National Inclusive Education Month Commentary #9
By Michael George
If you’re a parent of a child with a disability, you know exactly why I would ask this question. If you’re not, I can tell you first-hand the tremendous amount of energy that parents need to muster up every day to help their children accomplish the most basic of tasks, like just getting to school in the morning. On top of that, these same families are forced to deal with public systems that are complex, underfunded, that are laden with obstacles and barriers, with educators who don’t always believe in inclusive education, and a pile of experts who tell parents what to hope and dream.
When you lay it all out, you have to wonder why would families go through all this pain, and how can their children ever be successful?
In addition, stories abound of children with behavioural problems whose (sometimes) violent outbursts disrupt the flow of the school day, causing fear and anger for all involved, with many believing that these students don’t belong in the classroom or, at the very least, should be separated from their peers.
Given all of this, are we just kidding ourselves that inclusive education is really worth it?
Here’s the simple answer: not only is inclusion worth it, it is ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do!
And here are the top 3 reasons why.
1 – EVERY LIFE IS OF EQUAL VALUE:
I mean EVERY life. Without exception. This is so important.
Once you start applying this in every situation, no matter how simple or complex or extreme the situation might be, even in those violent situations, your behavior and your attitude will change.
You will begin to shift your mindset away from fear, from limits and constraints, and open yourself up to new possibilities. You will begin to ask yourself, “What’s the most I can do?” You will begin to see that the person with a disability is NOT different from anyone else. How they approach the world may be more dramatic, but so what? They want to love and be loved, to learn, to play, to interact with their friends, to be included, to feel safe, and to contribute. Most of all, they are a life force whose purpose and dreams need to be realized. We all are.
2 – EVERY PERSON CAN LEARN GIVEN THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
If you were given a differential calculus exam right now, how do you think you’d score? Probably not well. But is that because you were unable to learn the concepts or is it because you were never taught them? Or maybe you just hate math, in general!
If we try to assess a student’s skills and abilities, and the results are not as positive or they don’t score as well as expected, should we conclude that they are unable to learn? The answer, of course, is NO.
Our conclusion should always be that our approach to teaching them was not effective. The flaw is with the method, not the student. This is an absolute fundamental ingredient to inclusion. This means that if the student isn’t learning, it’s because we don’t know how to teach them.
Think about yourself, or your students having unlimited capacities, who should be given an abundance of opportunities to learn, to thrive, to fulfill his/her hopes and dreams. When we stifle human potential, when we exclude people, it hurts us all. That is the language of Inclusion.
3 – EVERY PERSON MUST BE IN CHARGE OF ALL DECISIONS THAT AFFECT HIS/HER LIFE
This is the concept of self-determination that is the pillar of international law. Many experts trained in the medical model believe it is their job to decide if the person with the disability has potential or not, driven by the assumption that these persons are not capable of deciding or acting on their own. Some therapists we encountered over the years didn’t feel that our son had any potential for walking, and therefore shouldn’t be given the opportunity to learn. No one has the moral authority to decide who qualifies to be taught and who is to be left out.
Inclusion is a philosophy, a way of living, and a human right that is not based on opinion. Because “sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine” (The Imitation Game, 2014).
That is why inclusion is worth it!
Michael George is a life leadership coach, writer, and speaker. He co-founded BMG Dynamics Group Inc. with his wife to help persons with disabilities and their families find their voice and place in the world and inspire them to believe in a future that is bigger than the past. He is a parent of a young adult born with multiple disabilities and has invested a lifetime to helping his son become the person he is meant to be.