The inclusion paradox
Page 2 of 2
By Valle Dwight
The inclusive edge
Academically, inclusive classrooms afford an obvious boon. Additional staff dedicated to kids with learning disabilities lowers the overall student-to-teacher ratio. Smaller groups and more individualized instruction (a necessity for children with disabilities) usually means a boost for everyone in the classroom.
Some of the adaptations made for children with disabilities may benefit other students as well. A PA system installed for a hearing-impaired student helps the entire class hear the teacher better. A visual schedule that outlines the day’s plan turns out to be a great organizing tool for all students.
As for the harder-to-measure benefits, many parents report that their children enrolled in inclusive classrooms are more compassionate, have better social skills and higher self-esteem, and are more open to the needs of others. Staub’s research found that typical children in inclusive classrooms exhibited increased patience with slower learners and more ease with people with disabilities.
An unlikely convert
Such studies confirm what Grundfest observed in his son. Not only did his son accept his classmate with the disability without hesitation, but the boys became friends as the year went on. “He seemed to completely understand this kid's limitations, but they were still buddies,” says Grundfest. “He was experiencing people who are different without thinking that they are less.”
“Our son seems to be growing up to be a kind and compassionate kid,” he adds. “And I think having a classmate with a disability was part of helping him become that.”
Grundfest, who like many adults did not go to school with children with disabilities, realizes that he had a vision of what his child’s education would look like and was thrown by the reality. “We expect that world will repeat what we experienced as kids, and that's where we go wrong,” he says. “They are not you, and the world is vastly different.”
Seeing his son incorporate this classmate into his life with such little fanfare has turned Grundfest into an inclusion convert. “My views changed by learning from my own son,” he says. “He had zero discomfort around his classmate. As the song says: ‘You've got to be taught to hate and fear.’”
In an ironic twist, Grundfest now sees that he learned as much from the experience as his son did. “Someday I hope I can grow up to be like my kid,” he says.