Has inclusive education gone too far? – The Globe and Mail debate

When I started this series of articles for the Class Struggle Podcast, I wrote that public debate on important public issues is sustained and encouraged through our media. A strong public press is essential in a healthy democracy and we are very fortunate here in Canada to have a vital and responsive media.

On Saturday, the Globe and Mail’s education reporter Caroline Alphonso wrote an important feature on the problems surrounding inclusion in Canada’s schools – Educating Grayson: Are inclusive classrooms failing students?

The article is an intelligent and sensitive report on the problems that take place every day in Canada’s schools surrounding inclusion. As a former elementary principal, I am well aware of these issues. Although I have not been in schools in the last two years, the problem obviously persists and the solutions remain elusive.

The Globe and Mail is sustaining this debate by publishing some of the comments to Saturday’s article. I have included two of them here:

From the comments: Has inclusive education gone too far? Educators and parents share their experiences

In 2018, I retired after 17+ years as an Educational Assistant (EA) in elementary schools. Over those years my job changed dramatically; from helping students (with varying needs) achieve their potential in class, to keeping students with often volatile behaviours from being a threat to others while in a “regular” classroom. Most, if not all, children want to belong and succeed at school. Teachers and EAs also want to make this happen. Too often, I have seen principals and parents put their own interests and opinions ahead of the best interests of the student. It becomes a fight about which adult is right, and the student’s true needs get overlooked. It is a terrible waste, made even greater when “experts” are brought in to observe briefly, and then chime in on what is best.

Please, parents and administration, gather and listen to the student, and the teacher and the Educational Assistant together. Set a few goals, be consistent at home and at school, and be kind and respectful of each other. You will see improvements almost immediately. Unfortunately this rarely happens. – MacKenzie96

Ms. Kahn is not wrong to want better services for Grayson. It is sad that services for children like Grayson are so limited. Underfunding special education programs pits parents against teachers and administrators. This undermines an education system that is the envy of the world (we rank #5 internationally according to the OECD). Please keep in mind that funding for education has been frozen for the last few years and special education in most boards has been cut. There are fewer Educational Assistants in my classroom than ever before. My fear is Mr Ford’s austerity measures aimed at health care system, social assistance and education will only make things worse. – Daysofmiracle

I don’t know if I have anything useful to add to these comments, but I do know that educators need to be part of this discussion.

This Thursday for this week’s Class Struggle on VoicEd Radio we will weigh in on this issue. As I have been saying, educators need to be heard on this issue and it would be great to see more writing from those who are active in the profession. We know there is a lack of resources when it comes to education and there are real human consequences to the underfunding that has been going on for years.

the next Class Struggle podcast will be this Thursday (January 10) at 8:00PM

The problems with inclusion are well known. Principals, especially in elementary school have been excluding special needs students from their buildings for years. These exclusions are hard to trace because they were never documented and were never part of any formal process. I remember many times as an administrator asking parents just to keep their child at home. They weren’t suspended, we just didn’t have the resources to keep them and others safe in our school.

These actions are taken by principals every day. When I excluded I always did this on my own authority. No one above me was willing to take any responsibility for these actions and when things went badly, I was the one who suffered the consequences.

Here is the problem. There are nowhere near the resources in the schools to deal with many special needs cases. As Caroline Alphonso mentions in her article, there are situations where a gifted teacher may be able to accommodate a special needs child, but such a situation is not sustainable, and not all schools have the talent to work successfully with challenging children.

More often the lack of adequate resources leads to disruptions and sometimes violence in the classroom.

In most cases, it is the educational assistant that suffers the direct consequences for the emotional outbursts of the child, but I know the results of poorly thought-out inclusion affects the entire school community, including children and parents.

The solution calls for a rebuilding of the inclusion model. Generally, the practices in Ontario at least are haphazard. Inclusion needs to be rebuilt from the ground up with a sharp focus on how best to accommodate the special needs child, their parents and the wider school community. Inserting the student into a regular classroom with some support and hoping for the best is just not good enough.

Such a rebuild will be expensive and I really don’t think we are there yet as a society to make the financial investment that it will take. Patching is cheap, rebuilding takes lots of resources and intelligent design.

I hope we have a good debate on Thursday. This is a problem that will just get worse until we face it head-on. Again, good for the Globe and Mail for keeping this important issue in the public eye. As educators, we need to do our part to make sure it stays there.

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Where is the Political Voice of Educators?

Educators no longer have a political voice and that is a problem.

I have written about this before, but now I propose to do something about that. More on this later.

I am not entirely sure why this is the case. Part of the problem is that most of us work for overly bureaucratic school boards where having a political opinion is anathema. Part of the problem, I think, is that educators have gotten so caught up in their professional discourse that they have forgotten that they still play a public role as opinion leaders in a democratic society.

There is no question that the popular leadership in our society is now played exclusively by the media. This week in Ontario the Globe and Mail is leading the opposition against a corrupt newly elected Progressive Conservative government who sees no problem with selecting underqualified cronies to the top position in the Ontario Provincial Police – see their latest editorial here – Globe editorial: To end the OPP scandal, Doug Ford has to make a U-turn.

The same government seems bent on dismantling new initiatives focusing on indigenous education, after-school programming and in-school tutoring. The earlier assault on the 2015 sex-ed curriculum still remains in effect even after consultations in Ontario overwhelmingly rejected the substitution of the outdated 1998 program. Now it seems the government is considering walking away from the consultation saying that it was ‘flooded by unnamed groups‘.

In the United States, media outlets like CNN and the Washington Post daily speak truth to power as they cover the chaos in the American political system. Today they are tweeting and broadcasting about the American pullout in Syria that has led to the incredible public falling out between Donald Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis. If you haven’t seen the astounding interview Wolf Blitzer did with Stephen Miller you really need to witness this.

I listen to lots of podcasts and read my fair share of education blog posts and one thing I can conclude is that teachers are not publically commenting on these stories – with the notable exception of Andrew Campbell. At this point, Andrew is holding the political mantle for all Ontario teachers. There needs to be more public discourse where educators express their opinion on the political issues of the day. There is a notable political vacuum out there.

So, here is my proposal. A weekly political column or podcast by an educator (me) on one political issue that needs more discussion. Maybe I will be alone on my show, maybe it will only air on Sound Cloud, but it needs to be done. I am not saying that I have anything really new to offer to the political debates swirling around us, but educators need to at least express an opinion.

Maybe people will join me, maybe not. No matter, teachers need to exercise their political voice and this needs to be done in a public forum.