Inclusion! It sounds so nice. It is so alluring. It is alluring to the parents of children who don’t quite fit, and it is more alluring to the parents of kids who don’t fit at all. And it is alluring to people, like me, who are learning disabled ourselves. The mainstream! Maybe we, or our loved ones, are really “normal” after all. Maybe we don’t belong on the dreaded “short bus” of special education. Maybe not. But maybe yes.
When we mainstream children, one thing is certain: It costs less. Separate classrooms are expensive. Having a lower student teacher ratio is expensive. Hiring more people who provide special services like speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and all the other services that may be needed by a child is expensive. The mainstream costs less. That much is clear.
The intentions may be good. I don’t say they aren’t good. I don’t say that the people advocating for mainstreaming all children want to hurt children, and, in fact, I don’t think they do want to hurt children. But there is a saying that the person who determines guilt should not be the one who sells rope. Not all children benefit from the mainstream. I was in special education until age 9, and then mainstream, and I nearly drowned. Some kids do drown. Look at the many horrific examples of bullying, or of kids going completely out of control, and wonder how many of those kids – victims and perpetrators alike – are drowning in the mainstream. How many would be saved by some more specialized attention?
And then think of teachers. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs there is; anyone who doesn’t think so should try it. Mainstreaming makes it harder. More types of students to teach. More theories of education to learn. More to know. More paperwork to fill out. Sometimes there are aides or student teachers assigned to the class, but while that helps share the burden, it also adds to the complexity of the classroom. Perhaps that new person is untrained or inadequately trained. Or perhaps he or she has a different philosophy than the head teacher. That’s more stress on the teacher.
Will some kids benefit from being mainstreamed? Undoubtedly some will
But will all kids benefit? No. They won’t. Some kids need special education for a short while, and then they can swim on their own. Others may need it for longer periods, and won’t be in the mainstream until they are adults. And some people will never be in the mainstream at all, and will need special help all their lives.