The Bigger Picture
by Marsha Forest & Jack Pearpoint
Our key question as we initiate a new millennium
is "How do we live with one another?" Inclusion is
about learning to live WITH one another. Inclusion means "being
Inclusion means inclusion! It means affiliation,
combination, comprisal, enclosure, involvement, surrounding.
It means WITH... Inclusion means BEING WITH one another and caring
for one another. It means inviting parents, students and community
members to be part of a new culture, a new reality. Inclusion
means joining with new and exciting educational concepts (cooperative
education, adult education, whole language, computer technology,
critical thinking). Inclusion means inviting those who have been
left out (in any way) to come in, and asking them to help design
new systems that encourage every person to participate to the
fullness of their capacity - as partners and as members.
Inclusion means Welcome
"I want to be included!" This
simple statement is being spoken, signed, facilitated, key-boarded,
whispered and shouted by people of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors
and cultures. Many are making the request for themselves while
others are asking for their friends or aging relatives. It is
a simple request and the answer is equally easy. "Welcome!
We want to include you. Come and be a part of us and our community."
Why does this humble proposal evoke such
strong reaction? Why is welcoming people labeled "disabled"
seen as an activity of the "radical fringe"? Hospitality
is not radical. Caring for our families and friends is not radical.
In fact, hospitality and caring are foundations of our culture.
So why the intense reaction about inclusion?
We believe that the Inclusion issue cuts
directly to the core of our values and beliefs. Inclusion seems
so simple, so full of common sense, and yet it is complex. Inclusion
sets off fire works in the souls of those involved. Inclusion
challenges our beliefs about humanity and cuts deep into the
recesses of our hearts.
Inclusion is NOT about placing a child
with a disability in a classroom or a school. That is only a
tiny piece of the puzzle. Rather, inclusion is about how we deal
with diversity, how we deal with difference, how we deal (or
avoid) dealing with our mortality.
How else can we explain the emotions unleashed
by the presence of a tiny child in a wheelchair or the presence
of a teenager with down syndrome in a local school in Canada,
the United States or Britain. Why do so many apparently "normal"
adults lose their composure with a mere mention of including
an excluded child. We conclude that the arrival of this person
signals major change, and for many, change is something to fear
- something fraught with danger.
However, in danger there is also opportunity
for growth. Thus, schools and communities, teachers and citizens,
who face their own fears and mortality by welcoming ALL children
instantly create the climate for a new kind of growth. Inclusion
becomes an opportunity and a catalyst to build a better, more
humane and democratic system.
Inclusion does not mean we are all the
same. Inclusion does not mean we all agree. Rather, inclusion
celebrates our diversity and differences with respect and gratitude.
The greater our diversity, the richer our capacity to create
new visions. Inclusion is an antidote to racism and sexism because
it welcomes these differences, and celebrates them as capacities
rather than deficiencies. Inclusion is a farce when it only means
"white, bright and middle class." Inclusion means all
- together - supporting one another.
A child or adult with a disability is a
symbolic personal crucible where we face our feelings about differences
head on. Inclusion is about how we tolerate people who look,
act or think differently than so called "ordinary"
people. Inclusion can be deeply disturbing for it challenges
our unexamined notions of what "ordinary" and "normal"
really mean. Our hidden values are paraded before us in action
and reaction. Some of what we see is discomforting. The questions
become very personal. How would I feel if I were unable to walk,
talk or move? How would I feel if I had a child who was labeled?
How do I feel about myself? How would I feel if I were disabled
by an accident? And ultimately, the one common issue we all face
(or deny). How do I feel about growing older? Where will I live?
With whom will I associate? Will people (my family and my friends)
care for me when I need help, or will they cast me aside? Will
I live an endless death waiting hopelessly, helplessly, uselessly
in a nursing home ward? What will become of me when I am old?
Inclusion instigates this kind of reflection.
No wonder people react! Reflection is vital to everyone. Life
must be examined to be lived fully. It may be painful, but the
inquiry can be the beginning of building new personal futures.
We owe a debt of gratitude to people who present us with this
magnitude of challenge. Thus, welcoming people with challenging
differences into our schools and communities is not simply for
their benefit, it is for OUR health and survival.
The Three Monsters...
In talking to school and human service
people internationally, three themes emerge when we discuss inclusion.
Inclusion means facing what we call the three monsters .
The first monster is Fear: Will I be
able to do this ? Since fear is the dominant emotion, it
is important to note that the fright is OURS - not theirs. This
is about OUR fears. We are afraid WE might fail. All the change
literature talks about the need to learn by doing: failing quickly,
noting our learning, and moving on to try again. The lesson is:
face the fear dragon; stare it down. Name it and move on.
The second monster is Control: If I include
this child, it will mean giving up control. I can't do this all
by myself; I will have to ask others (including students, parents,
other teachers) to help. This means admitting that "I"
don't have all the answers - that "I" am not in total
control. We believe it is time to give up this fantastic illusion
and learn to share control. Ask for help and watch the future
blossom and unfold. Cooperation and collaboration thrive as control
is replaced and fades into oblivion with fear.
The third monster is Change: Inclusion
is the beginning of change. "I am afraid of change therefore
I won't include people." There is no question that inclusion
means change. But change is not optional. It is here. Our choices
are limited. We can grow with change, or fight a losing battle
with the past. Choosing inclusion gives us the opportunity to
grow with change. Our motto is: Change is inevitable; growth
is optional. We recommend growth.
We believe it is imperative to meet these
monsters head on -- laugh and cry and talk about them, and then
move into a new and better future. In fairy tales, monsters turn
up at the most inopportune times - especially just when you think
you have them licked. We suspect that there are more monsters
to be discovered. Perhaps the next one will be the monster of
complacency. "I've got it all under control. Relax and go
back to sleep. It will be all right...." Watch out for exclusion
monsters yet unnamed, they are lurking in the shadows.
Curriculum adaptation and modification
are NOT the key issues for inclusion or for life. Fear, Control
and Change - building new structures with new partners are the
keys. The most exciting new partners will be fresh from the margins
of our systems. They won't know the rules, so they won't be constrained
by the quagmire that sucks us into the swamp. The best partners
will be rich in diversity with a wealth of creative energy. Inclusion
is messy by definition, but it will build new models for the
next century. The values will be clear: cooperation, not competition;
participation, not coercion; relationships, not isolation; interdependence,
not independence; friendships, not loneliness.
The Need to Belong
Inclusion isn't a new program or something
one "does" to or for someone else. It is a deeply rooted
spiritual concept that one lives. It is not a trendy product
or fad to be discarded. It is not a new label - "the inclusion
kids". It is not a bandwagon. People are either included
or excluded. One cannot be a little bit pregnant or a little
bit included (like the myth of "inclusive" recess or
lunch). One is either "in" or "out". One
either belongs or doesn't belong. If we exclude people, we are
programing them for the fight of their lives - to get in and
Most excluded people perceive that they
have nothing to lose, and everything to gain in the battle to
belong. Many youth consider it a matter of life and death. Teenagers
join gangs because they are desperate to belong - to have meaning.
Even when the gangs kill, youth join. The gangs meet their needs.
Gangs are a logical response to society's failure to make teenagers
feel belonging. When our youth literally die to belong, it is
a searing warning for us to look hard at the system in which
Many suggest that with our society in crisis,
we need to mount the barricades and defend our turf. Typical
responses include: hire more police, build more jails, create
more special education, administer more electro-shock, issue
more behaviour modifying drugs. Control, control, control. There
is another possibility. We could strive to welcome and include
everyone, to build a society with more acceptance, more love,
more care, more compassion.
Our world has serious challenges. We must
face them honesty, analyze, learn from the past, then move forward.
The need for change is not negotiable. The only question is whether
we run with it, or be dragged kicking and screaming into the
year 2000. Dealing with change is like running white water rapids.
It is dangerous - but if you train and plan, it is the thrill
of a life time. Change is here. Our societies are white water
chutes. There is no portage. Our choices are limited: will we
shriek with joy as we run the rapids, or will we just shriek?
Our world is rife with conflict. We must
not deny it. Instead, we must strengthen our capacity and learn
to live with differences and conflict while avoiding the tendency
to slide into violence as a solution. Conflict is legitimate.
We can agree to disagree. Resorting to violence is no longer
viable. It will be our destruction.
With the advent of new technology, the
critical issues of this new revolution of compassion will be
to learn how to live with one another. If we are to survive,
we will enter an era of "high touch" and genuine personal
communication. Who better to instruct us in this new venture
than those who have been excluded and rejected in the past.
Teenage suicide, random violence, drive
by shootings and gangs are simply signals of a deep social malaise
that won't be cured by microwave thinking or slick packaged answers.
We must think deeply. We must make tough decisions and be willing
to work hard. Inclusion makes us think deeply about what we want
our world to be. Who do we want as neighbors? What do we want
our communities, churches, synagogues, mosques and schools to
We believe communities of diversity are
richer, better and more productive places in which to live and
to learn. We believe that inclusive communities have the capacity
to create the future. We want a better life for everyone. We
If we can pinpoint bomb cities half way
around the globe, and send men and women into space, surely we
can figure out how to live together with "liberty and justice
for all". Inclusion is truly and simply a matter of will.
Our Centre is committed to work with people
anywhere and everywhere to make this value a reality. Communities
which reject the richness of diversity, continue to put us all
at risk - personally and internationally. Our future depends
on our capacity to learn to live together without war - creating
societies that build capacity with compassion for one and for
all. Inclusion is about rebuilding our hearts and giving us the
tools for the human race to survive as a global family.