Imagining inclusion

Education for all is an idea that none of us would quarrel with. Every child, everywhere, has a right to a good basic education that will allow him or her to live an independent, self-determined life. Again, an idea that all of us would happily subscribe to. So why is it that when we get down to work, we find so much resistance to making our methods or our structures welcoming to every child? How do we imagine the boundaries of “all”? Who exactly is included in “everyone”? Here’s a simple exercise: write down a list of people you would put together to represent your school community. No deep thinking allowed. Just write down a list of 10 or 12 people. Then look at it closely to see how your list looks in terms of inclusiveness. Have you got people who really “represent” all possible groups and viewpoints in the school? Have you got people who could speak to all possible types of experiences in the school? What does it mean to “include” when our understanding of “all” is so limited by our own experience and knowledge? Several groups – and therefore several individuals – are invisible when we use the lens of our own experience. We need to go outside our comfort zone to find and bring in viewpoints that are truly varied. In truth, we are all exclusionary by default. We need to make an effort to be truly inclusive.

Inclusion at first mention brings to mind disability and difference, and the integration of people with different abilities into what we know as the “mainstream”. There is both visible and invisible difference/disability, and within that, there are layers of differing abilities and accommodation needs. The articles in this issue look at inclusion in terms of disability but it is also important to understand that difference goes beyond disability and our classrooms need to expand to include many invisible and often unacknowledged differences as well. Ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, culture – all these are also the basis of exclusion, and sometimes compound the physically or intellectually more visible differences. While some of the physical inaccessibility of our buildings might be addressed by engineers and architects, it’s much harder to break the mental and emotional barriers that exclude those that are different in multiple, invisible ways.

To begin, we need to recognize the limits of our own conception of “all” and “everyone” and examine how inclusive that is. Then we can begin to chip away at those boundaries and open our minds – and our classrooms – to those who reside outside.

On another note, this issue marks the beginning of the magazine’s 25th anniversary. It’s been quite a journey for us, from a bimonthly 16-page tabloid to the 60-page monthly that you now hold in your hands. We invite you to join us on a nostalgic journey, with a series of articles pulled out from our archives beginning with a piece by naturalist and film critic Theodore Bhaskaran, from the pages of our inaugural issue, July-August 1989.

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