Inclusion: Why It Matters?
Inclusion: Why It Matters?
Many people, in recent years, have asked me about my daughter’s education. “Why inclusion?” they ask. “Don’t you believe that Emily will be better off with kids that are like her?” Well, let me say right off the bat that these are not easy questions, nor are there any easy answers. Much of our decision about including our daughter (who has Down syndrome), in a regular ed classroom has to do more with our philosophy of life, rather than our philosophy of education. To begin, we believe that children with special needs are more like “typically developing” kids than different. They go to school, play sports, watch TV, drive their parents crazy, and have friends. They hope, fear, dream, and love. And like parents of typically developing kids, we want the best for our children. Sometimes that involves trial and error, but most of the time it involves faith.
More critically, it is important to define what one means by inclusion. A common misconception is that inclusion means “the same”, specifically, that the child with special needs receives the same education as a “regular ed” student. This definition sets everyone up for failure: the child, his/her classmates, the teacher, the parents, and the school community, for it assumes that the same level of academic mastery is required, and is simply unrealistic.
The reality is that the curriculum is modified to meet the needs of the individual student. Believe me, every parent of a child with a cognitive disability knows he/she is not going to be a rocket scientist, nor expects the school to make her/him one. Yet, the child needs to learn academic, functional, and social skills, as well as good citizenship. These are the tools that the regular education classroom gives our children.
Dr. Richard Villa, an inclusion specialist, uses the Native American symbol, the Circle of Courage, to define inclusion. The circle represents the balance of values needed to be fully human: belonging (membership), mastery, independence (along with interdependence) and generosity (what I like to classify as “citizenship”). From an educational perspective, mastery is only one aspect of what we value. In practice, it is the only value that can be achieved by the individual child. The others require reciprocity. Inclusion, therefore, is not only about my child, it is also about your child, for it requires membership, interdependence, and generosity. Does that mean that inclusion comes neatly wrapped, without its challenges? Of course, not. Does my child’s presence in the classroom take away from your child’s education? Not as long as the teachers are supportive and supported with resources. Does that mean that my child will be fully included at all times? No, for we need to balance her social learning with her functional skills. Are we still learning as we go? Absolutely. Are there days that I wonder if we are doing the right thing? Yes. But, knowing that someday Emily may want to go to the prom, get a job, live with friends or get married, motivates me to keep going. Why inclusion? Simply because being included now, opens doors for her future. For it will be your children who will one day give her a chance to work, create, be a friend; in essence, creating an opportunity for both of them to be fully human.
Kathy Lavin, MSW Kathryn received her master’s degree in Management and Policy (Jane Addams School of Social Work) and has worked in the disability field over 20 years; worked at the Institute on Disability and Human Development; served on the board of the National Association for Down syndrome; founding member of the Belle Center of Chicago; currently serves on the Chicago Community Trust’s Persons with Disabilities Fund.
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2016 Magazine