“We live in a period where there’s no time for “urgent-free pedagogy.” Our instructional pursuits must be honest, bold, raw, unapologetic, and responsive to the social times.”
― Gholdy Muhammad, Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy
How unapologetic, raw, and responsive have we been in terms of inclusion in public schools? How honest have we been? Does it sometimes feel like the term “inclusion” has been used and passed around so much that it has lost its meaning? It has lost its “steam” as a movement and in practice, seems to be just an idea. The idea of including ALL children in the general curriculum to the greatest extent possible has been around for a long time. However, the mere existence of a separate silo called “special education”, evident in separate licenses, departments in universities, separate research base and funding; ironically encourages a separate but equal mentality that endures today. How did we get here? How do we live out the true meaning of inclusion and provide a truly inclusive environment that provides every student with the opportunities that public education promises?
The mention of identifying the Least Restrictive and Most Appropriate Environment (LRE) led to obligations to find the appropriate environment for each child identified. To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily (Beratan, 2006). Still, while many of children with disabilities moved into public schools, they often remained segregated in special education classes (Osgood, 2005). Osgood points to the emergence of the Disability Rights movement in the 1970s and 1980s in the increasing demand for inclusive placements as a matter of civil rights. This emphasis on inclusion as a civil right changed the nature of the inclusion argument and powered the movement in the late 80’s and into the 21st century.
“Separate but Equal” is inherently not equal yet separate classrooms, programs and facilities still exist, and the resistance of the general educator remains an impediment to full inclusion. “I don’t have the expertise to teach these students”, If I wanted to teach IEP kids, I would have gotten my special education license”. And exactly what is an “IEP Student??” There is no such thing. There are though students with IEP’s. These comments, heard at IEP meetings and throughout buildings occur every day and reflect the idea that there is still a separation between special education and the regular curriculum. These comments remind me of comments made to me early in my career by secondary math and language arts teachers who told me that: “I teach math, not children”. This perspective reflects a construction of “disability as a deficit”. A way of looking at differences as deficits or something lacking in the child. This transforms differences in students into disabilities. These conditions are “diagnosed”. This “medical model” approach is what special education was founded on and the taint of that way of looking at these issues remains in the minds of many in education today.
It is in this sense that disability is a social construction. This does not mean, however, that human differences do not exist (Anastasiou & Kauffman, 2011). Clearly, deafness, blindness, physical impairments, and intellectual and learning disabilities represent observable human differences. Educators working from a social constructivist perspective on disabilities do not deny the existence of these differences. What they argue, however, is that these differences represent normal human variation, not evidence of disorders or deficiencies (Miller, 1993).
What would happen if as a teacher you didn’t know a student’s disability but rather their abilities? What would happen if as teachers we had to determine how to “dial in” the specific “channel” each child needs to learn? How would teaching change if instead of identifying students as “special needs” we simply took everyone from where they were? What if we taught children first, not our subject matter?
It is the view of some in the field of education that if we label children, separate them, teach them differently, fund differently, and maintain the separate but equal wall between special education and the regular classroom things will never really change.
The challenge is for ALL classroom teachers to view the inclusion of a child with different needs and abilities as an asset verses an obstacle.
ALL means ALL