Inclusive Education? The New Face of Segregation
By Maryam Dalkilic
Maryam Dalkilic is a doctoral student in Human Development, Learning, and Culture, under the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education, at The University of British Columbia (UBC). As a former school counselor and preschool director in Turkey and childcare supervisor in Canada, Maryam’s research examines the ways in which ubiquitous concepts, like inclusion and normal development, are incorporated in discourses that exclude and marginalize children with learning differences.
Inclusive Education? The New Face of Segregation
Inclusive education is upheld by practitioners and educational researchers as the pinnacle of social justice being practiced in schooling environments. It is regarded as a development in educational theory and practice, and a move away from the restrictive and oppressive past-practice of segregated education, most especially for children labeled with disabilities. This commonly held assertion, however, has limited education professionals from considering the implications of the practice for which they advocate: despite being enveloped in a guise of a social-justice oriented solution to segregation of children labeled with disabilities, inclusion has become the new face of restriction, regulation, and marginalization in education (Graham & Slee, 2006).
The issue of children’s regulation in inclusive education can be attributed to the hegemony established by our societal conceptualization of disability in the field of education. Disability has been predominantly conceptualized from a purely medical and individualist lens, as a direct result of a biological or physical difference people exhibit relative to their peers (Allan, 2010). It is a disabled person’s responsibility to end their own alienation, by changing the characteristic for which they are deemed disabled – erasing a part of themselves into being considered normal or suitable to an environment, in order to become part of their society. This outlook has been applied to so-called inclusive education of children labeled with disabilities. Unlike their peers, who are deemed to be typically developing, children labeled with disabilities are controlled and regulated into participating in school activities in manners considered to be normal.
Ironically, processes of regulating are executed by systems of education that claim to welcome, rather than segregate, all children. A reading of these attitudes in discussions of inclusive education from educators themselves can provide a glimpse into these processes (Dalkilic & Vadeboncoeur, in press). Under inclusive education, labels of disability dictate how educators interact with children, and erase their individuality in the eyes of the educator in favour of a set of traits that must be adapted to fit the homogeneity of the class. Children are encouraged to self-regulate their behaviours, and rewarded for trying to fit in with classmates by restricting themselves from certain behaviours that feel more comfortable to them. The educator’s role is to aid the child into acting in an assimilated manner, and the child’s label of disability is used as a tool to determine the areas in which regulation is required. Children have an implicit choice between being isolated from their peers, or changing who they are from a young age.
Segregated schooling was the practice of unmasked isolation of children with characteristics that deviated from the norm; inclusive education followed by allowing children to participate in the class with their peers, provided that their characteristics were regulated into normalcy. In either case, the message being sent is that children with disabilities cannot exist fully as themselves among their peers.
Inclusive education is in need of a paradigm shift, if it is to operate under principles of social justice and liberation of all individuals from marginalization (Dalkilic & Vadeboncoeur, in press). This shift needs to start with how we collectively have conceptualized disability. The historical outlook on disability, as an individual fault, needs to be readjusted in education, to include within it a right for all children to participate in their schools and societies with expression of their diversity. Disability, as spoken of in education, needs to be reframed as a lack of acceptance of diverse individuals from their societies – not simply a physical characteristic that a child possesses, but a set of attitudes around this characteristic (Allan, 2010).
The duty of inclusive education, then, is the incorporation of all children’s diverse traits in class activities. A true de-segregation of children labeled with disabilities must start from classroom practices that allow them to participate without conforming to standards of relative normalcy, and with the freedom of being treated as individual and valuable persons.
Allan, J. (2010). The sociology of disability and the struggle for inclusive education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 31, 603-619.
Dalkilic, M., & Vadeboncoeur, J. (in press). Regulating the child in early childhood education: The paradox of inclusion. Global Studies of Childhood.
Graham, L. J. & Slee, R. (2006). Proceedings from American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2006 Annual Conference: Inclusion? In Proceeding Disability Studies in Education Special Interest Groups. San Francisco, CA. Retrieved July 23, 2013, from: http://eprinuts.qut.edu.au