Perhaps one of the most emotionally burdened topics in education is inclusion. The term evokes powerful emotions from educators, parents of students with and without special needs, researchers and other professionals involved in the discussion. Advocates of either side of the full inclusion or special education program debate bring to the forefront concerns that are rightly to be considered; however, full inclusion advocates have elevated the discussion to an ideological level, where competing conflicts of vision create a difficulty to solve. I argue that a cogent solution to this debate requires the consideration of evidence presented by each side if the best possible education for students with special needs is to be attained.
Full inclusion is the push for a reorganization of traditional schools, in such a way that every mainstream school is capable of accommodating and providing high-quality, individualized instruction for all students. It is a call to cease the segregation of students with mild, moderate to severe cognitive and physical disabilities into special education classrooms and remove the need to pull out these students for intervention services (Nelson, Palonsky & McCarthy, 2013). It is argued that inclusion of those with characteristic of cognitive or physical impairment is “a fundamental principle in a free, democratic society”, while segregation increases isolation, limits these students’ access to an education valued by mainstream, has detrimental effects of labeling associated with special placement, and has a “remarkable parallel with racial segregation” (Nelson et al, 2013, p.354).
To imagine the full inclusion of special education students into mainstream classrooms, is to imagine an almost perfect educational system; however, there are concerns expressed by those who advocate for special education programs. Successful inclusion would require that teachers
Thoughts Concerning this Controversial Issue
I have been a behavioral therapist for three years, working with students from mild and moderate to severe cognitive disabilities. In that time, I have witnessed first-hand that isolation is a true concern and carries with it more damage than is apparent to those on the outside. I have witnessed students avoid their allocated mainstream time because it made them uncomfortable, not because they were being pushed out of their comfort zone, but uncomfortable because they sensed feelings of being inferior as they would walk to their assigned table located at the very back of the class. I have visited contained classrooms, located in a separate trailer at the back of the school where contact with general education students was extremely rare. With this isolation, I have watched teachers be negligent to the point of abuse and cease to provide these children with any academic challenges for growth.
According to Chief Justice Earl Warren (1954), “separation in schools can cause children to ‘generate a feeling of inferiority as to…status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone'” (as cited in Nelson et al, 2013, p. 360). This belief is an echo of Phycologist Lev Vygotsky’s thought. He considered the development of children with cognitive learning disabilities in his work, The Fundamentals of Defectology, and formulated a methodological context for special education that expresses his concern for isolation and its effect on learning and feelings of inferiority. Vygotsky’s theory “encouraged a favourable societal view on children with disabilities, giving preference to strengthening and empowerment of individual skills rather than the traditional stress on weaknesses or deviations” (as cited in Rodina, 2006, p. 3). Vygotsky emphasized the importance of social interaction for children with special needs as a means of human contact, not for assistance only. To view it as necessary for assistance, he warned, leads to “secondary (socio-cultural) developmental complications” as parents and teachers take pity and help more than needed, hindering the child’s ability to learn independence, as other children do, in the Zone of Proximal Development through the use of scaffolding. Vygotsky (1993) believed that cognitive “disabilities were determined by a certain social setting, arrangement, or ‘aberration’, hindering a child’s normal socialization”, and not be view as a misfortune. Rather, Vygotsky focused on the health of the child and censured the extreme approach to “child abnormality” (as cited in Rodina, 2006, p. 12).
While I agree that isolation is harming our