There is no easy, scripted or one-size-fits-all approach to teaching in an inclusive system or to being an inclusive teacher. Often, it is an extremely challenging task to be an inclusive teacher in an inclusive education system. Unlike some alternative pedagogies, most public school systems still subscribe to a more traditional approach to education: grade level curricula, formulas for services, political guidance, union collaboration, and so on. Though there is a place for a traditional education, however, it is often at odds with creating truly inclusive systems. Once such example is the prevalence of special education. Pre-inclusive education, special education was a necessary component of the systems. Special education programs ensured students requiring intensive supports were being educated in an appropriate fashion. Of course, it opened the door to the door, (rightfully), to the argument of why are we separating our students based on disability.
Fast forward about 3 decades, and most public school systems have implemented inclusive policies. In many cases, special education schools were closed or reduced and all students now have the opportunity to attend their neighbourhood school. I am aware that in some areas, specialized schools are still available either with or without public funds. However, we are still early in our journey of realizing truly inclusive systems. In many cases, inclusive policies have not generalized into inclusive practices and, even more challenging, inclusive mindsets. Many of us still view inclusion as a way to include excluded populations. With smaller departments being at the head of inclusive policies and programming for students requiring support, the practice remains of certain 'specialized' teachers being responsible for students requiring supports. In some inclusive school jurisdictions special education policies are still driving forces when it comes to programming for some students. Whereas, inclusive systems should be moving away from the mentality of mainstream vs special education and towards the mentality of all students require support in varying levels and for varying amounts of time.
Inclusion is journey. It is not the destination. Most inclusion and diversity policies clearly state that the organization includes all persons fairly and equally. Practices of the organization often reflect effort towards upholding and dedication to the policy. However, rarely does anyone feel that all persons are fairly and equally included into the organization. Inclusion has been described as 'the elephant in the room' due to the sensitivity of the topic. Discussing how, despite our best attempts, we are still not fully including more vulnerable groups is faux pas. The right to high-quality inclusive education is a human right. It leads to strong, welcoming, and diverse communities that work together to combat discrimination. SO, why is it still 'elephant in the room'?
One of the most influential factors shaping inclusive education today is the resistance to talking about difference. An underlying assumption many of us hold is that if we speak about those 'different from us' we may be viewed in a negative light. The contrary is true- we need to speak about difference. Inclusion is so powerful because it is about difference woven through the fabric of every community- inclusive systems thrive when difference is recognized, supported, and valued. Inclusive systems do not (unconsciously) define norm. For example, many inclusive school systems still support the mentality of us vs them OR norm vs difference OR mainstream vs special education. Whereas, in an inclusive system it should be student-centred and about each individual student. All students require support at different times, for different reasons, and with various levels of support.
The title of this post might be a bit misleading- I believe inclusion must work and can work. However, I believe it is our implicit bias and the systems & structures in place that lead to our frustrations and challenges with this approach.
Bias in Teaching
There are a lot of teachers who dream of providing all of their students with quality education. Yet, there are moments when teachers can look at their students and realize that there are just so many differences that cannot be overlooked. There are students that are of different race, sex, class, gender, abilities, and ethnicity. Some teachers cannot help but not look past that.