Challenging Views toward Inclusive Education of Disabled Students

By Horn, Paul | Our Schools, Our Selves, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Challenging Views toward Inclusive Education of Disabled Students


Horn, Paul, Our Schools, Our Selves


"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

St. Bernard

"The highest result of education is tolerance."

Helen Keller

Prologue: In ?8?8, the Provincial Asylum for the Insane was founded in New Westminster, BC. It initially housed 36 people. Just 32 years later the asy- lum had reached a total of 700 "mental defectives." By 3959, the facility had been renamed Woodlands School and it housed nearly 1600 people. History shows that Woodlands was over-crowd- ed and under-resourced for nearly all of its 118 year life. A 2004 report from British Columbia's Public Trustee found that sexual abuse, physical abuse and chronic neglect were endemic there. The "Woodlands Project" found that the segregated and institutionalized model of education had directly facilitated these abuses and concluded, "It is important to ensure that the lessons of Woodlands are learned by all of us so that we do not, out of misplaced good intentions or fiscal concerns, create it again" (Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee 2004, 28).

24 Hours, March 20, 2007 (Bill Tieleman) - "... the B.C. Liberal government [has] suddenly re-opened [the] widely discredited approach [of segregation] and tried to make it sound new and progressive."

"The Feb. 13, [2007] Throne Speech said the government would establish 'provincial schools' and Education Minister Shirley Bond later talked about 'model schools' for children with autism..."

"... Christy Clark, the former education minister, said... "Segregation didn 't work as a general rule. But rules have exceptions... " (Tieleman 2007, website).

Vancouver Sun, March 5, 2007- "The Vancouver school board will consider opening model schools for special-needs students when It meets Tuesday for an unusual in-private workshop on declining enrolments and underused facilities, chairman Ken Denike said Sunday" (Steffenhagen 2007, website).

There is a hidden hegemony in western society, and like many other forms of inequity, it has been most manifest in our educational system. Unlike racism, gender inequity or class struggle, this form of discrimination has no easy label. It is so deeply entrenched that even the most enlightened teacher may employ or allow discriminating practices and language without being aware. JuHe Smart calls this type of discrimination "handicapism," defining it as "the assumptions and practices that promote the unequal treatment of people because of apparent and assumed physical, mental or behavioural differences... in both the social and physical environment" (1995, pp. 144-5). This is the hegemony of intelligence and mental health, and it is most apparent in the overt and systemic ways in which we have segregated disabled and mentally ill people.

When Woodlands closed in 1996, it was as a result of a small but persistent group of families advocating for their children. They stood essentially alone in their battle; few from the com- munity or government lent their support, and those directly affected by segregation were all but voiceless (And Tomorrow, 1986). It was a struggle which occurred largely outside of the public purview, and it still continues. Even within Canada, "[governmental policy] still leaves much to be desired in terms of disability policy and practice" (Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy 2000, p. 15). But these are not issues which only affect the "other."

Why should teachers, students, communities and families care? "[Segregation is] for people on the outside, not the inside. [I]t's only the grace of God that keeps you and your children from being disabled. [T]here is no us and them. [Disabled people] need respect, dignity, love and freedom just like everyone else" (Horn 1997, p. 2). What we let happen to our most vulnerable citizens speaks to our moral fibre as a society. Whether we mean to teach them or not, our children absorb those lessons and carry them into subsequent generations.

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