Responding to People Who Say Inclusion Doesn't Work
TI turns 9, a call to action, and responding to an inclusion critic
[Image] A disabled woman types on a laptop while wearing compression gloves. The hands and keyboard are the focal points. Photo: Disabled and Here
There were plenty of times I wanted to give up.
Sometimes advocacy is just too hard, exhausting, and can feel like you are simply going nowhere or not making a difference.
But then, I would get an encouraging word from my wife to keep going.
Or, I would get an email from a parent who read one of TI’s posts saying that it gave them hope to carry on.
And I would even hear from a colleague of mine who wanted to talk more about inclusive education.
Working on the podcast late at night, writing and editing on the weekends, and generally hustling during all of my free time to keep Think Inclusive going, I was getting tired.
One year ago, I asked people who subscribe to this newsletter to support Think Inclusive so we could keep the lights on. As Think Inclusive turns nine-years-old this month, I’m making one more ask.
Since our first guest posts were published, we made it a point to pay our writers for their work. And though running the blog is part of my role at MCIE, we have zero funds to pay writers.
We need your help.
Our vision is to publish a guest post from at least one disabled writer a month, as well as amplify the voices of parents of children with disabilities, and educators who are all-in for inclusive education.
In our perfect world, that would mean a budget of at least $5,000 per year just to pay writers. And beyond paying writers, we want the ability to produce higher quality audio and video content to move more people toward inclusive education.
If you have been touched by anything that Think Inclusive has done over the last nine years, please donate to MCIE today. When you give to MCIE, your gift directly enables us to amplify voices to the world to show that inclusion always works.
If everyone on this list of nearly 4,000 subscribers gave $5, we could pay writers for the next four years. If everyone gave $10, we could upgrade our audio and video equipment to produce more podcasts and video content to promote inclusive education. And if everyone gave $20, we could fund targeted inclusive education advocacy projects that would benefit families and educators.
Thank you for supporting MCIE and Think Inclusive. We can’t do this work without you.
Responding to Inclusion Critics
Last month, I wrote a newsletter titled, “Let's Stop Pretending That We Can't Do Better Than Segregated Special Education Classrooms.” And I got a ton of positive feedback.
But there was a thoughtful critique that someone named Jennifer posted in the comments that I wanted to respond to. I wanted to highlight this because the concerns that Jennifer brings up are common when I advocate for moving away from segregated classrooms.
Here is Jennifer’s comment in full (though I have added some spaces between lines so it is easier to read).
“Lets Step Pretending that blanket; One Size Fits all Classrooms are the Ideal". Is more like it!
I spent some time in an inclusive kindergarten classroom. It was hectic and stressful...for me, one hour a week! Imagine the children and teacher.
Two specific high needs children in the class were children with level 2-3 ASD. They each had aides working with them through the day. They were not coping well. There was plenty of elopement, meltdowns, throwing things. After witnessing her picture being ripped off the wall one little girl looked at me and sighed "Leo is bad- I mean special".
In her five year old mind of course she understood that he was special because he could be "bad" and get away with it. Story time stopped and started no less then 5 times as the aides tried to help the boys sit quietly. One child got kicked so hard in the back when little Leo, in his distress, kicked his leg out in front of him to escape his special floor chair. I saw him look at her regretfully. He didn't mean to hurt anyone, he just didn't want to be... here.
Another child was having a hard time seeing her printing page. "I will move by the lamp. We can't turn the other lights on because it can't be too bright..." "Does it help Leo and Aiden?" "Um... I don't know" We both looked at them... their aides trying to keep them engaged as they flailed on the carpet, trying to escape the crowded sensory rich room, no matter how dim the lights were. There were several table lamps casting soft lighting around the room. A gentle ambiance to be sure, maybe appropriate during rest/quiet time.
All day in a poorly lit classroom however was not ideal for the learnings of young children. There was much that was far from ideal in this classroom despite all the best attempts at inclusion it seemed, rather, all the children were in the wrong place. The children whose safety and education came second to inclusion. The children who were chronically distressed in an environment inherently designed for neurotypical students continued to come second to a ideal that I had not seen successfully working. The teacher, whose efforts and patience were tested by the minute came second to the proposition of saving a lot of money when special services were cut in the name of inclusivity.
Being a proponent of inclusion should more fairly mean the advocacy for ALL children to obtain the education that is best suited for them in an environment that supports their needs. Which means options are the framework this is built on. Reducing these choices is really counter intuitive to this goal.
We toured a private school that had a stream for children who required more accommodations and smaller classes. They were included in many aspects of the school based on their unique needs. The director explained that because of polarity in abilities one child may join a grade three class for their language arts time and then later join a fifth grade class for math. Otherwise he had his own class where his needs were well considered. This sounded like a truly inclusive approach.
I want to unpack some of the main topics that Jennifer mentions in her comment.
“All the children were in the wrong place”
Based on Jennifer’s observations and experience in the class, she said that all the children were in the wrong place. This tells me that authentic planning for all students did not take place.
When we have authentic individual student planning and dedicated planning time for special and education teachers to use a Universal Design for Learning framework, no one or two students’ needs are going to take over the needs of the whole class. So it seems to me, after looking at Jennifer’s description, there wasn’t that creative planning that took place.
“Special services were cut in the name of inclusivity”
Something else that Jennifer mentioned was that special services were cut in the name of inclusivity. If this is really the reason why students with disabilities were served in general education, then that is illegal, and not a true IEP team decision. Of course, we wouldn’t advocate for that. The big question in IEPs that needs to be addressed is if supplementary aids and services can be provided in the general education classroom. And if not, why not? Saving money is NEVER a reason to say services can’t be provided.
“Being a proponent of inclusion should more fairly mean the advocacy for ALL children to obtain the education that is best suited for them in an environment that supports their needs.”
You know what? I like this statement.
But why do we insist that we can’t make general education the environment that is “best suited” when we have done nothing different? Based on Jennifer’s description, it seems like the classroom was changed, but it wasn’t changed to work for all students. It was changed to work for one or two students, and therefore it actually worked for no students.
At MCIE, we know inclusive education works because we work to fundamentally change how we educate all students in a school system, not just one class or for one student.
“We toured a private school that had a stream for children who required more accommodations and smaller classes.”
And finally, I want to address Jennifer’s comment about private school. My concern with putting students in different grade levels for different subjects is the lack of expectations, the lack of benefits from learning alongside their same-age peers, and that it does not presume competence for that student. When students are supported, they thrive, which we have seen time and time again with students with more significant disabilities in general education classrooms. If there is true individual student planning, the student makes progress on their IEP goals and objectives.
Thanks again to Jennifer for your comment. I really appreciate it. If you ever want to talk about what inclusive education might look like in your neck of the woods, reach out and I would love to chat with you.
New Resource from Early CHOICES
Early CHOICES and the Early Intervention Training Program at the University of Illinois have announced a series of modules called Understanding Inclusion. This is a series of bite-size videos that explore key ideas about inclusion in early childhood. The series covers a range of topics from defining inclusion to understanding the benefits to advocating for inclusion for children birth to age 5 developed with families for families.
Each topic has a guide to support understanding and provide resources on the topic. Topic guides can be used as a companion tool for the learner and as a stand-alone tool to help facilitate discussions and extended learning opportunities.
The topics include:
Inclusion a Journey
Least Restrictive Environment
Commitment to Inclusive Practices (Law & Policies)
Benefits of Inclusive Practices
Implementing and Advocating for Inclusion
Check out the website https://www.eclre.org/good-to-know/understanding-inclusion/ to view this fantastic resource.
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