Daisy Mathias: Total inclusion not possible in schools

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Monday, January 29, 2018
Total inclusion not possible in schools

Massachusetts public education laws require children to be included in regular classrooms when possible. The vital phrase is “when possible.”

Total inclusion is not possible, because some children cannot learn in regular classrooms. Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are based on in-depth testing of a student. Pediatric specialists (special education teachers, neuropsychologists, psychologists, audiologists, occupational and physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists) evaluate and problem-solve teaching approaches for students who are challenged in their ability to learn.

Some special needs children can learn in a regular classroom and some cannot. Just take a moment to imagine that you are trying to listen to a teacher while a loud rock band plays in the room — this is the kind of situation faced by children who cannot “gate out” or “listen past” noise (scraping of chairs, whispering, coughs, commotion in the hall).

Other children process language slowly: By the time they’ve figured out what the teacher’s first sentence meant, the teacher is on her third sentence, and they are lost. Some children, faced by this kind of frustration, become angry and out of control; they need help, not censure.

As an adult who lived through the anguish of having a learning disability in the days when all children who couldn’t learn were called “stupid,” I am grieved for the children of Bridge Street School in Northampton who have been deprived of their special education small classrooms, individual attention in a quiet environment, and opportunity to say, “I didn’t understand that,” and get a response of “I’m so glad you told me, let’s go over that again” (something a regular classroom teacher does not have time do.)

The IEP process determines on a case-by-case basis what each child’s learning needs are. Massachusetts has one of the best educational systems in the country, partly because it has evaluated and met the needs of special-learning students for decades, providing individual and small group instruction when needed, and inclusion when possible. Let’s not throw it out now.

Daisy Mathias


The writer is a speech-language pathologist.