Academic journal article Education

Equifinality: Parents' and Students' Attitudes towards a Student-Centered Approach to Integration (1)

Academic journal article Education

Equifinality: Parents' and Students' Attitudes towards a Student-Centered Approach to Integration (1)

Article excerpt

The inclusion of all special needs students into the regular classroom setting is rapidly becoming the dominant educational ideology. Whether or not it is actually the best ideology remains the topic of much heated debate (e.g., Chow, Blais, & Hemmingway, 1999; Vaidya, 1997; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1995; Kauffman & Hallahan, 1995; Staub & Peck, 1995; Wolfenberger, 1995; Gerrard, 1994). Nonetheless, if inclusion is to become a successful reality, one crucial point must be acknowledged: it won't work if we don't want it to, and if we want it to, we must work at it. The success of the inclusion movement will be largely determined by the attitudes of those involved; this includes both attitudes of parents and students as well as educational administrators and teachers.

Most of the past research pertaining to the inclusion movement involved exclusively the attitudes of teachers. However, in the massive "matrix of factors" (Chow & Winzer, 1989, p. 78) that contributes to successful integration, we must not ignore the attitudes of both parents and students. In the past, teachers' attitudes towards special needs students tended to lean towards segregation in special education classrooms (Goupil & Brunet, 1984). However, attitudes towards inclusion among educators tend to be progressively more positive as the movement gains momentum (Marcovitch, Vachon, MacGregor, & Campbell, 1993). Whether a similar tendency exists for parents and students will determine, to a certain extent, if total inclusion will indeed be successful in practice or perhaps a less extreme alternative may be more appropriate.

A lot of attention has been focussed on whether teachers and principals would be positive and supportive of total inclusion. On the contrary, considerably less attention has been given to the issue of peer acceptance within the classroom and within the school. A crucial factor in the success of inclusion is whether special needs students will learn to socialize with regular classroom students, and whether regular classroom students will, in turn, be receptive of special needs students (Shanker, 1995). These factors are paramount in fostering an environment conducive to learning, and hence, the success of total inclusion.

Research studies have begun to address parental attitudes towards inclusion (Abrahamson, Willson, Yoshida, & Hagerty, 1983; Mlynek, Hannah, & Hammlin, 1982; Myles & Simpson, 1990; Simpson & Myles, 1989) because of the likelihood that they may potentially play an even more active role in determining the fate of inclusion than students' attitudes. Assessing this parental factor is especially crucial considering that parents are becoming more active participants in making educational and placement decisions for their children (Barber & Brophy, 1993). Moreover, special needs students' parents as well as regular students' parents are now more concerned about the context of instruction for their children (Ryndak, Downing, Morrison, & Williams, 1996).

Attitudes Towards Inclusion

The notion of inclusion is based upon three main theoretical perspectives: equality of education, financial issues, and the importance of social interactions for special needs students. Proponents of total inclusion believe that special education is expensive, unequal, and detrimental to the development of all children (e.g., Gerrard, 1994; Wolfenberger, 1995). As pointed out by Chaikland, Danielson, and Brauen (1993), special education is about 2.3 times the cost of regular education. Furthermore, it has been agreed that a setting which fosters more social interactions would be much more beneficial to the development of special needs students. Staub and Peck (1995) believe that an inclusive setting is essential in the promotion of social development that will in turn enhance learning. They conclude that "the development of all children is enhanced by the extent to which they feel a sense of belonging, caring, and community in school" (p. …

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