A high school dance is coming up next week. While Isabelle does not like loud environments, she does like to dance. And given this is an activity she can “fit in” socially, I thought it would be something I would encourage her to do. She used to like the middle school dances. Yes, she wanted to leave before it ended but she seemed to enjoy herself for the time she participated.
But knowing that this dance would be a challenge – she had not gone to one in the high school yet – I wanted to make sure she had companions (I can’t actually bring myself to call them friends) to accompany her. So I contacted the teacher advisor for the school’s ECHO club, the social service club to see if she would help arrange a match.
To my surprise, I was told:
“I think this is something that needs to be discussed between you and the ISP staff. ECHO members typically would not be placed with a peer for an activity like this – in middle school it was a different situation because of the age differential, and since the HS girls were not attendees at that activity.”
My first thought was, why shouldn’t students be asked to help a peer? My second thought was, why does supporting a special needs student have to go through the special education teaching and program staff?
Showers are where I get some ideas sorted out, and many of you know I like analogies. I thought of this one:
Let’s say you had a grandma that lives in a nursing home or has a full time aid to help her with daily living such as eating and hygiene. Now it is Thanksgiving and you want grandma to come – because we all need a grandma at the table. And if there is a family photo she would need to be in it, or there would have to be some explaining. But you say the aid needs to come too, because you don’t want to be responsible for getting grandma to the bathroom, or wiping food off her face, or seeing her frail hands shake, or cleaning up after she drops the glass, or feeling uncomfortable because she can’t follow the conversation, or annoyed that you have to remind her of who her nephew is. The aid is there so the family members don’t have to be burdened. So grandma as member of the family is just an illusion, she is really a member of the nursing home on visit to make the family think they are including her. The holiday photo is taken and shared on Facebook. Everyone feels proud that grandma came. And the photo proves that they love grandma.
Well that is what I am finally seeing happens with “inclusion” in school. And I have been fooled all these years. (I can hear you all saying “I told you so.”)
Inclusion seems to mean the teaching assistant chaperones the student with a disability so that she can sit on the bench with the other kids with disabilities at the homecoming bonfire. It does not mean asking the actual members of the community to put in any effort, to take any responsibility, or to make any commitment to enabling their peers to participate. The responsibility is given to the TA. But the TA is not a member of the student community. Then a picture is taken to prove that the student was there and thus “included”.
Until peers put in some effort to help their fellow classmates, inclusion is just an illusion. Until adults teach kids to make the effort, this illusion will perpetuate.
PS I won’t let her go if it means a TA is going to chaperone her. How humiliating for a 16 year old girl!
PPS – example of inclusion – set up by adults but implemented by kids: wrestling boys