I’ve been feeling pretty nervous about inclusion lately.
You may have read in the past that I am a special education teacher. This year, I’m teaching all English support– two blocks of co-taught class and one block of “self-contained” (or as my school and I call it, “separate class,” because self-contained sounds so icky). I’ve decided (with parent permission) to try pushing the separate class into the general education class for most lessons. My school prides itself on differentiation and personalized learning, so we should be able to meet the lower readers’ needs in the classroom with their peers. Right? That doesn’t necessarily ease my fears, though, because in a bigger class, it is easier for important concepts to get lost on students who struggle. It’s easier for them to zone out and ignore the lesson. It’s easier for them to miss valuable time. I’ve been afraid of all of these possible detriments.
However, this week, something really amazing happened that reignited my passion for and belief in inclusion. In a group with advanced and struggling readers sitting side-by-side, we were learning about what it means to be an advocate. Students learned about a few different advocates in history, including Malala Yousafzai and her work towards education equality in Pakistan. We presented the issue of girls’ education in Pakistan and how girls are intentionally excluded from education because of oppressive practices of the Taliban. I asked the group if they can think of any other groups who might be excluded from an equal education in some places in the world. Among the answers students gave, one that came up was “kids with disabilities.”
I then showed students a statistic that they found pretty moving: “There are 61 million children across the world who are currently not enrolled in school.” Students were asked to share out why this is is a problem. One of the students who had been originally rostered for separate class, Matthew, said something so profound, something I will never forget. He said, “That’s 61 million minds that could have had so much potential. Those are 61 million potential leaders who won’t be able to lead our world after all.” Another student, Jonathan, who does not receive special education services and who I would consider quite advanced, wanted to add on, “That’s 61 million talents that have been untapped.” Students with and without disabilities alike see the importance of including all children in receiving an education alongside their peers.
Our kids fully understand when they are being excluded, and they are aware of the lost potential. Furthermore, even students who struggle academically are capable of full participation in activities which ask them for their unique perspectives. Their thoughts and ideas matter, and we need to make sure our actions communicate that to them. Our students, ALL of our students, are capable of greatness. They deserve to be appreciated, celebrated, acknowledged, accepted, and included. Otherwise, think of all that untapped talent…
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.