Inclusive Schooling

I established this post earlier in the week as a reminder to write something about inclusive schooling. This term is used in the Access to Academics for All Students textbook that I am reading for my special education class.

What is inclusive schooling? I can't specifically recall hearing the term used before. On the surface, it sounds like it means "schooling that does not leave anyone out." I guess this could be applied to the school "system" as policies that allow everyone the opportunity to learn.

The first chapter of the textbook argues in favor of inclusive schooling. It provides general ideas for educators to use to provide access to academics for all students.

Thinking back to my experience of high school, and grade school, I'm not sure if I experienced "inclusive" schooling. Certainly, I was in school with students that had disabilities. I remember there being "special" classes, and terms thrown around like "special education". There seemed to be a micro-vocabulary used to describe special students and there situations: slow, resource room, work-study, etc. I can't recall exactly how integrated my school was for special students. I know that some of my classes included students that got into a lot of trouble, i.e. has repeated detention. However, I'm not sure if these students were labelled as "special", or exactly who was responsible for doing the labelling. We had a guidance counseller. I think part of his job was to work with the special students. I'm not sure what else his function was. I worked with him minimally as I prepared for college.

I don't think that there was anyone in my high school or grade school with a major physical disability. I don't remember anyone in a wheelchair, or missing a limb. There was at least one individual with autism. I was exposed to retarted children as a child, but I don't remember being in any classes with anyone that was retarted. I guess I would have to come to the conclusion that my high school and grade school were not inclusive, at least from the perspective of integrating any "special" students into the normal classrooms. If anything, I remember some students that seemed to be set aside and labelled. I never knew any of them very well, perhaps because of the lack of inclusion. I'm not particularly faulting my school district. The truth is my knowledge about the topic is sparse. I'm simply reflecting upon my experience through the foggy 15 years that have gone by. For all I know, Central Lee may have had a relative progressive policy toward inclusive schooling.

It's hard for me to form an opinion that I can be firm about at this point as to what I think inclusive schooling should be. Admittedly, I am fairly ignorant about the subject of disabilities and special needs. I have compassion. But, I have never been closely associated to anyone with a physical or mental disability. Shamefully, I can remember making fun of disabled people as a child. While I could write that off as immaturity, I have to acknowledge that it clouded my vision as a child about the true value of all people.

From a Christian perspective, I do believe that every person has value. I believe that everyone has something to give to the world. What I don't know, and I hope to learn more about, is what society's role is in drawing out the talents and gifts of others. There are certainly many conflicting theories as to how this could best be accomplished. As I read through and study some of them, I'll try to keep pace writing about them.

As for Access to Academics, written by recognized experts in the field of education, the text so far seems to be dry, but informative. It is less of a narrative than the other book I am reading for the class, "Learning Ouside the Lines." It does have narrative examples to illustrate points that the authors make, which is helpful. It emphasizes the importance of educators understanding that students differ in the way in which they learn best. Educators must recognize the best manner in which students learn on an individual basis, and design curriculum and provides instruction that best accomodates the different learning styles.

A voice in the back of my head keeps asking, "what about 'normal' students"? Is it a zero-sum situation, where accomodating special-needs students necessarily reduces attention that can be given to those without disabilities? Ouch! Writing it out seems scathing, and un-Christian. Morally, I don't think that we should measure students by the relative "utility" they can provide to the world. The zero-sum thought bothers me, but never quite goes away. Hopefully, I can get more to the heart of it by learning more about special education. My ultimate goal is to develop a philosophy regarding special education that I believe to be morally right, as opposed to joining whatever the mainstream beliefs or efficiency may dictate.

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