Toward an Interdisciplinary Framework for Educational Inclusivity

Article excerpt


Over the past 30 years, inclusivity has gained steady prominence as a national and international movement significantly impacting educational policy and practice (Egbo, 2009; Howard & Aleman, 2008). In Canada, inclusivity mandates and initiatives are legislatively supported through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial education acts, with similar legislative backing in countries throughout the world (Hutchinson, 2010). However, despite widespread acceptance of inclusivity as a contemporary teaching principle, ambiguity remains over what inclusivity means and how it should be practiced (Gerin-Lajoie, 2008; Trifonas, 2003). As a result, Gerin-Lajoie (2008) asserted that educators receive contradictory signals about inclusion leading to different responses to diversity and varied levels of educational participation.

One primary factor contributing to the multiple conceptions of inclusivity across teacher discourse is that inclusive research and policy initiatives have stemmed from a range of sub-disciplines including multicultural education, special education, anti-racist education, queer education, and the education of women. Furthermore, Trifonas (2003) recognized that there exists no unifying theory for inclusivity within current scholarship to connect discourses and conceptions of inclusion from across these sub-disciplines. Specifically, Trifonas stated, "to date, there has been no sustained attempt, in educational theory or in its contextual grounding as praxis, to address the bridging of this gap of difference among discourses" (pp. 3-4). More recently, Artiles (2011) identified the need for an interdisciplinary framework that connects different conceptions of inclusivity from across historically marginalized groups. He asserted that such a framework would serve to both propel inclusion research forward through a common conceptual framework and support developments in educational policy and practice.

Accordingly, the purpose of this paper is to provide an interdisciplinary framework for inclusion in Canadian schools. Methodologically, I use an interpretive literature review approach (Eisenhart, 1998; Schwandt, 1998) to document, analyze, and critique four disciplinary perspectives related to inclusivity as a basis for constructing my interdisciplinary framework. The interdisciplinary framework elucidates four conceptions of inclusivity positioned on a continuum from a normative (i.e., assimilation) to a transgressive (i.e., social justice) conception. At the onset of my argument, I assert that this framework is intended to represent multiple forms of inclusivity to edify historical, existing, and idealistic educational practices and structures, allowing for the identification and positioning of various responses to diversity. Further, following Harper (1997), I anchor my argument within the Canadian school culture and policy context; however, I acknowledge that the framework may have implications for other systems of education. Accordingly, I conclude my argument with considerations for future development and validation of the framework across educational contexts.

Disciplinary Perspectives on Inclusivity

Several perspectives exist for understanding inclusivity within the contexts of schools and society. As a basis for developing my interdisciplinary framework, I review four dominant disciplinary perspectives on inclusive education. These perspectives relate to (a) special education and disability studies, (b) multiculturalism and anti-racist education, (c) gender and women's education, and (d) queer studies. After describing these perspectives, I critique the commonalities and differences across these perspectives.

Special Education and Disability Studies

The majority of texts related to inclusive education focus specifically on the integration of students with exceptionalities. Hence the special education model of inclusion is central when considering frameworks for inclusivity in education. …