Christopher Kliewer’s Schooling Children with Down Syndrome, started out feeling like it was going to be a more complicated read due to the language. To a degree, it was, but it proved to be very interesting in the end. Kliewer argues that children with disabilities, in this case Down Syndrome, should not be segregated from general education classrooms. Instead, he argues in favor of an inclusion model that is beneficial to disabled children in giving them the opportunity to thrive as a valued part of a community. This is beneficial to the non-disabled students as well by creating a culture of acceptance. This reciprocal relationship is detailed in the explanation of Shayne’s classroom: “Community acceptance requires opportunity for individual participation in the group, but opportunity cannot exist outside of community acceptance. … Shayne felt that she broadened and strengthened the learning opportunities opened to all her children” (p. 75). It was inspiring to see how the teachers Shayne and Colleen took the time to understand each of their students as individuals, and where their strengths and abilities were, without seeing them as disabled or non-disabled. “Shayne recognized a child’s nonconformity as a natural human diversity; a source of strength that could be supported by the school community in order that it add a unique and valuable dimension to that community” (p. 78).
The article reminded me of something I had seen a while back on the Today show. Watching the segment again, I can see that what is happening at this school is exactly what Kliewer is advocating for. The IDEAL School in Manhattan is a private school built around inclusion. The school was founded 7 years ago by parents of children with Down Syndrome who wanted their children to have the same educational opportunities as their peers by being in classrooms together with their peers. The school mirrors the model of Shayne’s school, in that the curriculum is built based on each child. Though they all learn the same thing, each child has an individual learning plan. The head of the school mentions in the clip that the social education of special needs students is just as important as academics, and for the non-disabled students, experiencing diversity is important. They are building that reciprocal community in their classrooms. I really admire the work that this school is doing, and the fact that it so closely resembles what Kliewer is arguing for in his book leads me to believe he would really approve of the IDEAL school’s model of inclusion.
I was reminded of a number of themes from previous readings as I went through this article. Here are a just a few of the quotes I highlighted:
Douglas Biklen: Schools as cultural sorting machines that “justify a competitive ethic that marginalizes certain students or groups of students … [that] legitimize discrimination and devaluation on the basis of the dominant society’s preferences in matters of ability, gender, ethnicity, and race … and [that] endorse an elaborate process of sorting by perceived ability and behavior.” (p. 73)
Safe Spaces –
“To value one another is to recognize diversity as the norm.” (p. 79)
Johnson & McIntosh –
“If a misunderstanding emerges within the act of communication, we tend to fault the party with the least amount of cultural privilege and proceed to clinically identify which element of that individual’s communication is responsible for the misunderstanding.” (p. 94)
Brown v. Board of Education –
“Vygotsky found that the culture of segregation surrounding people with disabilities actually teaches underdevelopment of thinking through the isolation of children from socially valued opportunities.” (p. 83) The integrationists argued that effects of racial segregation on children were harmful both socially and psychologically. The effects are the same with segregation based on disabilities.
Thought to Share: When I was in the 8th grade, I joined the Peer Partners program at my middle school. Special Education students were separated into their own classrooms at my school, and this program put general education students like myself into these special education classrooms to interact with the students and build mutually beneficial relationships. It remains a bright spot in my school memories. The very beginning of this article brought me back to a moment with one particular student, Rafael. I remember going into the classroom one day, and he came racing across the room, waving a worksheet he had just gotten back. He had gotten everything correct, and proudly showed me the sticker at the top. He told me, “Jamie, you know what? If I keep doing really good, they’re going to let me be in the other classes.” I didn’t really know how to respond, though I encouraged him to keep working hard. Like Mia and Jason at the beginning of the article, Rafael was aware that he was being kept separate from where he wanted to be because of his disability. His frustration and discouragement over that fact was regularly visible. Realizing now that that was 16 years ago (!!!), I find myself wondering if Rafael ever had the opportunity to experience the inclusion that he so desired.