It is very easy to be painted as the bad guy, especially on Twitter where educators are often more interested in point-scoring than problem solving. For example, in a recent chat on Inclusion in #EDchatDE, a number of Inclusion advocates felt so strongly about the theme that it was difficult for them to make a useful contribution to the conversation.
In a Gymnasium near Ulm, Germany, the principal, wishing to be progressive and inclusive as well as feeling pressure from the department of education, spent thousands of Euro in installing an elevator to the first floor as well as wheelchair ramps and access points across the school building and grounds. Who could argue that this is not an admirable piece of administration? Well, teachers. The same teachers who have to pay for stationery out of their own pocket as well as pay for themselves on fieldtrips and mandatory extracurricular events. The school built these excellent facilities over ten years ago and only next year will the first wheelchair-bound student attend the school. In the meantime because of the massive financial outlay there has been minimal financial support available for language support and for students with special educational needs. There are no Special Educational Needs Assistants at the school and though there are cases of Asperger’s and ADHD the resources are not there to effectively manage the situation. The principal made a poor financial decision by making his school wheelchair-friendly but it was a decision he had to make for fear of the moral absolutists. Ironically, because of this pressure many other students cannot be accommodated or “included”.
I do wonder if it is sustainable for every school to be all things to all people. For example, does one wheelchair-bound student in ten years justify the massive budgetary shortfall in other areas of running the school? Here is where many absolutist “Social Justice warriors” and “Inclusionists” will take decisively to Twitter to condemn yet not provide alternatives. But rather than every school being wheelchair accessible (bear in mind that Germany has a paltry 5% GDP annual expenditure on education – one of the lowest of all OECD nations) could this one school which has invested so heavily in wheelchair accessibility not become a district centre for all wheelchair-bound students? Could another school not become a centre for Asperger’s, another one for dyslexia etc.? That way schools could specialise in providing concentrated staff and resources to tackle one area of special educational need. It would also ensure a significant community of said students in a school to provide support to one another and to share experiences, difficulties and successes and importantly, to raise awareness and inclusive practices among the wider student body.
By having different needs met by different schools with funds earmarked for this at state or national level, administrators would not be left with having to make horrible decisions such as wheelchair accessibility, Special Educational Needs (SEN) assistants in the classroom or chalk for teachers. It should also make it easier to gather data on what methods work best in support of the academic and social needs of SEN students in schools by having single-focus groups.
As for the matter of what I have termed social inclusion nowadays championed by those calling themselves “social justice” advocates (and a blog for another day), I do hope that they can see that when both themselves and the “Inclusion” advocates are but two (and yes, very important) areas of school administration, becoming moral absolutists does not help those that they feel passionately for or the wider school community. It is in effect an egocentric exercise. Change in school takes time, resources and pragmatism. Most importantly, effectively implementing Inclusive policies in school takes dialogue and problem-solving skills. It would be wonderful to see this process start at a grassroots level among teachers on Twitter but in the current climate, where so-called advocates set a narrative that is ego-driven or absolutist this is not possible. To make schools more inclusive there can be no place for moral point-scoring.