By Jeannette Armstrong Ed.M and Susie Hughes Ed.D,
Viterbo University, La Crosse, WI
March 1, 2016
Special education is all about laws and rules. Those of us in special education must follow all of the rules, or we and our schools are out of compliance. Many of these rules, however, have to do with the written details that are mandated by the special education laws. There are no laws, however, that mandate Inclusive teaching in education; IDEA only requires that students be afforded free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. Inclusive teaching has been evident for many years; it is not mandated, but rather a choice that teachers must make in order to promote to a sense of belonging that all students deserve. Rather than focusing on changing students to fit a mold that allows them to be included in the classroom, teachers should be promoting the kind of systemic change that prepares schools to accept all students as they are, and include them, accept them, and teach them in ways that they learn best.” Is the disability in the child, or is the disability somehow in the educational system that we have created” (Vermont Department of Education, 1993, p. 1)?
It is really very simple, we ether include all students or we exclude/segregate, some. Inclusion can never be partial because, for example, 90% inclusion means that 10% of the students are excluded. Where else but in a classroom is it acceptable to partially exclude anyone? Would it be acceptable to tolerate partial bullying, partial racism, partial religious persecution…why is partial inclusion something to be proud of rather than something to be ashamed of? What is best for children is the basis for inclusive practices. Embracing inclusive education means that excluding any subgroup is a simple violation of civil rights and the principle of equal citizenship (Villa & Thousand, 2005).
We need to engage ALL students in a way that connects them to the classroom community by making them think, wonder, question, and explore; this community allows and encourages both disagreement and debate. In this environment students feel like their classroom community is a safe place where they are fully accepted and their views are respected and valued as much as those of any other student.
So, whose responsibility is it to be absolutely accepting of all students regardless of their academic abilities, gender, socioeconomic status, culture, religion, or identity? Who is responsible to assure that all students are fully included and accepted in every classroom? To paraphrase a quote from John E. Lewis, If not us- then who. If not now- when?