Chapter Seven: Teachers, Students, and Teaching
The paradox of separation and normalization is also evident in the debate that occurred over mainstreaming in schools in the 1980’s and 1990’s (Wilgosh, 1992). The concept of mainstreaming originally grew out of the normalization movement; many parents and educators advocated placing students in regular classrooms in neighbourhood schools. The adoption of mainstreaming as a policy meant that many students who in the past would have been in segregated classes were moved into regular classrooms. These students included those with severe cognitive disabilities and those who were medically fragile.
In the last few years, the term, inclusion, has replaced the concept of mainstreaming. Inclusion (or inclusive schools) has a similar focus on trying to provide for all students in regular classroom settings, but whereas mainstreaming referred primarily to students with disabilities, inclusion is used to refer to all students, regardless of difference, and reflective of ethnicity, language, social class, sexual identity, etc. Box 7.11.1 provides the understanding of inclusive education articulated by Manitoba Education. Mainstreaming was primarily about the physical location of students with disabilities, whereas inclusion refers also to attitudes, practices, and the creation of inclusive environments that attempt to meet the needs of all students.
Philosophy of Inclusion
The Public Schools Acts supports Manitoba’s philosophy of inclusion, which states:
Inclusion is a way of thinking and acting that allows every individual to feel accepted, valued, and safe. An inclusive community consciously evolves to meet the changing needs of its members. Through recognition and support, an inclusive community provides meaningful involvement and equal access to the benefits of citizenship.
In Manitoba, we embrace inclusion as a means of enhancing the well-being of every member of the community. By working together, we strengthen our capacity to provide the foundation for a richer future for all of us.
What is Manitoba’s philosophy of Inclusion?
- Inclusion is a way of thinking and acting that allows every individual to feel accepted, valued, and safe. An inclusive community consciously evolves to meet the changing needs of its members.
- Through recognition and support, an inclusive community provides meaningful involvement and equal access to the benefits of citizenship.
- In Manitoba, we embrace inclusion as a means of enhancing the well-being of every member of the community. By working together, we strengthen our capacity to provide the foundation for a richer future for all of us.
- The philosophy of inclusion goes beyond the idea of physical location and incorporates basic values and a belief system that promotes the participation, belonging and interaction.
What does inclusion mean to a student with special learning needs?
- Students with special needs should experience school as much as possible like their peers without special needs.
- To make inclusion applicable in Manitoba schools, educators will:
- Foster school and classroom communities where all students, including those with diverse needs and abilities, have a sense of personal belonging and achievement.
- Engage in practices that allow students with a wide range of learning needs to be taught together effectively.
- Enhance students’ abilities to deal with diversity
Source. Manitoba Education Philosophy of Inclusion. http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/specedu/aep/inclusion.html
Though many schools and teachers welcome inclusion, feeling that it benefits students, others worry about their ability to provide good education for students and about the additional demands that are placed on classroom teachers. Individual cases involving this issue have been quite heated, making national news. Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been invoked by parents and other advocates for students with disabilities, and a number of court cases in Canada, some of which were described in Chapter 4, have dealt with the extent to which schools can require students with disabilities to attend special classes, and/or provide appropriate educational services.
Inclusion is by now quite well established in Canadian schools, with the vast majority of children attending either their local school or another school of their choice (a small number of students remain in separate classes or separate schools). A positive attitude toward inclusion is evident as teacher candidates are better prepared in universities to provide differentiated instruction. However, many teachers are still not prepared adequately at the undergraduate level of their education to deal with some of the students with exceptionalities with whom they will work—for example, those who are medically fragile or who have severe cognitive challenges. More recently, teachers have noted the increasing number of students with serious emotional or behavioural challenges, especially in elementary schools, that are often related to mental health concerns that need trained psychological support.
These debates illustrate the tensions between educational ideals and organizational practices. In principle, it ought to be possible to develop an individual program for each student and thus accommodate a very wide range of students in a classroom, but this is not so easy to achieve in practice. The problems associated with maintaining classroom order, covering the curriculum, and grading all students make individualization a very challenging enterprise. In addition, the school system tends to be organized around groups, not around individual students. Children with exceptionalities are often supported with educational assistants (EA) who are not trained educators. Without careful consideration of the training and the role of the EA, there exists the potential that children with exceptionalities will have more interaction with the EA than with the teacher or other children. What becomes an “appropriate education for all” may become something that, if Canada follows the American example, is decided on a case-by-case basis in the courts.