Thursday, May 3, 2007

Philosophy of Inclusion

Including Students with Special Needs

Research has brought me to understand the concerns about inclusion in the school system. Inclusion is presently understood as including disabled people into everyday life by means of various forms of education and preparation for professional life and active participation in the life of a society (Katarzyna, 2006 Balcerek, 1986). Clark mentions that there is difficulty in housing one educational system for all (2005), suggesting a considerable amount of concerns to identify and accommodate to work effectively. Marilyn Friend proposes that the students’ disability, age and cultural background; the attitude and education of the teachers; the commitment and participation of parents; and the degree of support from the school and community all influence positions on inclusive practices (2006). Much of what I am using to support my advocacy of inclusion keeps these areas in mind. The core concentration of my position, however, interprets the influences in context of the social and educational concerns in circumstances of inclusion.

Not only am I an enthusiast for Vygotsky’s social-constructivist theory, I also support social development on a personal level. In the article by Clark, there is mention of how mainstream schools reflect the real world for students with special needs. With segregated schools for students with special needs, the real world will not be accurately represented for the students (2005). These areas are addressed in schools because most students with special needs, especially mental retardation, can often be successful after formal schooling so long as they are given skills to survive in the real world (Friend, 2006). What will these students do post education? Important skills that can be carried on into the real-world are lessons learned adequately in public schools.

Friendship is a key concept that I have recognized as essential in terms of inclusion and social development. Students with disabilities vary in response to their experiences of friendship in terms of school. One significant reason given for attending mainstream school is the opportunity for students to form friendships that will help them become known in their local community; another aspect of real-world relevance. These students who are included in the regular classroom can be more socially competent than their peers who are in segregated special schools (Clark, 2005).

Allison Price describes her daughter’s experience in a mainstream classroom in her response to the article Why We’re So Grateful for Inclusion. Because the town where they reside is so small, her daughter would have to travel farther to receive her special education if inclusion was not practiced in their neighborhood. Price argues that inclusion is greater than just an educational concept; it supports her daughter’s need and right to belong to a local community (Price, 2005). Opponents could argue that students in mainstream classes will not develop as personal friendships as they can in a segregated school (where students look past disabilities); but, with travel usually being a necessity for segregated schools, it is common for (often residential) students to lose contact or see much less of their friends during school breaks (Clark, 2005). The concept of community becomes remote.

Major arguments to the social development of students with special needs placed in mainstream classrooms involve acceptance and healthy self-esteem. I am understanding of these important concerns, however, I see acceptance handled in a multicultural employment. While I encourage multiculturalism in my classroom, I will also include the students who need special accommodations in my multicultural teaching. I will not tolerate prejudice in my classroom and will help to promote it in the school that I teach in. Self-esteem can be an issue that a student faces at any point in his or her life. Though I can see how self-esteem can be impacted more when a student has a disability, I plan on overcoming these challenges through individualized assignments that improve students’ self-esteem and confidence.

The educational concern when it comes to inclusive education primarily relies on the student outcomes. Inclusion is not in a student’s best interest if there appears to be no progress. Much research has been conducted, however, providing that educational outcomes for students in various situations show academic gains in comparison to their comparable peers in segregated special education classes (Friend, 2006).

One of the issues toward inclusive settings regards outlooks that teachers, parents and students feel about being prepared. In the article, Inclusion is hard – but worth it, Lamb states that some parents seek a special school place due to poor experiences in mainstream classes in the past. In addition, there is concern about the proper training teachers in a mainstream setting have in dealing with students with special needs (Lamb, 2005). Teachers are often prepared to assist students with learning disabilities, but feel unprepared when it comes to students with emotional or behavioral issues (Friend, 2006). The inadequacy in preparation follows that teachers feel they lack the skills and or time to differentiate and individualize their lessons (Clark, 2005).

My solution to this lack of preparation is simple; get prepared. Through my research, I learned that to effectively employ inclusion, the teacher must understand that student’s special needs and know where to find access for additional support (Lamb, 2005). I believe that access to additional support is vast and through school and community encouragement, a teacher can build a positive attitude about feeling prepared. With all the information sources currently available via internet, library, journals and paraprofessionals, a teacher working in an inclusive setting can find support somehow.

Additionally, the teacher is the model in the classroom. By modeling behavior that displays equality to all students, so that it is not apparent that any one student might take more work with, inclusiveness can become more appealing. All students in a diverse class need special attention. Teachers’ behavior has the strongest effect since it presents role models of relationships in a group (Schmidt, 2006). I believe that preparation in being a strong role model motivates both the students and the teacher in facilitating inclusion successfully, proudly and effectively.

The students’ attitudes should not be overlooked in respect to educational concerns. In one interview of a student with a physical disability, it was mentioned that he thinks that segregated special schools offer less academic education (Clark, 2005). This is insightful information because it comes directly from the student. Perhaps the reasoning for his thoughts is the focus of what he feels he will be taught at a school specialized for students with disabilities. Without complete access to the public school curriculum, he feels disadvantaged merely for having a physical disability.

Lastly, some bring up the issue about inclusion affecting students without disabilities. It can be argued that students who need special attention deter the development of the students who do not need the special education. I disagree with this argument. I think that an effective inclusive teacher can individualize the curriculum for each student. So, in theory, the student without a disability, or even the advanced student, will be just as catered to as the student with a disability. "Although only a few studies have been reported on the impact of inclusive practices on typical students, they suggest that these students’ achievement is not hindered" (Friend, 2006).

My position on an inclusive approach to education is stern on its effectiveness. I hold the attitude that inclusion is a challenging responsibility, but one that yields many more benefits than using segregation as a solution. The qualified teacher clause of the No Child Left Behind Act is one that I think should identify quality in inclusive practices; if teachers are educated on where to access materials for teaching students with special needs, I believe the attitudes of teachers, students and parents will increase. Inclusion is all about understanding and having some concept of accountability. Where there are challenges, accommodations and adaptations need to be made; this is not specific to special education, it is for general and all education. My perspective supports inclusive education with commitment.

Curtin, Michael & Clark, Gill. (2005). Listening to young people with physical disabilities’
experiences of education. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, Vol.52, No. 3, 195-214. Retrieved November 19. 2006, from UNLV Online Journal Subscriptions.
Friend, Marilyn & Bursuck, William D. (2006). Including students with special needs: A
practical guide for classroom teachers 4th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Web site:
Krasona, Katarzyna & Jaszczyszyn, Elzbieta. (2006). Early education and inclusion
in Poland. Early Child Development and Care, Vol.176, No. 6, 621-630. Retrieved November 29, 2006. from UNLV Online Journal Subscriptions.
Lamb, Brian. (2005). Inclusion is hard – but worth it. The Times Educational Supplement,
4659, 26. Retrieved November 19, 2006, from UNLV Online Journal Subscriptions.
Price, Allison. (2005). Why we’re so grateful for inclusion. The Times Educational
Supplement, 4661, 25. Retrieved November 19, 2006, from UNLV Online Journal Subscriptions.
Schmidt, Majda & Cagran, Branka. Classroom climate in regular primary school
settings with children with special needs. Educational Studies, Vol.32, No. 4, 361-372. Retrieved November 29, 2006. from UNLV Online Journal Subscriptions.


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