47. Inclusion

Around the United States and around the world, it is being decided that children with “special needs” ought to be included in regular classrooms as much as possible – that removing a child from a classroom for instruction is harmful to everyone involved. Before I explore the nooks and crannies of this issue, let me take my stand: I think inclusion of all children in the regular classroom as much as possible is right and practical.
If you’re still reading this article, thank you. Like so many changes in schools, inclusion of children with special needs, and the co-teaching and other adjustments that accompany the policy, often arrive without appropriate preparation. Parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, children, and the rest of the community suddenly find out that someone who used to be bussed somewhere else for some vague reason will now be part of the class, part of the school, and thus more part of the community.
And, surprise! There is a backlash! Often, one of the first human reactions to any change is to be disturbed, and one of the first reactions to any disturbance is to blame someone, or to blame a system. I like to think that if all children had already been included in the class, school, and community, and there was a move to remove some children, there would be a similar backlash. Maybe.
The backlash may take many forms. There are several questions in people’s minds. If these children were somewhere else before, wasn’t there a reason for their exclusion? Are regular teachers skilled enough to teach these children? Will the presence of these children cause education to sink to a lower level? Will my child get less attention? All of these questions are people’s honest reactions, and answers ought to accompany the advent of the new inclusion policies.
I don’t read a lot of research; I read and listen to things written and said by people who have read a lot of research. So, of course, you don’t have to believe me. (You wouldn’t have to anyway) But what I’ve read and heard is that inclusion of children with “special needs” in the regular classroom does not have adverse effects on the achievement of anyone, and, in fact, sometimes results in unexpected improvements in both the academic and social environments of the classroom.
But regrettably, preparation is too often an afterthought. People ought to know what’s going to happen, and why, and how, before it happens. Teachers should not think of the new child as their “included” child. Does that term imply that all the other children are “excluded?” Parents and children should know that there is now someone else who can come to birthday parties, join scouts, be on the team, and should know what adjustments are advisable. It can be extra work to make adjustments, but people already do it almost automatically. One child can’t eat nuts. Another is allergic to beestings. Inclusion really is already part of our culture; we’re just opening up a little more.

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