In the interest of being an open conversation this blog will occasionally host guest writers. In some cases those authors will wish to remain anonymous, and in those cases the post will be published under the A Non Mouse label. The content of guest posts is not necessarily endorsed by me, but agreement is not the same as worth being read. This is one such post.
Most educators are familiar with the concept of inclusion. It is the notion that all students are welcome and included in general education classes. Naturally there are some exceptions to this but the inclusion movement has pushed many students who were previously not involved into general education classes. To be clear, I think this move has largely been a positive impact for a majority of students. However, I wonder if at times inclusion in fact creates exclusion.
Before I get too far into this potentially offensive post, I want to give a little bit of background as to where I am coming from. I have been a classroom teacher for 13 years and have seen all sorts of students with all manner of physical and mental abilities. My wife is also an educator and has experienced many of the same types of students and families that I have worked with. I also am the father of two sons who go to public elementary schools where they also have experienced students with a wide range of physical and mental abilities. Finally, I have the perspective of having family members who also possess varying abilities both mentally and physically. Some these individuals would not have been included in general education classrooms just a few years ago.
Having said that, what I often struggle with is how we implement an inclusion model without creating exclusion. There are times where students are placed in a classroom where they simply cannot function in any way at the level of their peers. To be clear I'm talking about students who physically cannot stay in the classroom or participate in the activities due to a potential range of concerns or obstacles. There are students who are constantly pulled in and out of a classroom due to various specialist or therapy sessions they need to attend. There are times were students throw temper tantrums as my sons have witnessed on numerous occasions in their classes over the years. There are students who cannot communicate in any way shape or form and yet parents desire a normal school experience for them. As teachers we have experienced students that caused us anxiety and stress because we don't know what they will do next. Or worse, we know what they are capable of doing and do not feel adequately equipped to support and teach them.
Now I'm not going to be the judge of who belongs in what classroom because that's not the intent of this post. What I struggle with is it at what level does a student placement under the model of inclusion infringe on the learning of the other students in the room? When a child such as my own cannot do their math because their neighbor is screaming or flailing or having a temper tantrum, is that the best environment for that student or for my son? At what point do we consider it neglect of the other students in the room when a student’s needs are monopolizing the attention of the adults in the room? I'm not sure I have the answer, but as a teacher and as a parent I often struggle with this balance. While I believe every child has the ability to learn at some level, I wonder if it times inclusion creates a system of exclusion.
What is lost by having a student with high needs in your classroom or with your children's class? “High needs” can mean a range of things from behavior to learning to physical needs. I wonder if it times we’re so worried about having every child feel the same that in the process none of them feel valued. If we put all of our resources and all of our time and all of our energy into the neediest students and parents, what is left for the students in the middle? What are we doing for the rest of the students in the class?
While I recognize many will read those final statements and reply with, “we need to support and teach all children”. I wholeheartedly agree, I just wonder at what point through inclusion and the pouring of resources and staff into one student does it create a system or a scenario of exclusion of the other students in the room?