Saturday, January 26, 2008
Just Thinking about Inclusion and Ideology
"I've been thinking," I said, as we settled into our steamy-hot, pre-Shabbat bath yesterday afternoon.
Generally, my husband Bruce gets a worried look on his face when I say this, fearing that my "thinking" is going to lead to some new and money-intensive rennovation for the house.
But this time, my thinking has to do with the focus or theme of this new semester in my doctoral program. Each semester seems to provoke a particular line of thinking in my mind, and seems to develop its own theme, as I place what I am learning into perspective with what I already know.
For my Trends and Issues in Special Education, I had just read an article by Kauffman that dealt with the inclusion movement and the (pick one) demise, repair, conversion, or reincarnation of the field of special education. And it got me thinking.
And, as I consider what kind of perspective I will bring as a graduate student in my Child Psychopathology class, I started thinking about the individuality, identity and gifts of neurodiverse people that we usually define by pathology such as those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Bipolar Disorder, Attention Disorders and others like this, that are essentially defined by differences in the structure and function of the brain. Thinking is added onto thinking!
The confluence of these two streams of thought seems to be coming down to some ideas I have about how in our thinking about education, we are narrowing what we consider to be normal and justifying that by wrapping ourselves in the mantle of "diversity." I was struck by the thought that what is happening in the field of Special Education with regard to inclusion seems to be particularly illustrative of what is happening in our society at large when it comes to dealing with differences. I am certainly not done with thinking about this, but I do have some ideas about what I think is happening. And I think that the concept of inclusion has moved from being one aspect of the continuum of services for special education to being an ideology of almost religious proportions in the minds of its most extreme advocates.
As originally outlined, inclusion meant that along the continuum of special education services, it was sensible to place the student with disabilities in the general education environment as much as possible. This meant that, for example, a student with severe and multiple disabilities, who might need full-day placement in a small classroom with a specialty teacher, should also have recess and lunch within the larger population of the school. But as the idea has evolved, inclusion has for some become about dismantling the continuum of services entirely, and advocating the full-time placement of all special education students in the general education classroom. To the inclusion ideologue, to provide any services in a separate setting is defined as segregation, and the argument is that separate is always inherently unequal. If those words--separate is unequal--sound familiar, they come for the landmark United States Supreme Court Case, Brown v. the Board of Education, which was the school desegregation decision.
It sounds very egalitarian. All children should, they say, have the same educational experience, in the general education classroom, and all necessary services to children with disabilities should be delivered in the general education classroom. This idea is justified by the argument that disabilities aren't really disabilities, and that all of us are fundamentally the same, really, and have the same needs. But when this concept of inclusion is married with the standards movement, which insists that every child should be making exactly the same achievements at the same age, we come to the absurd conclusion that we can mandate equal educational outcomes for all. This is clearly different from the notion that Brown v. Board was intended to ensure equal educational opportunity for all. (This last has problems of its own, and you can read a perspective of what they are here).
And what is really quite interesting--at least to me--is that all of this insisting that everyone is the same is being done in the name of diversity. It makes me wonder if the people who wrap themselves most tightly in the mantle of the diversity movement are the same people who are most afraid of acknowledging that there are real differences among human beings. (For more of my thoughts about this, you can go here).
And so, I am thinking.
I am thinking that it is very interesting that those who cry out the loudest about their respect for diversity, actually want to treat every person as if he or she is exactly the same as every other person. As Thomas Jefferson said, " Remember, first that the greatest inequality is to treat unequal things equally..." (Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787).
I am thinking that it is very interesting that the ideology of "no difference" in education arises just as the sciences of neurobiology and genetics are demonstrating the fundamental physical nature of differences among human beings in the brain as well as the body.
I am thinking that a denial of differences among people is a denial of individuality, which is defined by differences. And that if there is no individuality, then it could be argued that there is no need for individual rights. This kind of thinking could lead to a conception of group rights, a kind of fascism or collectivism that strikes at the very heart of the American ideal of individual rights inherent to each person.
I am thinking that it is also very interesting that this denial of individual differences comes at the same time that "Aspies" and other neurodiverse people are finding their own voices. They are declaring that they have their own cultures and their own appreciation of who they are--that their neuro-atypicality is part of their identity; that they don't want to be cured of it, that they like their differences. (See, for example, Daniel Tammet's book, Born on a Blue Day, or Susanne Antonetta's book, A Mind Apart: Travels in a Neurodiverse World. Or go to Aspies for Freedom, a website devoted to these ideas).
Somehow, all of this thinking is going to come together and gel with another train of thought, about what I call the narrowing of normal--which I have yet to write about--and I don't know yet what kinds of conclusions I am going to reach, and how they will affect my direction in my doctoral program.
Right now I am...just thinking.