To understand the importance of special education and the changes that have led to the inclusionary practices we now uphold, it is important to understand the views that society held about people with disabilities and special needs and the journey from exclusion to inclusion. There is historical evidence that special education services have been around since the 18th century. Unfortunately, the perspective and attitudes held towards people with special needs during that time were cruel and dismissive (Winzer, 2009, p.2). Having a “disability was not an innocuous boundary but rather it was a liability in social and economic participation (Winzer, 2009, p.2), thus, leading to an inability to participate in public life, i.e., education, marriage, work, etc. Thus, those with disabilities were often shunned and excluded from public life. This concept of isolation and segregation is further demonstrated via Dr. Helen Murphy, “Inspector of the Feeble Minded”. During the 1910s, Dr. Murphy believed that the “feeble-minded” were a menace to society and were the cause of a variety of social problems such as, unemployment and prostitution (Edmunds, 2018, p.13). This belief led her to create “auxiliary classes”, also considered special education classes, in clearing houses. These classes and clearing houses were designed to identify and train the feeble-minded to ensure that they were segregated from society and could not reproduce to pass on the “feeble minded” gene (Edmunds, 2018, p.13). It was not until the emergence of human rights issues in the 1960’s that the modern era of special education truly began (Edmunds, 2018, p.13). Over the next forty years, society would come to see the slow shift from exclusion and segregation, to integration and overall inclusion of students with special needs.
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It was during the modern era of special education that both Canada and the United States released legislative acts to ensure the rights and equal education for people with disabilities. The most prominent legislative acts released in the U.S. include: The Education for All Handicapped Children Act released in 1975. This act revolutionized education with the implementation of individualized instruction and individualized education plans (IEP) to allow students with disabilities to be integrated into the school system (Edmunds, 2018, p. 14). The No Child Left Behind Act, released in 2001, aimed to improve the academic success of not only students with severe disabilities but included students with learning and behavioral disabilities (Edmunds, 2018, p. 15). This was an important step in special education as institutions were finally recognizing the severity, importance and prominence that learning and behavioral deficits had on student success. In Canada, educational freedoms and equality were founded under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Edmunds, 2018, p. 18). Under Section 15 of the Charter it states that:
“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has a right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination, and in particular without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” [s. 15 (1)].
This means that when determining a child’s educational program the best interest of the individual child must be considered (Edmunds, 2018, p. 18). Thus, we can see that major steps have been taken to ensure the rights and equality of education for all. Now we must consider the specific philosophies and practices that have been put in place within educational institutions to ensure equal education.
Integration, mainstreaming, and inclusion, demonstrate specific movements and practices that have emerged within special education. Integration, mainstreaming and inclusion are educational practices that in their essence all seek to improve the educational quality of students with special needs. Although, the three practices have a similar overarching goal, the practices connect and differ from each other in many ways. To understand the similarities and differences between the three practices we will begin with a definition and basic explanation of each.
Integration was the first of the movements and practices that came about within the 1970s (Mainstreaming, Integration and Inclusion, 2018). During this time, public schools were mandated to create spaces for students with disabilities so that they could socialized with non-disabled peers (Rodriguez & Garro-Gil, 2015, p. 1324). Within these spaces, there were special education classrooms, regular classrooms and alternative programs (Rodriguez & Garro-Gil, 2015, p. 1324). Thus, integration sought to reintegrate students with exceptionalities back into the regular classroom, if possible (Edmunds, 2018, p.27). Mainstreaming emerged in the 1980s and is defined as “the selective placement of students with exceptionalities in regular classrooms on a part time basis where possible” (Edmunds, 2018, p. 27). This ensured that students with exceptionalities are had their academic needs met with alternative programs while still being able to participate in the regular classroom with their school aged peers (Bright Hub Inc., 2016). Thus, mainstreaming is based on the idea that a student with special needs would benefit both academically and socially from being in a regular classroom. This would allow a mainstreamed student to have his or her physical, social and instructional needs met in the least restrictive environment, while their academic learning and progress was entrusted to an alternate program outside of the regular classroom (Bright Hub Inc., 2016).
Mainstreaming and Inclusion are often used interchangeably but are in fact two very different movements and practices. These differences stem from an understanding in why a student with special needs should join a general education classroom. Again, mainstreaming is based on the idea that a student with special needs would benefit both socially and academically from participating in a regular classroom. Therefore, students may have some modification and accommodations in instruction and assessment but for the most part learns the same material in the same manner as the rest of his or her peers (Bright Hub Inc., 2016). It is important to note that mainstreaming focuses on academic gains within a regular classroom. On the other hand, inclusion, which emerged in the 1990s, focuses on merging special education and regular education into a unified education system (Mainstreaming, Integration and Inclusion, 2018). Inclusion is based on the idea that students with special needs should not be segregated in the classroom and instead should be provided with the appropriate accommodations and modifications for their success (Bright Hub Inc., 2016). Unlike, mainstreaming, an inclusion practice focuses on the development of both social and academic skills within the means of the student. Thus, there is less emphasis on level-appropriate academic progress and more on the individual learning needs of the students. An important thing to note is that inclusion does not mean that all students need to be in a regular classroom, it means that all students are provided with the appropriate programming in the most appropriate educational environment whether that is in a regular classroom, a special education or alternative school program (Edmunds, 2018, p. 27).
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Although, all three practices focus on improving the quality of education for students with exceptionalities, inclusion is thought to be the best philosophical approach to date in educating students with exceptionalities (Edmunds, 2018, p. 27). Unlike, other philosophies, inclusion seeks to change the system of education to suit the needs of individual students rather than “fix” students with exceptionalities (Edmunds, 2018, p. 27). Inclusion is an overarching philosophy that advocates first for education within a regular classroom and does not necessarily offer specific implementation methods (Edmunds, 2018, p. 27). Thus, it can be said that both mainstreaming and integration act as implementations that support the system of inclusion practices. For instance, integration practices can be used within inclusion to help a student re-enter a classroom. For students with exceptionalities, behavioral or learning differences, it is common for them to participate in alternate programs outside of a regular classroom. Thus, integration allows students to slowly enter or re-enter into a regular classroom at their own pace. For instance, a student with autism may spend most of his academic school day in a resource room and for certain activities and socialization may join a regular classroom for a certain amount of time during the school day. Mainstreaming can be used in an inclusive context by allowing students with exceptionalities to participate in a regular classroom with the appropriate adaptations and modifications. For instance, a student with difficulties in written examinations may be given the accommodation to take his or her exam orally. Thus, the student is still participating in regular classroom routines with a specific adaptation or modification to help them succeed in their academics.
Thus, we can see that inclusion is a philosophy that encompasses a wide variety or practices. Inclusion seeks to ensure that all students are given the right tools and environment to succeed and achieve his or her own learning or social goals so that individuals can be active and contributing participants within society. This is largely different from the initial perspectives of individuals with exceptional needs. In moving from a view of exclusion to inclusion we begin to understand the importance and value that all people have within society. This value is further translated into our special education system via inclusionary practices.
- Edmunds, A., Edmunds. (2018). Special Education in Canada, Third Edition. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.
- Mainstreaming, Integration and Inclusion. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.specialedu4parents.com/mainstreaming-integration-and-inclusion.html
- Bright Hub Inc. Mainstreaming vs. Inclusion in Special Education: What’s the Difference?. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.brighthubeducation.com/special-ed-inclusion-strategies/66813-the-differences-between-mainstreaming-and-inclusion/
- Rodriguez, C., & Garro-Gil, N. (2015). Inclusion and Integration on Special Education. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 191, 1323-1327. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.04.488
- Winzer, M. (2009). From Integration to Inclusion: A History of Special Education in the 20th Century. Washington: Gallaudet University Press.
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