I know, I know, why is a special education teacher anti-inclusion. First, lets be clear on what inclusion is. Under the inclusion model, students with special needs spend most or all of their time with non-disabled students.
It sounds perfect, right? And it would be perfect if this were an ideal world with an ideal education system. However we live in the real world, and in the real world, our education system needs some serious help.
First, let me begin by saying that I have seen some HUGE benefits of inclusion, not the least being a change in the tolerance, if not acceptance of those society deems “different.” This is a huge and very good thing in my mind. We should be accepting of everybody, and celebrate differences.
But we are not a society that is really good with moderation. What happens when a child’s disabilities are so severe that they aren’t capable of being a member of a classroom community? Or that child is such a disruption that they are infringing upon the learning of the rest of the class? What then?
I’ve been in the school systems in one way or another since 70’s. Back then, you didn’t see a single child with special needs anywhere. It was like they didn’t exist. I don’t know where they were, but they weren’t in any school I was in. I didn’t see kids with any physical or cognitive differences in a classroom at all until the 90’s.
Then i started working in the school system, and I started seeing things that were great, and things that really concerned me. I saw a boy with several cognitive differences who was an integral part of the classroom community. This was a HUGELY good thing, it was inclusion at it’s best.
At another school, I saw things that I felt were so wrong. There was what was called a “common area” on one floor that was completely barricaded off to make a space for a student who couldn’t remain in the classroom. Okay, I guess that was working, but then I found out that this student’s regular class wasn’t allowed to go on a field trip because his disability made it to difficult for him to participate. How could this be a good thing?
I saw a student with behavior issues so severe he had to be put in a dark room because he became to over stimulated. Tell me what kind of learning is going on for anybody in that situation. Obviously the child wasn’t learning, and his outbursts were preventing the rest of the students from learning.
In another instance, I saw a student with severe cognitive differences blossom when he was with the traditional learners, and they in turn have worked to help him be an active member of the school community and they celebrate the times when he participates in group activities. This child however, is in a special needs classroom. His academics take place in the special needs setting, and for other classes, like art, music and gym, he’s a part of the mainstream population.
There is no easy answer and there is no perfect model. We can’t go back to the days where people with differences are shunted away and hidden from view, but we can’t afford to have the learning of mainstream students negatively impacted by the inclusion model either.