The New York Times has a blog post by a practising New York State teacher by the name of Laura Klein. In my opinion, her’s is a plea from the heart. Yet, it was what she wrote in her introduction that popped out at me immediately. She says:
“Like most schools in New York City, we have been moving rapidly toward inclusion — moving children from more restrictive settings (smaller classes, less movement) to less restrictive ones.”
So, how exactly is it “inclusive” to move a child from a smaller, quieter class to a large regular classroom given the child would have originally been placed in the smaller class on the basis of an individual assessment?
Well, it obviously isn’t “inclusive” unless what you are trying to do is more about the politics of diversity as opposed to meeting individual needs. In fact, in reality, making such a unilateral move towards “inclusiveness” could actually be extremely disruptive to a special education student, leaving them feeling “excluded” from the larger group.
Remember, just because education officials and politicians say such a move is inclusive doesn’t make it so. Which reminds me of some well-meaning officials in the Niagara Region of Ontario who closed three major hospitals and then had the nerve to say they did so “to improve health care” even though, in an emergency, the nearest hospital was 40 minutes to an hour away. Yea, right.
In any event, like in New Brunswick and Ontario, inclusiveness in New York State is code for what is expected to happen to every student. Come what may, they will be placed in a regular classroom for their own good.
In other words, like a Procrustean bed, the diagnosed needs of an exceptional student will be forced to fit an arbitrary standard. When you come to think about it, how strange that a single regular classroom option is considered the least restrictive environment for nearly every single student.
Yes, some students will thrive in a regular classroom on a fulltime basis. But, just as many will not. In fact, some will suffer greatly with noise and distractions.
Anyway, it is obvious that the more things change the more they stay the same. In the 1970s and early 1980s, parents on both sides of the border fought tooth and nail for legislation that would accommodate every student with special needs.
In Ontario, the result was Bill 82 and in the U.S. Public Law 94-142. Both were called progressive. Finally, children got the help they needed.
So, why are they trying to turn back the clock? Well, if it is to save money, they should skip the ideological platitudes and simply tell us the truth. If, on the other hand, it is about “equity” and creating mini-melting pots in the name of tolerance, the result will simply be conformity.
One thing is for sure, when it comes to meeting the “individual” needs of children requiring special education today, the current vision of inclusiveness may be politically correct but it certainly isn’t progressive!
Endnote: As the Denver Foundations link shows, the notion of equity and “inclusiveness” is a commendable goal for any organization. As a concept, it makes sense. However, operationalizing such an ideology in an education setting becomes difficult, if not impossible, because we are talking about human beings, not a concept.
Think back to Open Concept schools of the 1970s. They were built on the basis of an ideology as well, based on a central library. Then, as now, throwing kids together in the hopes they could succeed together was a really bad idea for children with concentration problems, learning disabilities and/or behavioural needs.
Yet, here we are again only trying to imagine a single classroom model. How many severely disabled children and youth, such as those with autism and intellectual disabilities, will be adversely affected before this wave passes? Because it will pass but it will take a decade before the damage is obvious!