I think one of the most confusing about inclusive education is how exclusive it can be at times. For an approach that is meant to support all individuals as part of a diverse community, it is often confused with an approach that supports the mainstream and includes the excluded into the 'mainstream'. So many decades ago, many special education classrooms and schools were closed under the notion that all students have the right to be educated in their neighbourhood schools along with their same-age peers. This is a great idea EXCEPT that we shut down the very supports that many of our most vulnerable students require to be successful in school. Instead, by shutting down special schools and classes we decided that all students will be educated in the mainstream system......
I am not advocating for segregation or exclusion or separation. I am addressing the fact that our inclusive public school system foundation is built on a traditional system that educates the mainstream. However, in an inclusive system there is no mainstream, there is no special education, there is not EAL, there is no difference. In an inclusive system, all students are valued as equal members of the learning community and all students are provided with the necessary supports in order to be successful. At some point, every student requires support- for various reasons, various lengths, and and various levels of intervention.
Maintaining a traditional education system that includes our most vulnerable students is a HUGE inequality for our community members. Just this week, I had to tell parents that their child could not attend the holiday concert.......because their child is not ready to stand on the stage and sing. What I wanted to tell the parents was that their child cannot attend the concert because we do not have the staff available to support them in participating in the concert. Instead, I was told to flip the table and say their child is not ready rather than saying we cannot support their child appropriately in order to participate, be present, and to experience the school concert. To me- this is not okay! The child is not the problem. Our systems & structures are set up in a fashion that does not allow all students to access the school system. Our systems & structures are often barriers for our most vulnerable students.
I know there are many injustices and inequalities in our school systems. However, I think it is time to reflect on our journey towards really being inclusive of all students. I am an advocate for Universal Design for Learning- I think it is a great framework from which to learn, reflect, and create accessible environments. Culturally & linguistically relevant pedagogy is another great framework from which to draw ideas, thoughts, reflections, and discussion to better support all learners. Another framework from which to draw ideas in order to provide choice and opportunities to all students is New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. There are so many great frameworks out there to explore. However, nothing will work to decrease barriers and increase access unless our systems & structures become centred around the notion of ALL STUDENTS. In order to do this, we need to acknowledge and confront our bias. We need to acknowledge and confront the inequalities and injustices that exist within our systems and structures. We need to be honest, open, upfront, and vulnerable to our weaknesses. We need to change.
I am sure you can think of many injustices in the school systems. I have listed a few that I encounter regularly. Please note: I do not believe that these injustices are there due to malicious intent. I do believe these injustices are there because we have not progressed far enough along in our inclusion journey. Trying to create communities (anywhere) that are accessible and fair to all is hard- necessary, but takes a great deal of thought, consideration, reflection, and collaboration.
Some injustices needing attention:
- standardized assessments: by very nature these assessments leave out groups of students. If they are necessary, could we not think about presenting them in a way that is not depicting them as 'mainstream' or 'the norm'? I am not sure there is 'normal'!
- many schools are not accessible to all, especially students requiring significant mobility support.
- many students are removed from receiving additional academic supports due to their volatile behaviour. C'mon- all kiddos deserve an education!
- much like standardized assessments, we have one curriculum guide that states what students ought to do and when.....really? Should we not think about more flexibility with our outcomes when we are trying to increase accessibility to education?!?
- students are not always provided with the tools they require for success. I know this often comes down to finances, but some students require accessible items for their success (even with basic needs like sitting, toileting, and writing).
This is just a VERY short list. I can think of many more inequalities I witness in my system. I am sure many of you can experience inequalities that I am not aware of. For this reason, we need to acknowledge and confront what is happening that is not fair- we cannot progress when we sweep things under the rug. Again, we need to be honest, open, upfront, and vulnerable to our weaknesses. We need to change.