My seven year old came home from school yesterday telling me about her friend, Max. Max does all these wonderfully exciting things in the eyes of munchkins- but he did say the a-word yesterday. My daughter told me that it was not good. She did say that he was spoken to by the classroom teacher. (disclaimer: my daughter has the heard the a-word many times- I just hope she doesn't use it!). Anyway, I was happy to hear that the situation was resolved and life moved on. BUT the conversation continued about the a-word, the b-word, f-word, and the s-word- she then went on to say that, at school, they say 'apple' or 'firetruck' instead of the bad word.
'Ok', I thought- 'she knows enough to not say these words'. Or does she.....
Instead of saying 'what the fu*&?', my daughter is saying 'what the firetruck?' or 'what the apple?'. Is the intention behind her message any different with a substitute word?
I appreciate she knows what her bad words are.....and not to say them! However, I wonder what difference it makes when she uses replacement words. If what she means is fu*& and she says firetruck, what's the difference? In my eyes her intention is to swear and she has given new meaning to the word firetruck. (in all honesty, I am glad she is replacing the swear words- I just wish she did not need to emphasize her comments with 'fu*&').
This conversation got me thinking about schools and inclusion: if we write it, if we say it, are our practices ultimately inclusive? I don't know.
A policy that goes something like "all children are entitled to a high quality and appropriate education....." is inclusive. It is not saying all children will be given the same education, rather, they will be given a high quality and appropriate education. When we think about inclusion being an approach to how we teach and not a strategy, we want to ensure that all children are being viewed as children first and not as a label. In an inclusive setting, there is no need for special education or EAL or enrichment. Instead, there are children who are individuals and all these children will need support- at different times, for different concepts, and for different lengths & intensities. Nonetheless, in an inclusive setting there are simply children who require support.
Thinking about inclusion being an approach to ensuring all individuals are participative, present, and successful in a community (like a school), how does this reflect your school system? There are many school systems that, despite having an inclusively written policy, are based on a medical model to inclusion. A medical model is based on including the excluded, those with labels, into a traditional systems. How can you tell if your model is based on the medical approach? Easy- special education is still prevalent, labels (official or not) lead to supports, special departments control student services, and conversations stem from expectations (can vs cannot).
Like firetruck replacing fu*&, when small fragmented departments control 'inclusion' (like student service departments), is inclusion really an approach to our doing, thinking, and being as part of a community? OR, is inclusion becoming another term for special education, or integration? What is the intention of our actions? Are we providing all children with a high quality and fair education? Or are we providing most children, the mainstream, with a high quality education and including others, 'special education', into it?
I do not doubt that most teachers believe in inclusive education as an approach to education & community for all. However, I do believe that the procedures in place and the subsequent practices have maintained more of an integrative approach to education. It is from this very idea that My Inclusive Classroom started. Too often we hear that 'inclusion does not work'- but that is not a fair statement, inclusion works....but integration does not work well. What we have now is not inclusion in many places- we still have integration. So when we hide integrative approaches behind a word like inclusion or inclusive education- it is easy to see why people feel this way. This is a HUGE societal challenge- it is an uphill battle to change how people view people: meeting vs not meeting, able vs disable, mainstream vs special education. However, we can change BUT we need to start with the little things, matching our words and actions. As a teacher, I want to see change, but my focus is on my actions and what I can do to support all my students. Inclusive pedagogy is key in making these actions a reality.
We cannot always control the BIG picture items, especially when they are a political issue. However, we can (for the most part) control our schools, our communities, and our classrooms. Inclusive pedagogy is a student-centred approach to teaching all students in a supportive environment that gives all students access to appropriate and high quality education. My Inclusive Classroom works with parents and with teachers to develop an understanding of inclusive pedagogy from a practical point of view.