“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, November 19, 2007

Inclusion in the public school

One of the main reasons given for including people with cognitive disabilities in regular classes is for the purposes of developing social skills. I have been thinking through that idea lately and I am not sure that I agree with that. The assumption is that social skills cannot be learned unless someone is with people without disabilities which to my knowledge is a question that has not been addressed by research. Yes, people can learn social skills in a general ed setting, but that is quite different from saying that they cannot be learned in a special education setting.

Another issue is that through inclusion programs, we are supposedly preparing people with cognitive disabilities to live with people without disabilities. That is, they will need the social skills to be with people without disabilties. Well, the best that I can tell, there are a lot of people with cognitive disabilities who do not spend much time as adults with other adults who are not disabled, that is, other than those who are paid to work with them. So there is a fallacy in that argument. In addition, why would the focus of social skill development be to facilitate inclusion with persons without disabilities? It is like a person with a disability hasn't lived until they are integrated with a person who is not disabled. That is the feeling of people without much more than people with disablilities. I think that persons with disabilities are much less discriminating (in the most positive of ways) about their friends than are people without disabilities. My cognitively disabled friends see friends, less often discriminating between those with or without disabilities...they just see people. I, on the other hand, seem quick to categorize people as disabled or not, which is my problem.

In reality, the main justification for inclusion programs if one looks across the life of persons with cognitive disabilities, would be to change the enviornment, to change people who aren't currently experiencing a disability. They will gain a great deal in such relationships, they will grow and be softened.



Julie@Shanan Trail said...

My daughter was in a public school until she finished 7th grade. I homeschool her now and from the arguments against homeschooling forwarded by the NEA, I suspect that the public schools view socialization as at least as important of a role as academics. You know our children will be exposed to a diverse population of students and learn to "socialize" with a variety of people.

This argument loses merit when one considers that most sociologists who write about socialization write about uniformity and not diversity. Citizens in a well socialized society have the same or similar thoughts, beliefs and expectations; they internalize the norms of their society. They do not ask for, expect or desire really radical social and political change.

Socialization for children with developmental disabilities is a poorly thought out, pooly funded idea. While I am not in favor of segregation and institutionalization, I did not experience "inclusion" as a positive thing. I believe that inclusion should mean that we, as a society, learn to appreciate, accept and value diversity. In my experience, the public school works on a completely different paradigm. I felt that their goal was to teach my daughter to act as if she was neurotypical.

The school used a myriad of positive and negative incentives to encourage my daughter to "make better choices." The school’s environment was overwhelming for my child in a social and sensory way. She made "poor choices" and "would not" filter out the noise of the environment. She was unfocused, irritated and sometimes behaved poorly. She "sabotaged" her friendships by "choosing" to act immaturely. She "chose" not organize her locker, her assignments, etc. and always had missed assignments. She simply "would not" function independentally at the level of her same aged peers. I thought the school should change her environment and, in fact, I saw their failure to provide access to an appropriate educational environment negligent in a way similar to an environment that fails to provide ramps for a person confined to a wheelchair.

Great thoughts ~

Mark said...

Fascinating ideas!

In a way it seems as though questioning the idea of inclusion for the purpose of improving socialization skills is like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Of course! It's Obvious! Nothing could be finer than to have this disabled child behave more like me!You would have to be just a little bit crazy to disagree with that wouldn't you?

Maybe, just maybe, asking questions about the universal benefits of inclusion is more like standing in the middle of the town square and shouting "The Emperor is naked!"

It must have been an awful experience for Julie and her daughter to be told again and again that this girl's problems with socializing in in the general education environment were the result "poor choices." How aggravating it must have been to have when the district communicates their expectation that this child "act as though she was neurotypical." How in the world are you going to "act neurotypical" when you are not? I am 5' 2" tall. Would the district suggest that I "act tall?"

I agree with Julie's assessment of the school's reaction to her daughter's needs. It is exactly like trying to get a wheelchair over a curb when no one bothered to carve out a curb cut.

Accommodations for persons with disabilities must be, made. It takes a great deal of wisdom to discern which are most appropriate.