Why Practice Inclusion?
One of my kids struggles with organization of information and attending to tasks that do not interest her (who doesn’t?!). In school, one of her teachers repeatedly marked her down for “disorganization” and “having a messy desk” (this last was actually inserted as an line item addendum in her year-end rubric-based report card). Of course, her teacher’s observations came as no surprise to me, or her father. We have been hounding this child to stay on household tasks, clean up her room, and get out the door in a timely fashion since birth. What did surprise, and annoy me, was that her teacher continued to go out of her way to decry this habit of disorganization, despite the fact that my daughter managed to get stellar grades and get her work done. During a brief fall conference, when the teacher expressed initial concern about this disorganization, my husband and I called our daughter “on the carpet” in front of her teacher, working to respect the teacher's expectations, encourage responsibility and value her point of view. To our true surprise, our kid dug in her heels, defiantly refusing to show remorse or to abdicate to the teacher’s request for more organization.
|my kid: selective focus at work|
This might be a rather classic example of how kids with executive function challenges are difficult to motivate because they lack that sense of urgency that keeps the rest of us on our toes. It's also an example of how we think about each other, what we value and the role of conformity. My daughter may never suffer from the seasonal nightmares that seem afflict my husband and I all these years later each fall when school starts up again: you’re late for school, you forgot your homework, you don’t remember your room number, you forgot to put on pants… Jody Van Ness of the Fraser School pointed out in a lecture that executive function challenged people tend to fix absolute focus on things that interest them, causing them to make some of the greatest breakthroughs in science, literature and the arts. Van Ness’ insights make me realize that the composition of my daughter’s brain may just allow her the selective focus, and the right lack of guilt to discover how to fix the hole in the ozone or to cure cancer.
Acceptance and empathy seem like far more healthy values than conformity. Through diversity in the classroom, we see what we have in common, that we are all on a spectrum of experience. Seeing our commonality gives us access to empathy and understanding, making it far more likely that we can get along and work toward common goals, meeting each other’s needs. At Dodge, every fall, we invite all families to sit down with us privately before school starts. We use an excuse of a tool called the “Intake Form.” This questionnaire really just gives us an opportunity or excuse to sit down and get acquainted. These initial meetings are invaluable, particularly when they are less formal, more chatty and more personal. We learn so much about the child when we learn about the family, and that is because we are seeing things from their point of view. To my mind, really valuable education is necessarily personal, and personalized for the needs of each learner. When we value and respect the individual, we increase awareness of “the other” and come that much closer to a civil, collaborative society.
|Holly: "We all learn differently."|
I’m sure the parents of the special needs kids have stories to tell that I have yet to hear, but my general perception of inclusion, and that of my own kids is vastly different from my own childhood experiences. Inclusion seems to be expected as the norm in public school these days, and is not the exception. If the education system here in Minnesota has managed to do that alone, to make inclusion the norm, then it has succeeded in one very important way and I have a lot of hope for the future of our society, as we are raising a generation of kids who value their differences.
If you haven't yet, you should read, "Welcome to Holland," by Emily Perl Kingsley.