Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The Illusion of Inclusion
Esbee at the Life in Forsyth blog sent me this link, and asked what I thought about it. The story is about parents of children with autism who decided to start a charter autism school because they did not feel the public schools were meeting their childrens' needs, especially as their children entered their teens. Like a lot of parents, in fact probably most parents, of children with disabilities, the school time clock seems to move in double speed. Before we know it, our children are in high school and fears for their futures loom. Even if parents begin fighting school battles early in their child's educational journey, those battles take a long time to resolve. Valuable years can easily be lost - and skills fall further and further behind. But is the answer to pull our children with disabilities out of public school and start a new school which serves just one disability?
The story Esbee sent me was from Minneapolis, but the story is not unique. I believe in communities across the country, parents continue to struggle with a similar decision. Several years ago in my city, parents did the same thing the parents in Minneapolis are trying to do. Faison School was established to serve children with autism, children whose parents believed the public school system had failed them. There is now a waiting list for students to attend Faison, and several of the parents who have children at this school feel the change made a successful difference in their child's life. My concern is that such schools promote segregation, and I'm not sure that segregation is a good thing for our children with disabilities.
My children go to the same shops and stores that everyone else does. They go to the same church. They go to the same YMCA and the same childcare facility. They go on the same vacations and to the same restaurants as the rest of my family. They live in the same house and check books out of the same library. So what is so unique about schools that those same children must be segregrated from their peers? Yes, they need to be educated in different ways sometimes, but those different educational techniques do not, in my opinion, require them to be physcially kept apart from others.
The parents in the article that Esbee sent me spoke of the "illusion of inclusion", and I agree with them that inclusion has failed in most places. School districts say it is because of low funding, but to me it seems low commitment to the concept is the bigger problem. Also, I'm not sure that our university teacher preparation programs do a good enough job of showing that inclusion can work and instructing new teachers how to make it work.
With that said, I do understand why the parents in Minneapolis and other cities across the county are looking outside their public school systems for a better choice for their children. As parents, we always strive to do what is in the best interest of our children - especially looking to their future. And, if a school existed in my area that specialized in children with deafblindness, I probably would look into it as an option for Ashley.
I do believe, however, that as parents we must consider the whole of our childrens' futures, not just their educational needs. While those needs are extremely important, so too is the ability to live and function in a society that is composed of many different people and places. If we want our children to be fully included as adults, we must strive to have them fully included as children. Segregation in any form frightens me...