When you do the work that I do (promote inclusive education through MCIE and Think Inclusive), you come across a lot of naysayers who don’t get it. Those naysayers—and sometimes even people who are proponents of inclusion—always have a lot of questions about inclusive education.
So, I’ve created a list of some of the main questions inclusionists hear on a daily basis, as well as some quick answers to help others understand that inclusion always works.
What exactly is inclusive education, anyway?
Inclusive education means all students learning alongside each other in the same classrooms in the same schools. This includes students with significant disabilities.
For many people, this concept seems foreign because it’s become the norm to place students with disabilities in segregated, self-contained special education classrooms and schools. But students with disabilities can receive specialized services within the general education classroom.
When we say inclusive education, we don’t mean only including students with disabilities in classes like art and gym. And we also don’t mean just dropping them into general education classrooms hoping for the best. Inclusive education is about meaningfully including students for the vast majority (80% or more) of their day while providing supports. It means designing accessible classrooms and communities that provide multiple ways to learn, instead of merely using a one-size-fits-all approach. It means a complete restructuring of our education system to make it available to all students.
What are they [children with disabilities] going to get out of it?
To this, I offer a counter-question: What does anyone get out of education? You might think it seems silly to teach a student with intellectual disabilities about the periodic table because you don’t think they’ll get anything out of it. But what does a nondisabled student get out of learning about the periodic table?
Education is about creating well-rounded individuals and preparing students for life after school. People with disabilities deserve to have these opportunities as well. How can we expect them to become integral parts of the community as adults if we don’t include them in the main part of childhood?
What about the other [nondisabled] students?
This is a question we hear a lot. People, especially parents, are always concerned about how nondisabled students’ education will be impacted by having disabled students in the general education classroom. They worry that having students with disabilities in the classroom will be too disruptive or that the nondisabled students won’t be able to learn anything because the concepts will be taught differently and at a slower pace.
But inclusive classrooms provide great educational environments for everyone. All students learn differently, so providing a universal design for learning helps each and every child learn in the way that best suits their individual needs. Plus, inclusive education teaches students to understand and value different perspectives, fostering meaningful friendships between disabled and nondisabled peers.
Inclusion isn’t just for disabled students; inclusion benefits everyone.
How do we know inclusive education works?
This isn’t something new. This isn’t something we’ve never tried before. Over 40 years of research proves that inclusive education works and there are schools all over the country and world that are currently using an inclusive model. Now it’s simply a matter of implementing inclusion in every school.
What if we don’t want to do inclusive education? Who’s making us?
While the law doesn’t specifically define inclusive education, the spirit of the law (as well as the long list of court cases) shows a clear preference toward inclusion. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to students with disabilities and ensures that those students receive the necessary special education services in those environments.
Well then, how do we make inclusive education happen?
MCIE works with school districts to engage them in systemic change to create inclusive school communities. Learn more at www.mcie.org.
Inspired to think inclusive? Here are three ways you can help us spread the message:
Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.