Advocates for full inclusion strike back
But we do not know their target
You may agree with me or disagree with me. You may read this Substack to be affirmed or you may read it to be challenged. However, I hope that whatever perspective you bring, you will acknowledge that when I criticise someone’s argument, you know exactly who they are and what I am criticising because I post a link. This is not an act of selflessness. If I did not, I would lose your trust because you would not be able to evaluate my analysis for yourself.
Which is why I find the latest offering from the Australian Association for Educational Research (AARE) blogsite confusing:
Anti-inclusion sentiment has reached fever pitch following the most recent Hearing of the Disability Royal Commission…
If folks were hoping the hearing would prove that it’s all unicorns and rainbows in special schools, they would have been disappointed…
There have been dark mutterings in various fora since the Hearing. Frustratingly, but as usual, those mutterings have conflated mainstreaming with inclusive education.
Advocates of the latter are being framed as dangerous ideologues who are arguing for the impossible, especially when it comes to students with challenging behaviour.
Who are these folks who are engaging in this framing? What and where are these ‘fora’? It is a mystery. So, why not identify the people involved and their arguments?
I can think of a few possible reasons. Perhaps they don’t exist. Perhaps the authors of the blog are misrepresenting them — for example, maybe they do not, as alleged, ‘conflate mainstreaming with inclusive education’. Perhaps the authors worry that if they provide a link, neutral readers will find their arguments more persuasive than those of the authors. We can only speculate.
After this opening, the AARE blog post continues with a fairly standard inclusion argument, followed by some research of questionable relevance.
First, let’s examine the standard tropes.
We are reminded — just in case we had forgotten — that whatever we mean by inclusion, it is a human right enshrined by United Nations convention:
Inclusive education is… a human right under Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD). The Australian government ratified the CRPD in 2008, which means that it agrees to be held legally accountable to its terms.
This sounds authoritative, and it certainly seems like an attempt to invoke the authority of the United Nations, but what actually matters in Australia is Australian law.
I really don’t understand this ‘my dad could beat up your dad’ approach. It is ill-advised and counterproductive because it doesn’t win hearts and minds and is transparently an attempt to coerce.
We are also pointed to a United Nations general comment that basically gives the same definitions of inclusion, integration and segregation that I explored this post, raising the same unanswered questions:
So, for example, I imagine a profoundly disabled, perhaps non-verbal, fourteen-year-old in a Year 8 algebra class and I wonder exactly what adjustments could be applied to make that form of inclusion work for that child? Or, perhaps, to make it more accessible, the Year 8 students should not be doing algebra? What about a child who cannot read, whose peers can read and who has the potential to learn how to read? If we withdraw that child for a reading intervention, is that not segregation? If we therefore decide to keep them in the class, how will they learn to read?
Such questions are not addressed or even acknowledged in the AARE blog post. Instead, the authors describe research that seems tangentially related, at best.
They identified a group of students currently in school:
We… asked the school leadership teams from each school to nominate the kids in the “red pointy end”. The ones with a long record of behaviour incidents, especially involving conflict with teachers.
Then they asked these students — there were 50 in total — some questions.
Firstly, we have to wonder what this has to do with disability. Are we to assume these students all have a disability? Does poor behaviour = disability? It’s not as if diagnostic criteria were used.
Secondly, these students are already included in mainstream education.
This is where the claims of inclusion advocates become a little slippery and is probably at the root of the complaint about conflating mainstreaming (integration) with inclusive education. The distinction between integration (bad) and inclusion (good) is that in integration, students are required to adjust to the mainstream setting whereas in inclusion, modifications are made to enable them to overcome any barriers they may face. That may sound great, but it means that success is part of the definition of inclusion. Failed attempts at inclusion are, by definition, integration. Inclusion advocates can therefore never be wrong. When it doesn’t work it’s because we’re not doing it right. The definition of inclusion is an example of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy.
Setting aside these concerns, what do these interviews with disruptive students tell us? As if imparting some huge discovery, the authors of the blog reveal that these students approve of kind teachers who set ‘reasonable detentions’ and who explain things well and ensure students are on track. Warm/strict explicit teaching, anyone?
[As an aside, one of the authors of the AARE blog post was also an author of this piece in which detentions are classed as a form of ‘exclusionary discipline’]
I guess if you’ve been in an ivory tower surrounded by education academics and the barely comprehensible ravings of postmodernist French philosophers, you may find this surprising. You may have been under the impression that these students would prefer freedom to conduct independent inquiry or compose an interpretive dance, perhaps outdoors or on their iPhones, under no disciplinary regime of any kind, because of something to do with habitus or the overthrowing of systemic oppression.
The rest of us have been teaching and we’ve often been teaching these kids.
Back in the UK, I worked for seven years in a government school in London officially described as ‘facing challenging circumstances’. As head of science, I made sure at least one of my classes was a low ability group — which I guess is a form of ‘segregation’ — and I taught them explicitly, gradually building their skills and knowledge. If I had known then what I know now, I could probably have done this more effectively. These students had behavioural challenges but we generally got along OK. I had rules, routines and procedures and every class started them same way. Sometimes, I had to set detentions, but the need for these tended to fade as the students came to know me.
One year, a student we will call Z was struggling with his behaviour to the point that he was on the verge of permanent exclusion from school. I had taught him before and even though his ability should have placed him in a different class, Z thought he should move to my class. So after discussing it with his relieved teacher, that was what we did and it worked out OK.
Am I some kind of hero? No. I have found behaviour challenging just like most teachers and there were some students I could never reach. I am making this point because every teacher could tell a similar story. We know these kids. We’ve taught them. We don’t need researchers to tell us what these students think because they are usually quite open about telling us directly.
Researchers have this all the wrong way around. It’s as if their hypothesis is: If teachers understood poorly behaved or disabled students better, then a miracle would happen and all children would be included in all classes. They therefore work to build this understanding.
Maybe a little of that is needed. However, the compelling and urgent need is for practical strategies. If researchers think a child who is not currently included — according to their definition — should be included in a mainstream classroom, they need to give us practical strategies for doing so. And by practical, I mean something that does not require excessive bureaucracy or 3-5 versions of each lesson plan, and that can be managed by one teacher who is in charge of 25-30 students and not something that only works in a one-to-one situation.
Build that capacity and teachers will thank you.
I’m still unsure who the AARE blog was a response to. However, if it’s not a response to me then I would been keen to know who these other folks are and the ‘fora’ on which they are discussing this issue so that we can compare notes.
If it is a response to me then I am happy for the authors to link to my writings and provide a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal. No doubt, I am wrong about at least some of this and they are right, so let’s all learn something. I am also happy to debate this issue on a neutral forum.
Finally, as you are aware, I am working on a submission to the Disability Royal Commission and I am still keen to receive your comments that I will present anonymously. You can lodge them here.