Author’s note: I’m sorry this got posted in an unfinished version. I swear I’d finished it, but somehow my last additions got lost and an unfinished but saved version got posted.
I’m a big fan of inclusion as a principle in school. If you’re not familiar with the concepts, inclusion means that structures and environments are created in a way that they accommodate all kinds of people, not just able people. Benny Vimes has written a wonderful post about how this is achieved in Disney’s Zootopia, as an example. Inclusion is different from integration in the sense that integration means you’re making special arrangements for people with disabilities while inclusion means things are already in place because the place was designed to accommodate all.
To give a simple example: Integration means you’re carrying the kid in the wheelchair upstairs, inclusion means there are elevators and ramps in place for everybody to use. The idea is that children with disabilities are not singled out and othered but seen as the integral part of society that they are.
In practice, unfortunately, this often means that either the integration measures get rebranded as inclusion or simply nothing is done but the whole thing is labelled as “inclusive”, which makes many people, especially teachers, hate inclusion, because if you never learned about how to teach inclusively, if your whole training never mentioned as much as readable fonts or what the Autism Spectrum is, a school system that suddenly acts as if you were perfectly qualified to teach all kids is failing you as well as the students. But that is a problem of how it is being handled while the most common ableist argument against inclusion is that the “normal” kids will suffer*. It is an argument against the very idea of teaching all kids together, especially if there may be some burdens that are not squarely shouldered by the kids with disabilities alone.
In almost every case I call bullshit: What’s good for goose is good for gander.
Things you have to keep in mind as a teacher of a diverse class actually benefit all children. Many teachers never even stop to think about which font to use in order to make their handouts easy to read. You see fancy fonts because it makes the handout look “handwritten” and “authentic”. Or people using 6 point print to save paper and copies. Or both. Is anybody going to argue that planing your blackboard layout carefully (so you can maybe print it for the kid who will not be able to read your handwriting no matter what) is a bad thing? Or thinking about different levels, about different scaffolding techniques so you can give the slower kids a leg up while the faster kids don’t get bored? All those things make you a better teacher and your classroom a better learning space for all children.
But there are limits, points where the needs of different kids are in competition. For example, there’s a kid who’s hard of hearing in one of my classes. I have to wear a microphone so my voice gets transmitted directly to his hearing aids. Maybe you can see the problem here already: It’s only my voice that gets transmitted. Everybody else’s contribution doesn’t, so he can hardly understand them. Now it would be totally possible to completely rely on this kid’s contributions which are numerous and of high quality, a language class means that all kids need to speak. Some very speech intensive lessons mean that he’s sitting there not getting the benefit everyone else is getting and I have no idea how to change that and I’m unhappy that yet again the kid with the disability has to pay the price.
Other examples would be where the needs of different kids with different special needs clash. A “quiet hands” policy is clearly bad for people on the Autism Spectrum** and sure you can expect neurotypical kids to tolerate small things that are not totally disruptive, but there may be kids for whom this tolerance is exactly the thing that depletes their resources. Again I think inclusion makes this easier, not harder. Inclusion means you can separate the kids whose needs really clash and put them into different classes, something that is not possible when you exclude all those children and segregate them in specialised schools.
What’s your experience with diverse classrooms? Are there points when you simply don’t know how to satisfy the educational needs of all your students? Any tips?
*There are few studies in Germany on this topic so far. Preliminary results show that while able students’ education does not suffer, their ableism decreases significantly as compared to their peers’. Surprise surprise.
**Tip o’ the hat against to Benny. I wished college had taught me all that stuff.