As someone who has lived with the stigma of being labeled a student with a learning disability and the unique experience of having the honor to teach students with learning disabilities, I think I can share with you why inclusion is extremely important and why it’s not always about academic ability.
Inclusion, according to Webster, is to be considered as a part of a whole. The objective of inclusive education is to have students with disabilities (many with various levels of academic ability) included in the learning environment in the general education classroom alongside their non-disabled peers. The purpose of school is to teach students to eventually be able to participate in greater society as productive members. School is the place where students being to refine the roles they will eventually play in their community as adults. We can’t expect students with disabilities to learn and practice these roles separate from their peers and then later be able to assimilate into society with a smooth transition.
Believe it or not, I was in self-contained classes full time for 3 years. The only time I was able to be with my friends was during PE and lunch the first year I was in the program. The next two years, as a middle school student, it was only during PE and maybe some elective like art or music. Even my homeroom was comprised of only students with disabilities. Although, I was with non-disabled students for lunch, they were not my same grade peers. They were students of an entirely different grade. The same program that did wonders to teach me to compensate for my learning differences did a number on my self-esteem. Some of the pain associated with being labeled “special” could have been avoided with making a concerted effort…inclusion.
Although I am an advocate for inclusion, I think we must be careful not to use full inclusion as a one size fits all approach. This type of tunnel vision in itself causes frustration for many students and teachers. I believe self-contained classes and the resource room has its place and should not be over shadowed by the newer phenomenon of full inclusion for every student. When I reflect on my own experience, I feel sorry for the little girl who was trapped in the self-contained classroom. But also feel sorry for students who are trapped in the general education room. It’s seems like we are always at one end of the spectrum. We need to find the middle ground.
What administrators must remember and act on is that inclusion can function on many levels. This can be from students with disabilities joining the general education classroom for part of the day, depending on the type and severity of the disability, to full inclusion where all students are taught in the same class. Certain factors must be considered in the implementation of a full inclusive program. These factors include, but are not limited to: social integration, curricular expectations, staff development and related services.
The truth is that students are labeled when removed from the regular classroom by both teachers and students. But the same is true for students who are in full inclusion. Name-calling, stereotypes and perceptions are other social issues that these children have to deal with in both inclusive and self-contained settings. We just have to take greater care to recommend appropriated settings for students on an individual basis. Parents and students themselves must have greater input.
At the end of the day, students who benefit academically and socially from the education they receive in general education should be included in these settings. The general education classroom can meet the needs of the vast majority of students with learning disabilities. However, this is not true for all. Some students will receive greater benefits from placement other than full inclusion education settings.
The LD Coach