Friday, July 14, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Inclusion From Special Ed To All

I first learned about inclusion in education during my special education course in graduate school. We were discussing mainstreaming, the change from having students with special needs be in completely different classrooms the whole day to being in the classroom with other students who do not have special needs.

I experienced this first hand as a teacher, when I had students in my classroom who had aids to help them participate. Later I experienced this from the other side as one of those aides who made inclusion and mainstream possible.

Separate is never truly equal. Including students with special needs addresses their right to an equitable educational experience. The feeling of being included is powerful for students with special needs who were once separated. This inclusion is also critical for the students without special needs to have a better understanding of their community, the human condition and diversity.

Inclusion in education has grown to address the many different facets of diversity by creating an education environment where all feel valued. A community can be diverse racially, but unless a school actively works to make sure that the school embraces these racial differences, it won’t be inclusive.

Students feel included when they see teachers who mirror parts of their identity. This is why many Asian-American students like to come up and chat with me, even if I’m not their teacher. I saw this in the excitement in the eyes of a girl who was dealing with Crohn’s disease-like symptom, when I told her that I myself had Crohns. I experienced this first hand when we worked on a song about the Civil Rights movement in 8th grade and had students who previously seem uninterested in music class, want to perform solos.

Inclusion is also in the things we say as teachers. When you refer to a mix-gendered group of students as “guys,” girls feel less included. Students may not explicitly noticed this but gender-biased language does have an effect on how people feel valued. When you refer to parents as mothers and fathers when there are students whose guardians are aunts or grandparents, this makes students feel excluded.

It’s the pictures on the walls, it’s the books on a shelf, it’s making sure that boys aren’t called on more than girls. It’s providing students of color with affinity groups. It’s about reaching out to those who feel excluded by society and actively making sure that a school environment does better than the outside world.

Inclusion is about helping students understand the value of other’s diversity. It’s about seeing how different people in the community through feeling valued can enrich the experience for all.

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