Monday, March 23, 2015

The illusion of full inclusion James Gallagher

The Illusion of Full Inclusion is a series of essays about inclusion edited by James M. Kauffman and Daniel P. Hallahan. In it, James Gallagher penned The Pull of Societal Forces on Special Education. He discusses the social setting of PL 94-142- civil rights and racial discrimination being in the forefront of our collective conscience. Special education classes then, and to a lesser degree, now were highly overrepresented by minorities. He asks an interesting rhetorical question:
If children grown up in an environment unfavorable to education- or to the valuing of long-term goals, or of compliance to adult demands- then why should we be surprised by that more youngsters form such families would be in educational difficulty than their proportion in society? p. 71

He is implying that African-American students grow up in environments unfavorable to education and thus should not be expected to achieve at the same rate as other students and also it should not be surprising that they are disproportionately identified as needing special education. Apart from the racism in this statement, we need to look at the underlying aspects of it.
  • Is it reasonable to say that if the home environment degrades, discourages, or interferes with education, that one should expect the children from that environment will more likely experience educational difficulty than those from home environments that support, encourage, and reinforce education? This seems an appropriate assumption.
  • Is it reasonable that if the home environment does not value, promote, establish or work toward long-term goals, then children will struggle more with school than those who are exposed to "persevere through challenges" and "keep your mind on the prize" mind sets? Again this is not preposterous.
  • Is it reasonable to think that children who do not grow up in environments where compliance to adult demands is emphasized will be less likely to thrive in schools where this is a central tenant of our educational system? Again, likely.

The problem emerges when we assign these traits to a culture or race. If these are the values that will make school easier for students, should not we try and intervene far before the child is struggling in school? Early home visits with school personnel to help with establishing education friendly policies might be helpful. Many families with struggling students do see education as the brass ring- the tool that will help their children escape the poverty they live in. These families do not need to be taught to value education- they already do. They may need to be shown that education, schools, teachers and principals have their backs and how home can have school's back.

Very few home environments lack valuing long-term goals. Homeless families have goals of getting a stable place to live. People addicted to drugs often have long term goals of getting clean. People in poverty want their families to live better lives than they do. How many poor kids seek to find their riches through the world of professional sports? If they can work toward a long term goal of athletic excellence, they can work toward other long term goals as well. What is more often lacking are the skills to achieve these goals in a meaningful way. Support systems, health care,  mental health services, quality nutrition and hosing, academic problem solving skills, knowledge of "the system" and reading and math skills to name a few areas in which deficient systems, knowledge and skill sets sabotage success.

When it comes to compliance to demands we have a huge can of worms. Some would argue that compliance is a bygone educational goal. Schools need to involve students in rule creation and achieve social contracts that do not require compliance so much as buy in and negotiation. Others may argue that compliance in and of itself is not a good thing. Hitler achieved compliance, but that was not an admirable accomplishment. Some would argue that rather than compliance we need thinking children to evaluate the rules and use civil disobedience to fight what they consider as unjust rules.

To complicate matters more, what if compliance with adults at home contradicts compliance at school? What is a student to do when the parents say you need to stay home and watch the little sibling so I can go to work, interview, doctor,... but school says you need to attend? What choice does a student have when parents say in order to eat you need to work in the restaurant when you get home from school, you should not have to bring homework home? There is no end to the competing stories students must navigate around to survive.

While students in poverty more often struggle with these areas and minorities tend to be overrepresented in the poverty roles, we cannot allow this to justify poor performance in school. We can acknowledge that these challenges exist, but that is not an excuse to avoid exerting extra effort to maximize potential.

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