As an education system and society, we have made huge strides in the inclusion of students with visible disabilities in our classrooms, groups, sports, and friendships. I wonder, though, if we have made as much progress in including ALL students… especially those who appear on the outside to be similar yet are different (or perceived to be) on the inside. I am not talking about the act of everyone having a seat in a classroom; I am talking about having a mindset of real inclusion.
“We all have one basic desire and goal: to belong and to feel significant” — Alfred Adler
This is an area in which I have far more questions than answers but here are some observations that make me wonder if we REALLY believe in inclusion.
- I have seen parents/caregivers of children with behaviour challenges (due to a wide variety of reasons) judged, scolded, and ostracized for being a bad parent when the behaviours are often far beyond their control.
- I have seen and heard of children going through their entire elementary school years and never receiving an invite to a birthday party.
- I continue to hear the terms “gay” and “retard” used in derogatory ways from adults and students.
- I continue to hear and see students and adults from the LGBTQ community not being accepted and included… and unable to be themselves in certain environments.
- I see students not being able to attend schools of choice because their families do not have the capital (ex. money or transportation) to access.
- I have heard adults say, “why can’t they just work harder?” when discussing how people from poverty could/should gain more resources.
- I know of people that will not hire certain applicants based on their culture and/or race.
- I have heard the statement “I don’t want my child in a class with THAT boy/girl”.
- I have seen many students not get the needed funding for support in schools because they do not have the correct diagnosis… or worse yet… correct paperwork.
- I have heard people state that Aboriginal people need to move past the impact of residential schools and colonialism… and just “get over it”.
These observations sadden me as they demonstrate a lack of understanding and empathy. They make me question what we actually believe when it comes to the goal of inclusion; however, there are also many examples that give me hope.
- I have seen a parent reach out their hand to help another parent struggling with a child meltdown at the supermarket.
- I have seen students tell others that “it’s not cool to use that word” when hearing the “g-word”.
- I have seen huge numbers of students embracing students that are different and actually working together to create change.
- I have heard and seen parents and teachers modeling empathy and inclusion to other adults and children.
- I have seen parents ask the family of a child, who struggles with behaviour challenges and lacks real friendships, if they would like to meet up for a play date for their kids.
- I have seen and heard of many teachers providing the opportunities for students to bring their strengths into the classroom and demonstrate their learning in ways that create more confidence and success.
- I have seen many districts create policies to end homophobia, heterosexism, and other acts of prejudice in schools.
- I have seen educators and community members actually listening and supporting First Nation communities to develop ideas and plans to help all students.
- I have seen parents of students with disabilities reaching out to others to help them get over the many challenging times.
- I have seen schools become the safest and most caring places in some of our students’ lives.
The latter examples inspire me. They show courage and leadership. In order to include and accept all people, we must first seek to understand and listen to the stories of our students and neighbours. We need to educate about the importance of inclusion and acceptance of ALL students (and adults) not only in our schools but also beyond our walls into the communities and business world.
First we need to ask the question, do we REALLY believe in inclusion? Then we need to reach out a hand rather than point a finger. We need to continually act and create environments that model empathy, care, and equity… and work toward a society of real inclusion.
I was given the book “Don’t we already DO inclusion?”, by Paula Kluth, by some parents at my former school so I looking forward to diving into that to learn more practices to help me in this area.
Still learning, reflecting… and coming up with more questions that answers.
Please share any ideas of how you or your school/community are encouraging inclusion so others can benefit.