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BCACL Defends Inclusive Education in Letter to Editor of Vancouver Sun

Summary: 
BCACL Executive Director Faith Bodnar has written a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun in response to Michael Zwaagstra's July 14 letter.

Read the letter online here.

Michael Zwaagstra's article in the July 14 Vancouver Sun (Students should be grouped based on their ability) provides a disturbing and at times seriously uninformed view as to the value of inclusive education.

He glosses over and dismisses more than 40 years of experience and best practice, attempting eventually and rather badly, to argue that inclusive education does a disservice to students with disabilities and in particular those with "severe disabilities" by not grouping them with peers of comparable "ability" -- ability, as we know, being a subjective judgment.

Additionally he demonstrates a profound lack of awareness or appreciation regarding the history of education for students with special needs; that being a history of denial of access to the public education system, similar to the experiences of African Americans and aboriginal students.

Historically, parents and other concerned citizens responded to the outright rejection of students with special needs by the education systems of the day by building separate schools, driven by a belief that students with special needs deserved and were entitled to an education, even if it meant doing it themselves.

To argue that segregation is a matter of best practice, creating better learning environments for all students, indicates the need for Zwaagstra to do more thorough research before wading into this debate and drawing conclusions that are neither supported by history nor defendable from a human rights perspective.

If some students with special needs are in fact only present in classrooms and not integrated "in their participation in the classroom learning," then it is our duty to act accordingly by developing clear policies and guidelines that support real inclusion. Additionally, we must ensure that educators at all levels, particular classroom teachers, have the resources, training and supports they need to provide a quality, inclusive education for all students.

To suggest that an academic education is inherently compromised for students who learn in inclusive classrooms is outdated and, one could argue, irresponsible. In fact, current research completed by Simon Fraser University demonstrates that the presence of students with special needs in classrooms does not detrimentally impact educational outcomes for other students (Friesen, Hickey & Krauth, 2009).

In fact we are only just beginning to understand the real value of inclusive education for all students and the long-term positive effects it can have as people leave school and become contributing members of their communities with values that include an appreciation for diversity that is born from lived experience.

It is also important to note that as a signatory to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Canada has committed to, "the right of persons with disabilities to an education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination ...[and that] states parties shall ensure an inclusive education at all levels, and lifelong learning."

Inclusive education is not merely the musings of "romantic progressives," but an internationally recognized human right.

What we need to be talking about it not whether we include students with special needs and adults with disabilities into our education and society, but how can we do better.

Faith Bodnar is executive director of the B.C. Association for Community Living.