Pauline Hanson is a repulsive being. There is no other way to describe her. She is racist and ignorant. Most recently she described disabled kids as a hindrance to the education of normal kids that want to, “.. Get ahead in leaps and bounds.” You see our Pauline, that upstanding Australian, believes that kids with disabilities get too much attention from teachers and therefore other kids are neglected. A lot of attention has been focused on her mentioning Autistic children but she actually was referring to all kids with disabilities. Said our Pauline, “… teachers spend too much time with autistic children and children with disabilities to the detriment of other students.” (Taken from the Courier Mail)
Pauline claims she has been taken out of context. She claims it’s not that she doesn’t want these disabled kids educated but rather that they should have special classrooms or more special schools to look after them. This is so the other kids don’t have to suffer them obviously. Inclusionist have had a field day with her. They say that since the 90’s the philosophy of inclusion has changed education for the better. (Paraphrased from The Guardian)
I want to address the elephant in the room. As much as I hate to say it, Pauline is not all wrong. Nor are the inclusionist all right. In fact one could argue that inclusionism, as it relates to education of kids with a disability, has failed many of them.
Inclusion, according to the Oxford Dictionary is, “….the fact of including somebody/something; the fact of being included.” Unfortunately that is how the education system defines disability inclusion. If they are there then they are included. Of course this is far from the case. Inclusion can be the most secluding thing ever for a person with a disability.
Over almost 30 years in the disability sector I have seen some horrendous things in the name of inclusion. I remember an organisation I worked with enrolled a deafblind girl who was 22 in a walking group. Problem is the youngest in the walking group was about 70. They would walk and she would follow. They would eat and talk and she would just eat. She never said a word to them nor they to her. But she was included so that was ok. Right?
So many times I have seen disabled kids in a school setting. Of course they are mainstreamed but at lunch they sit alone. In group discussions they say nothing and are ignored. When work needs to be done they are taken away into a room with the teacher aid and given a book to colour in. They might be teenagers when this happens.
Back in 2011 I was asked to observe a young deaf girl in her classroom. Her mother was worried as the young deaf girl seemed depressed and not happy with school. The girl was mainstreamed and had a class interpreter. In the morning the kids sat down at their table. It was Monday and they were to write about their weekend.
Diligently the girl began writing about her weekend. The rest of the kids were all chatting with each other and sharing their stories. The girl watched them. You could see her anxious glances around the table. She was wondering what her peers were talking about and the interpreter did nothing. Later they went for story time. The interpreter would interpret the teacher telling the story. The teacher would ask questions and the kids would answer. For some unknown reason the interpreter didn’t interpret the answers from the kids. This meant that the girl had no access to peer learning.
I later wrote a report outlining what was happening and how the school could facilitate better inclusion. The school refused to acknowledge the report. The interpreter apparently threatened to resign because she felt insulted by the report. The school were angry claiming that I did not understand classroom dynamics. I guess that sometimes the truth hurts. Inclusion was clearly failing this girl.
And I remember being a teacher aid for a couple of young deaf aboriginal people. In the morning the home class got together and then got to work. When they got to work I was asked to take the aboriginal students to another room and teach them. I was virtually their teacher. They would take part in sport and excursions and sit with me the whole time. As soon as we returned to the class I would be asked take them into a room and teach them. Is this what we call mainstream education?
And then there was Charlie. He was a five year old in a classroom. Story time that day was a story about animals. The teacher read this innovative picture book to the class. Basically the book allowed the teacher to flip tags that had parts of various animals and create bizarre creatures. The creature might be a mix of crocodile, kangaroo and wombat. A Crokanbat. The kids loved it.
The little deaf guy didn’t have much speech to write home about but he was excited about the Crokanbat. He got up and pointed while squealing delightedly. He clearly wanted to know what the creature was. The teacher shushed him and when he refused to be quiet removed him from the class and made me take him to the library. Yes this actually happened. His questions unanswered. His language learning opportunities lost. His soul destroyed.
I am sure there are success stories out there where inclusion works really well. But when it does not it is a disaster. It is soul destroying and I am sure it contributes to poor self-esteem and mental health issues later in life for many of these kids with a disability.
And this happens because the system is horrendously under-resourced. Teachers are expected to be a Jack/Jill of all trades. They are expected to deal with a class and also support kids with disabilities too. Most are not trained in disability and get minimal support from visiting teachers and minimal support from teacher aids. It’s not that inclusion is wrong, it is that the system just does not provide the tools nor the funding to make it entirely successful.
I don’t like segregation either. I would rather the system provide the level of support that it needs top to make inclusion a success. The reality is that it does not and it is the poor teacher that is expected to do it all. It is a recipe for disaster and often is.
As abhorrent as Pauline Hanson’s view are she is not entirely wrong. The system needs to change and it needs to be funded properly. As it stands, at this very moment, inclusion in schools can be the the most secluding thing ever for many kids with disabilities. It is doing them great harm.
So hate Pauline as much as you want but the end of the day she may have done us all a favour bringing the issue to the table. Our job is to keep it there and highlight all that is wrong with inclusion policy in education and everywhere.