of one adult! I really favour small schools with family groupings and supportive networks of people to guide children on their learning journeys.
It is true too that isolating children from their peers does nothing to help them develop skills of social interaction. It is definitely a complex issues for which there is no one answer. Thanks for adding to the discussion. 🙂
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Norah – we’re on the same page once again. The inclusion crowd can have a difficult time separating the ideal from reality — often at the expense of a child. My wife is a 4th grade teacher, and she relates numerous cases of children being “mainstreamed” who throw tantrums, desks, scream at the top of their lungs. It’s not good for them, for their fellow students, anyone.
I’m all for mainstreaming, sure. But take it on a case by case basis. The stimuli of a classroom might be too much for a child – autism is particular comes to mind (read the book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Hadon for a story told from the autistic child’s perspective.
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Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your input. I feel for your wife and the students in her class. It can not be an easy situation to deal with. Thanks for reminding me of “The Curious Incident …”. It’s a great book. I did read it a number of years ago so it’s a vague recollection now. An excellent read, though, as I recall.
As you say, it is difficult to give a one-size-fits-all answer to all these situations, each needs to be taken on a case by case basis.
Thanks for mentioning my essay from the Cool Cat Teacher blog again and continuing this important dialog. One nit to correct – the essay from the Cool Cat Teacher blog is NOT in my book Dads of Disability. It was written as a guest post for Vicki Davis.
The style of my book is not “listicle” (articles in the form of lists). The essays in Dads of Disability by dads, moms, and children about dads are more essay / literary style as opposed to how-to recommendations such as the piece I wrote for Cool Cat Teacher. Check out plenty of free samples and the blog at http://www.dadsofdisability.com
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Thanks Gary, and apologies for the incorrect description of your book. I have now repaired the error. 🙂
I am certain readers who wish to seek out more information will enjoy the free samples of your book and the blog at http://www.dadsofdisability.com
Thanks for popping back again with your comment. 🙂
Thank you for this post! My school is trying to transition to a model where support will be given in the classroom, rather than outside of it. I am excited to see what this will look like in practice, because I think it is so important to try to keep all students together in the classroom, but I don’t feel that I can adequately meet all of my students’ needs on my own. I especially agree with the thinking that keeping students who struggle in the classroom provides a great opportunity for all of the children in the room to practice empathy and all of those qualities that are truly important for success in life.
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I hope you will share some of your experiences on your blog. I look forward to hearing how the model is implemented. 🙂
It strikes me that the mere existence of these blogs is a positive step, albeit small, towards inclusion people having their say he wouldn’t have done in the past.
As you may know, the voice-activated software I use has a mind of its own and “towards inclusion” initially came out as “towards the illusion” – but maybe it has a point in that it can sometimes be the higher-ups who don’t have to implement these edicts who have an idealistic notion of what integration can achieve. A child who is destructive and disruptive in the classroom might be quite scary and unlikely to contribute to positive attitudes.
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Thanks for your comment Anne. I’m pleased you consider that posts such as these will have a positive effect. I think sharing of thoughts about any issue, as long as one is willing to listen, can only progress thinking and attitudes. I find inclusion quite an emotive issue as the ideal doesn’t always translate so well into the practicalities of implementation.
I would love to know more about your voice activated software. I know you have mentioned it before. I would love to see how it works. Technology is wonderful for the empowerment it provides many. Yours seems to do its own thinking (a bit like text messages on my phone, or comments written on my iPad!). Sometimes they do know, but other times not so much. I think ‘towards the illusion’ is pretty apt!
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