First, I want to shout kudos to Erin Schryer and her calling to our attention the debunking of “whole language” while championing the return of phonics. Her defense of an “old-school” approach to language acquisition is long overdue in the public arena. As someone who taught English at the high school level for my entire career, I admit to my subversive activities, activities very much in concert with a belief that learning involves passing on things that a teacher knows to those who DON’T necessarily know those things yet.
And then there’s “inclusive education”. Nothing quite like a provocative title to engage those who have a different view. Just to be clear: I am (as I believe any compassionate human being would be) in favour of including one and all in society and ensuring that no person is excluded from anything simply because he or she is deemed “different” in some way. In other words, I am entirely in favour of social inclusion – seems like a no-brainer, really, for anyone who makes any claim to being fair-minded and “liberal” in the best sense of that too-often cheapened term.
I’m challenging “inclusive education” simply because I believe it doesn’t – nor can it – exist. What we DO have is “inclusive classrooms” and they are proving to be inimical to any hope we might have in New Brunswick of improving the education received by students of any and all varieties. In the same way that theories regarding whole language practices are being discarded because they fail to do what they purportedly have as their aim, namely, learning to read and write, so, too, is inclusive education an increasingly discredited practice because experience shows that students do not learn WELL let alone better in inclusive classrooms. If you doubt that, consider the virtually unshakeable adult functional illiteracy rate in this province of something in excess of 50%.
As the defenders of inclusive education twist themselves in knots by suggesting that “individual instruction” can somehow be conducted by one person to as many as 29 students in a classroom that may have upwards of 4 Educational Assistants tasked with monitoring and controlling the behaviours of students facing any number of behavioural and/or other challenges, the actual “education” of all students declines with each passing day.
Education in New Brunswick, systemically, needs to return to curriculum that focuses on basic skills acquisition. Remedial assistance has always been a component of the system and it should be targeted toward skills, not social engineering which is, essentially, what “inclusive education” means. The defenders of the current model believe that the social inclusiveness supposedly fostered in the “inclusive classroom” is more important than the skills our education system is expected to provide, no matter how much it has continued to fail in this regard. Our educational system must return to its core mission of providing skills and “learning” even as we, as a society, continue to embrace social inclusion in our day-to-day lives.