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Social Inclusion

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This post references the book “Inclusion of Exceptional Learners in Canadian Schools” by Nancy Hutchinson (2010) Pearson Prentice Hall. Toronto, Ontario.

To me social inclusion means that all students are included in their same age peer group for the purpose of education and social development for some part of the school day.  For exceptional students this means that they are included where and when ever it is of benefit for them.  For some students this may mean full inclusion for others with more severe challenges it may mean only a portion of the day. I agree Hutchinson where she writes, “Exceptional students in Canada are entitled to an adapted or differentiated education programing,”(p.3) however, I would expand this to say that all students in Canada are entitled to adapted or differentiated educational programming.  I believe this because the benefit for all students is that inclusive education is focused on each students strengths and needs in order to see every student succeed.

Hutchinson writes, “expert special education teachers consistently referred to the needs and strengths of individual students rather than speaking in generalities about the class as a whole.” (p.6) I think this is the key piece to why inclusive education benefits everyone in a class.  If all teachers learned to view the class as individuals they can improve their teaching for all students not just exceptional learners.  For me as an educator one of the biggest benefits for me already is that inclusive education helps me to view all of my students as capable learners.  Instead of focusing exclusively on their weaknesses I am focused on their strengths and how they can succeed.  It just makes sense on so many levels that we would plan for our students to succeed rather than teaching all students exactly the same.

A big challenge however is that the traditional structure of schools is based on a factory model where every student is expected to be the same, perform the same tasks and therefore finish with the exact same skills.  This has even created the false assumption that to be fair everything must be equal.  To do inclusive education means a paradigm shift and that can be a difficult process.  Teachers, principals, parents and support staff all must support the change to inclusive education and commit to making the changes necessary for every student to succeed.  Right now it seems that a lot of people are giving inclusive education lip service but so far some of the funding and structural changes that need to happen have not fallen into place.  So many of the classrooms I’ve seen have had students reintegrated but the support staff and materials haven’t followed them into the classroom yet.  This creates a situation where a lone teacher is trying to meet the diverse needs of a whole class without proper support.  In these cases I think the end result will be teacher burnout and poor student responses.  This experience leads me to question wether inclusive education will succeed in reaching it’s potential.  As a teacher I can be committed to inclusive education but if I am not given the supports I need I won’t be able to fully ensure my students success. Hutchinson also highlights this writing, “They also spoke of supports that would help inclusion, including more time, appropriate teaching materials, assistants in the classroom and administrative support.” (p.23)

I hope that I am just cynical because I think inclusive education is a powerful educational ideology that views students as capable learners regardless of their exceptionalities.  I also think that inclusive education could be an amazing motivation for school reform.  As well I agree with Hutchinson where she writes, “inclusion involves the acceptance and participation of all, a way of being together rather than a place, and inclusive communities ought to be communities.” (p.24) I think this is an incredible image of the potential that inclusive education creates in our classrooms.