The Case for Inclusion: Does All Really Mean All?

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Guest post: Tim Villegas is a special educator and inclusion advocate. His Think Inclusive website and blog are intended to create a bridge between educators, parents, and advocates. This guest post represents Tim’s perspective and does not necessarily reflect the full range of options for service delivery in IDEA
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The good ole days of exclusion.

Things were so simple before. If students were struggling in your classroom, there obviously was something wrong with them, not your teaching methods (or the curriculum, for that matter). Things are not so simple anymore, nor were they ever – really.

The prevailing attitude of “my way or the highway” in education is dying…albeit a slow death. There are those who cling to it because that is what they know. So, I can’t really fault them for it. As with any “practice,” one that involves a community, methods change and evolve. So the educational system of my days will look different 20 years from now.

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What does inclusion look like?

As public education teachers, we serve a very diverse group. This includes students with disabilities (or different abilities). So naturally, when we examine the case for inclusion, we are going to see a diverse range of opinions on how exactly to accomplish this. Here is where I am starting from:

  • Does all really mean all? Yes.
  • But what about the student who is self-injurious? Yes.
  • But what about the student who yells and screams all the time? Yes, that student, too.
  • But what about the student who hits other kids and the teacher? Yes.
  • But what about the student who can’t keep his hands out of his mouth and drools all the time? Yes. Most definitely!
  • Okay…now I am being just downright frustrating (to some, anyways).

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Inclusion gone wrong!

You see, most of the people I talk to who are leery or completely against the idea of inclusion (all students learning with their same age peers and with grade-level materials in neighborhood schools) have experienced inclusion gone “wild” or amuck. Here are some brief but no doubt common examples.

Example #1: The student (with a disability) is “dumped” into a regular education classroom, and the teacher is expected to teach 20-30 students while the special education student takes up most of the teacher’s time and energy.
Example #2: The student has a significant cognitive disability and makes noises, screams, or is disruptive to the classroom. The one-on-one aide spends more time taking the student out of the room than keeping the student in the room because the student attracts so much attention.
Example #3: The student has some challenging behaviors and is aggressive (sometimes hitting the teacher and other students). More than once, the student has to be escorted from the room for the safety of all students and staff.

I agree…these are awful examples. But do you really think that this is what I or any other inclusion proponent is advocating for? Absolutely not!

Inclusion that is done badly is not better than the alternative (segregated settings). It is just BAD teaching and administrating!

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Because inclusion isn’t the only option.

Okay, Tim! Well, what is the better option? If there are segregated settings that support children better than poorly run inclusive settings, what is the motivation to change?

That, my friends, will have to wait until the next post. But for now, let me leave you with this thought:

When a family has a child with disabilities or a loved one is suddenly disabled, their only option is to include. During meals, daily routines, visits with relatives, vacations, doctor’s appointments, and the like, each family decides how best to support that person, in whatever context should arise. Shouldn’t this be the same with our schools? If the purpose of public education really is to leave no child behind, what does that look like for students with disabilities?

This is Part One of a Series of Three. Links to the other posts will come later. Thanks for your time and attention.
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NOTICE: The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) is no longer in operation. Our funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) ended on September 30, 2013. Our website and all its free resources will remain available until September 30, 2014.