Interdependence Day

On how none of us are truly independent, and a follow-up from the "4 easy steps" post.

On July 4th, 2008, my wife and (almost) two-year-old daughter and I stood near Jackson Square in New Orleans gazing in awe at the fireworks in the night sky, popping and crackling over the Mississippi River. It was an Independence Day of our own making and final stop before driving to our new home in Marietta, Georgia the next day.

We made the incredibly difficult decision to leave our life in Southern California and move east to Atlanta for more opportunities. We sought opportunities to grow in our careers, own a home, and establish ourselves in a community. We were following a call in our hearts to make a change, and we stepped out in faith.

But while this move was largely an exercise in independence as a family unit, we could not have done it without the support from our family and friends. Just sitting here typing this conjures up some emotions. I don’t know if you have moved across the country or even across state lines, but it’s traumatic, y’all.

I didn’t feel at home in the Atlanta area for a good five to seven years. And every time we went back to visit family in California I kept thinking, “How can we get back to Cali?” But, let me tell you, I’m so glad we moved to Georgia. We have grown in ways we never would have if we stayed.

I think what has made the difference though is that we were forced to find a support system.

We didn’t do it on our own. Because no one does.

Don’t miss this.

Whether you are moving across the country, advocating for inclusive education, or struggling to make ends meet, we can’t do this alone.

I recently recorded a podcast interview with inclusion advocates Sara Jo Soldovieri and Janice Fialka where we talked a bit about interdependence. And Janice said that every year on the 4th of July, she wishes everyone a Happy Interdependence Day.

I love this.

[Image] screenshot of a Facebook post; text reads: Sara Jo is with Janice Fialka and Tim Villegas; text reads over a yellow/orange background: remember that no one is truly independent, honored to be in community with some [of] the best
[Image] screenshot of a Facebook post; text reads: Sara Jo is with Janice Fialka and Tim Villegas; text reads over a yellow/orange background: remember that no one is truly independent, honored to be in community with some [of] the best

Whether you have a disability or not, we all need to learn to rely on each other. This is how we live in a community.

I think about all the times I sat in Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings where an educator said, “We want [the student] to learn independence.” When really what we want is for students with disabilities to learn interdependence, and to know that they are not alone and can ask for help.

I’ve experienced school teams expecting more “independence” from a student with a disability than a typically developing student. And then use their lack of independence as a reason why they could not be included in a general education classroom. How backward is that?! If you are an educator and have used that language, I urge you to rethink that reasoning.

I’m going to try to make a segue into the other thing I want to bring up in this edition of the Weeklyish, which is about students we haven’t figured out how to include yet.

There it is. That’s the segue.

Last time on the Weeklyish, I wrote about How to Include Students with Disabilities in General Education in 4 Easy Steps. And I said I would address two questions.

  1. What about students who we haven’t figured out how to include in a meaningful way?

  2. What about families who don’t want an inclusive classroom and believe a separate and segregated education is better?

Both of these questions deserve a thorough answer which is why I’m only going to address the first one right now. You’ll have to wait until mid-July for the second one. Sorry, vacation awaits.

A common response to all this inclusive education talk is: “Tim, you just don’t know my kids. They could never be included in general education! They [insert reason … i.e. are too aggressive/disruptive or wouldn’t get anything out of it].”

First, I know exactly the kids you are talking about because I taught “those kids.” All thirteen years of my classroom experience were with students who would have been considered too hard to include — students with “moderate to severe autism” or “severe and profound intellectual disabilities” (which is not my label). Furthermore, the three years I spent as a district support specialist were for the students with the most significant support needs like autism, intellectual disabilities, and emotional/behavioral disabilities.

Second, there were very few students that I came across that could not have been included because they truly were a danger to themselves or others. And most of them, it was because there was mental health or medical components to their support that was difficult if not impossible to support throughout the school day.

If I were to ask you why a student should not be included in a general education classroom, what reason would you give?

In the book, It's More Than “Just Being In”: Creating Authentic Inclusion for Students with Complex Support Needs, author Dr. Cheryl Jorgensen lays out a number of unacceptable reasons why students should be removed from general education.

  • The number and intensity of needed services and supports

  • Student’s need for extensive curriculur modifications

  • Student’s participation in a state’s alternate assessment

  • Student’s need for behavior support

  • Student’s reading level

  • Student not having the prequequisite skills required by the curriculum being taught

  • Student’s use of communication or other assistive technologies (ATs)

  • School’s lack of experience with inclusion

  • School’s history of placing students in seperate programs

  • Location of skilled staff in other buildings or classrooms

  • Class size

  • Lack of knowledge or skills by staff

How many times have you heard these exact reasons to exclude a student from general education and be placed in a disability-specific program? I don’t know about you, but I have heard them all.

Let’s just imagine that school systems really did include all students in their neighborhood school and general education classroom regardless of disability.

For the school systems that are implementing inclusive education and supporting students with fidelity, the number of students who are considered “fully included” is around 90%. This means that 10% of students in the most inclusive systems are included less than 80% of the time. But where do they go?

The point here is that while these particular students may be educated somewhere other than a general education classroom for part or all of their day, the goal is always to get them back. The point is that their program is individualized and they are not put in a classroom because the district has a great autism/intellectual disability/emotional-behavior disorder classroom. Unless these programs are systematically dismantled, the mere existence of them will only cause more of them to be created and more students placed in them.

So, no, even if you are in an inclusive school you probably won’t have 100% of students in general education classrooms all day every day. But if that is your definition of inclusive education, I think you need to rethink it. Like Dr. Jorgensen says, it’s more than “just being in.”

If you have questions about what inclusive education might look like in your school or district, let me know. I’m always up for a chat.

Enjoy the holiday weekend everyone and I hope everyone has a wonderful Interdependence Day.



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What I’m Reading

FYI, we are interviewing Eric for a future podcast slated for August.

What I’m Watching

What I’m Listening To

What’s in my Timeline

From the Wayback Machine

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Just Because