No Room for Nuance (cont.)

Is there room for nuance? (part two)

By way of an example, inclusion in education illustrates this trend very well indeed. If you are feeling a little wary when I mention this topic, chances are you have seen the derision commonly directed at anyone seeking to qualify, in any way, the orthodox claim that “inclusion is good” or, equally, that “inclusion is working”.

Be assured, I do not desire to undermine the idea. Inclusion’s goal – that all members of society should be given the opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of society – is noble. In fact, I believe that the overly simplistic, ideological approach to this topic (and many others) so common in public discourse these days does a profound disservice to us all; inhibits, in fact, the “adult conversations” (another buzz-phrase we hear frequently) we need to have if the pursuit of this noble goal is to be undertaken to best advantage.

In my recent experience as a member of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, I have been subjected to the repeated claim that “inclusion is working”. However much I would have liked to qualify and to clarify that statement, I did not truly have the chance because those making the claim had no patience for such things. In this instance, the real question is: what is meant when you say “inclusion is working”?

If all you are considering is operational practice, then, indeed, inclusion is working. All across New Brunswick, children are gathered together in classrooms without regard to anything beyond class size and available space. That is the first and most important requirement of inclusive practice for those whose support is primarily ideological. To clarify, for the ideologue of inclusion, no good can be compared to the simple fact that the child who was once somewhere other than a regular classroom is now IN that regular classroom the entire day (in the most extreme cases, exceptions may be made).

Such a position assumes that physical placement is inherently good, that, in fact, physical presence in a classroom with others is a good BEYOND challenge. And there, for me, is the sad and destructive result of triumphant ideology. Having achieved a simple ideological end, the details are left to those who must deal with the new, inclusive reality on a day-to-day basis, always considering the multitude of other roles, either clear or indistinct, that society imagines the educational system should play.

Ever vigilant and jealously guarding the righteousness of their crusade, the promoters of this particular model of inclusion will offer educational assistants and various theoretical strategies for the “inclusive classroom” as the means whereby inclusion will “work” in the broader sense of not having a negative impact on a classroom in general. The actual situation – the reality, if you will – which necessitates such strategies is never allowed to be challenged. Perhaps the saddest and most perverse manifestation of this thinking comes from Gordon Porter, the “expert” who quarterbacked both the development and the implementation of New Brunswick’s inclusive education policy, who claimed that if inclusive education wasn’t working it had to be the fault of parents or of educators.

Again, to my mind, the parallels with fundamentalist religious thinking are inescapable. Porter’s stance suggests that the theory upon which practice is based is tantamount to a creed, a core statement of faith that cannot be questioned lest one be accused of heresy. While this characterization might seem extreme, once again I would turn to my former colleagues in classrooms across New Brunswick and ask if their reluctance to discuss publicly inclusion and its challenges arises out of a fear of being subjected to a brand of inquisition where their commitment to fairness and to the ethical treatment of all students is called into question.

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