By Kodey Toney
The Impossible Dream
I’ve written in the past about Dr. Patrick Schwarz. I met him in the Partners program and we were fortunate enough to be given a copy of his book From Disability to Possibility: The Power of Inclusive Classrooms. This is a great book about how everybody should be included in not just the classroom, but the communitygeneral.
I’m only a chapter into the book and there are so many cool things that I feel I should share.
The forward itself opens up with a different way of looking at things. As I’ve said in the past, one of the biggest problems with inclusion in the classroom is that teachers don’t like change. They are busy. I understand that. It’s difficult enough working under their time restraints and budgets to do what they do. So when you throw a child with needs into the mix, and expect the teacher to make special copies and work around his/her schedule it makes it that much harder.
Teacher Kylene Beers, a friend of Schwarz, wrote the forward to this book. In that section she told a story about a parent who had come to her prior to the school year and began demanding thather child have large print for everything, and everything had to be copied in black. This was the days of ditto machines which only copied in purple. She also wanted anything that she did on the overhead projector, which she seemed to use for most of her lecture, to be in black, large type. Beers explained that this would all be difficult, and the mother said, “For whom? I presume you mean it will be difficult for you. Well everyday is difficult for Ben (the child).”
You see, often times we are so caught up in our own world of troubles that we forget to think about what the day is like for those who have other struggles.
This is why, as Beers goes on to say, inclusion is as much for the teacher as it is for the student. The more we learn about these children and what they need the more versatile we can become as teachers. If we adjust for one, it could be good for two or three.
She also shared a quote that I thought was great: “The more you change the way you look at things, the more the things you look at change.” Instead of looking to the students as a burden you need to look at them as a learning tool. As teachers we often think we know more than the students, when in reality we are learning every day.
The number of students in a classroom with disabilities is increasing. Like it or not, as a teacher you will have to deal with a child eventually that has a problem. According to the American Institute of Research (per the book); the number of students identified as having learning disabilities grew 242 percent from 1979 to 1997.
As Schwarz states in the book, “We need to honor the learning opportunities that people with diverse educational needs bring forward, not just label, berate, and isolate them.”
I’ve talked in the past about the value of inclusion in the classroom. We have to allow children with diverse abilities to work, play, and interact together. Schwarz validates my thoughts in the first chapter. He says that children, not just with disabilities, need to learn from people different from them, “especially in light of the increasing cultural, social, and intellectual diversity in their own communities.”
So why is this so important? Well the obvious answer is that our children deserve it, but the long-term goal is that we can help change the way the world looks at people with disabilities. “The first step in reform is changing attitudes,” said Schwarz. If we can change the way the schools, students, and teachers look at these children then we can potentially change their lives.
Let me explain. As I’ve said before, I don’t remember students with disabilities in school. They were in another room and we didn’t interact with them. That was not because I didn’t want to; it was just not done. Schwarz says that segregation begets segregation. Once we segregate in school we think this is the way to be in the working world. Our children have to have jobs eventually.
I state a week or two ago about people saying, “You are such a saint.” Schwarz said that people who say these things didn’t have people with disabilities in their classrooms or neighborhoods.
Think about it. If we are around someone long enough we learn how to adapt to them. We learn to accept them for who they are, and it doesn’t even affect us that they may seem “different”. If we live with people with disabilities everyday then there will be no differences.
“We need to undo this prejudicial lack of education and experience by including individuals with disabilities in all walks of life, from womb to tomb,” states the book. “We need people with disabilities in our neighborhoods and communities, in our workplaces, stores, restaurants, and movie theaters. And an inclusive school community is the place to start.”
This is something to think about.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column. You can also find all columns archived at blogspot.com.