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.


mathmom said...

I'm just thinking... that you are a very wise woman. Great post! I always enjoy reading your posts, even if I rarely comment.

Tara Marie said...

I am thankful I had the opportunity to read this post.

Amie said...

A great post!

I just noticed the quote on your sidebar. I love it!

me said...

As the mother of a child who has bipolar disorder, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am often scorned because of my opinions on "inclusion," but it has evolved into this huge monstrosity I can no longer recognize.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, everyone. And if you have any thoughts to aid my thinking, I'd be grateful.

Me: As the parent of a child with AS, I feel your pain. One of the reasons that I finally took N. out of school was that, with the issues of inclusion, it was becoming so difficult to get the school to follow the IEP. When he was set to go to middle school, I walked the down the hall there during passing period and realized that there was no way he'd cope with that. And he's always be a problem for their AYP. And then I realized that dealing with seven different teachers would become a full-time job. So I thought that if I had to quit my job in order to manage his education, why not make it so much easier on both of us, and use that energy to educate him at home.

Barbara Frank said...

Oh my goodness. I figured it had gotten out of control, judging from the inclusion-mania I saw among some of my fellow parents of kids with Down syndrome. But reading this post makes me especially glad we've always homeschooled our son with Ds.

Thanks for your comments at my blog.

Kimberlee said...

I have to admit, I was developing that achy-unsure feeling in my stomach as I began to read this post. Inclusion is a touchy topic and as a classroom teacher it's often easy to find myself on the "wrong" side of any discussion about the subject. I was COMPLETELY relieved and gratified to read your thoughts. After more than twenty years in education, I am finding more and more that there is very little that is "special" left in Special Education. It's not special if the needs that are supposed to be addressed are ignored. It's not special if the "pull out" class size is as large as the regular class. I LOVE the points that you made about equality being different from SAMENESS. As a caring, dedicated teacher my hope is always to meet the needs of ALL learners. To think that all the diverse needs within a classroom can be addressed simultaneously by ONE teacher is naive. To expect all students to fit into any particular mold is similarly naive. OR MORE POINTEDLY in this era of NCLB, to expect all children to learn and achieve exactly the same concepts/skills at exactly the same level and on exactly the same time table...well, that's worse than naive, it's uninformed. I really think this idea that equal means identical has more to do with dollars than sense!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Kimberlee--I love the pun at the end of your comment! Thanks.

I was a classroom teacher myself for eight years, before I taught gifted here in NM, where gifted is part of special education.

I got interested in Special Ed because I had a wonderful time teaching a physical science course to "science terrified" juniors in high school one year. It was a private school, and these kids were admitted because of brothers and sisters, but they had various learning difficulties and most had a 504 plan. As a teacher, I enjoyed having a small class--12 students--and I loved having the luxury of working with them to meet their individual needs.

Anyway, inclusion meaning to meet the needs of special education children is one thing, but the ideology of inclusion is another animal altogether.

Thanks for the comment. It is good to hear from teachers.

Crimson Wife said...

I'm currently reading a very interesting book called The Poisoned Apple: The Bell Curve Crisis and How Our Schools Create Mediocrity and Failure by Betty Wallace & William Graves. The authors call for a radical overhaul of schools to eliminate traditional grades in favor of achievement level grouping. Students who are working on the same objectives (i.e. decoding words, double-digit addition, etc) would be grouped together regardless of their age. Students would move through the levels as quickly or slowly as is right for them individually. There would be much less need for both special ed and GATE (though those at the very extremes of the spectrum would still need extra services) because all kids would be receiving an individualized education.

mathmom said...

Crimson, that's a model I've often imagined would work better than our current model. My kids go to an alternative ungraded school that works on a model much like that and it does work well for many kids. I think that kids who learn differently (at either end of the spectrum) will always need support, however. But I think that kind of model is a way better starting point than what we currently have.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Crimson Wife: The model you discussed works very well in other countries, such as Israel and Germany. Here, there is an idea being brought forward through Gifted Education, called Cluster Grouping, that is similar, although it still places kids within age-grades for an entire school year. The idea is to have the general education teacher have several groups of kids at similar ablitity levels. Although a step in the right direction, the concept that age segregation is somehow necessary for good socialization--which is not at all intuitive or proven--still holds sway in the public schools.
And more problematic, cluster grouping is being attacked by the inclusion ideologues as "tracking." Although there is a significant difference.

Mathmom: This model has been proposed over and over again for reading instruction, and indeed is being used for it in some schools. However, such radically individualized education is rarely considered for all subjects or even for the core curriculum. And I agree with you, children with disabilities that are more than mildy manifest, or children with profound giftedness, would still need different kinds of support. Also, given the testing results we see, children of poverty or certain minority backgrounds would still be found in lower levels--at least at first--and that might be enough to kill that type of program before it progresses.

Dawn said...

You've laid out thoughts that I've been having (except so much better) ut on the subject of cultural and religious diversity. I just had a post on an afrocentric school that's going ahead in Toronto and I've been giving a lot of thought to the Christian fundamentalists who wrap their kids in their culture. And I'm beginning to think that's a welcome thing.

A diverse meal isn't dumping a bunch of diverse ingredients into a bowl, mixing them together and serving just that. It's a table on which a variety of dishes is on offer.

Sorry for the half-baked metphor. :)

Dawn said...

Just have to add a trackback,

[Make sure you read Ragamuffin Studies post on Just Thinking about Inclusion and Ideology...]