"Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements."
~ Napoleon Hill

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Inclusion ... Missing the Point?

The more things change the more they seem to stay the the same.

This time, it seemed to all start sometime after teachers and the Nova Scotia government couldn't come to an agreement for a new contract. Although not mentioned at first, the concept of inclusion and how well it is (or isn't working) eventually popped up. Right on cue. And not just in Nova Scotia; suddenly Newfoundland teachers were weighing in on the topic, too.

But none of this is new news to any of you. You've heard it, seen it read, read it, lived it.

Most of us in the disability community who have had to deal with Nova Scotia's public education system can provide a laundry list of reasons why inclusion doesn't work as well as it should. One of the biggest reasons being a pitiful lack of proper funding and resources, of course.

But again, old news. So why are we here today, you ask.

Good question. But before I answer that, let me tell you why we're not here.
  1. I don't want to talk about whether inclusion as a concept is a good or bad idea. 
  2. Nor am I here to talk about how we could implement it better. 
  3. I'm not even here to bash the Nova Scotia government for practically setting inclusion up to fail in this province. 
No, not today. Today, I have something else in my mind. Today I want to talk about the very definition of inclusion; what it means as a concept; more specifically, what it looks like on the ground in the classroom.

No, not the dictionary definition of the word. Nor am I talking about even the more disability-specific definition of the word.

I am talking about what inclusion means in the classroom. What it really means.

The definitions of "inclusion education" get a little closer to what I'm talking about, but we're still not quite there yet.
Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school.

Inclusive education is about how we develop and design our schools, classrooms, programs and activities so that all students learn and participate together.
Saying that "inclusive education" happens when "children with and without disabilities participate and learn together in the same classes" sounds good. It's a start, but does it really give us a sense of what the breadth of that term could should look like?

When I read articles like these, I can't help but think that there are a lot of people who just don't get what inclusion really is. Or, at least, what I believe it should be. I just don't understand those that seem to think "inclusion" means that all children with special needs must be in a regular "grade appropriate" classroom at all times.

I have no doubt that this could might work for some children with special needs, provided that the extra supports are in place (such as, for example, extra help from a resource teacher or an Educational Assistant in the classroom to assist as necessary with physical needs).

But what about the many students who have some needs that either can't won't be met at all in a general education classroom or, at least, can't won't be met well.

Let me share with you my definition of inclusive education.
Inclusive education is the best of both worlds.

Inclusive education is both inclusive and individualized at the same time.
Inclusive education recognizes that the "I" in the IPP actually means something. It recognizes that it often means more just different academic outcomes or the tacking on of additional outcomes from the "hidden curriculum".

Inclusive education is not just a place where students with special needs are educated. 
Inclusive education does not necessarily equate with a student being in a regular classroom all the time.
Inclusive education includes and educates students with special needs in a regular classroom as much as possible, while recognizing and even embracing the fact that
  • some students have needs (and hence goals) that simply won't be met well in a regular classroom; and
  • for some (many) students, there are skills that are best (or sometimes only) taught outside the regular classroom.
Inclusive education involves balance.

Inclusive education often means walking the very fine line needed to best balance, for each individual child, the amount of time that child spends in a regular classroom and the time that he or she is pulled out of that classroom to work on specific goals.

Inclusive education also recognizes that the balance of how much time a child spends in a regular classroom versus a different learning environment will most likely change many times over the course of that child's schooling.

This might surprise some, but I don't believe that my child or your child has the RIGHT to spend their entire school day with their same-age peers.

Words of heresy, I know, but what I believe is that my child and your child have the RIGHT to have the education system recognize and respect their RIGHT to have their individual needs met in whatever environments will best help that child learn whatever particular skills need to be taught and facilitate the whole of that child's development.

To be clear, I believe that my child and your child have the RIGHT, not only to be educated in a regular classroom, BUT also to leave that classroom when necessary to meet those needs that can best (or only) be taught and learned elsewhere. 

A lot of us in the disability community seems to have a copy of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities hanging out in our back pockets lately, so as to brandish whenever needed to protect the rights of those with disabilities. I think that's a great idea. In fact, I'm a big proponent of it, as long as we recognize that the best use of the Convention's power might not be legal, but rather political.

So what does the Convention require when it comes to educating students with disabilities?

2.  States Parties shall ensure that:

a) Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability;

b) Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;

c) Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided;

d) Persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education;

e) Effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.

Imagine that. Most definitely NOT segregation.

But also NOT left to languish in a regular classroom JUST TO develop social skills, as vitally important as those are.

Then we would only need to hold governments accountable for their other obligations with respect to education under the Convention; namely

3. States Parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community. To this end, States Parties shall take appropriate measures, including:

a) Facilitating the learning of Braille, alternative script, augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication and orientation and mobility skills, and facilitating peer support and mentoring;

b) Facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community;

c) Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.

4. In order to help ensure the realization of this right, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to employ teachers, including teachers with disabilities, who are qualified in sign language and/or Braille, and to train professionals and staff who work at all levels of education. Such training shall incorporate disability awareness and the use of appropriate augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities.

5. States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning without discrimination and on an equal basis with others. To this end, States Parties shall ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities.

There's a popular turn of phrase used these days in emails and various forms of social media:
YMMV - Your Mileage May Vary.

So tell me, what are your experiences, expectations and opinions as to what "inclusion" should look like for our children in the education system?

1 comment:

Kimberly Smith said...

Thanks for posting this. Beyond the practical pedagogical challenges of educating a wide variety of individuals as effectively as possible, there is the group - the clique, the gang, the community. Every school has a culture that can be felt from the way the architecture sets the tone to the mascot, sports teams and glee club. It comes down to leadership from the Principal, Staff, and Student Council. All of this is embedded in the surrounding culture of neighbourhoods, villages, towns, counties, provinces, etc. Inclusive culture is expressed or repressed through all of this. Are we there yet? No. Stigma and fear still hold everyone back from building truly accessible, inclusive neighbourhoods. Huge opportunities for all people embedded in authentic culture shifts.