Em Out or Keep Em In
Exclusion or Inclusion
by Jack Pearpoint & Marsha Forest
Youth who exhibit severe aggressive behaviours
constitute a formidable challenge to educators in terms of inclusion
and maintenance of all students In the mainstream of school and
community life. In regard to students who exhibit such behaviors,
there are two competing themes in the educational literature:
kick m out or keep em in.
On the kick em out side, in Connecticut
for example, a 6.9 million dollar institution was recently planned
for children who are so severely behaviourally disordered that
they need rooms with video surveillance and all sorts of special
facilities. When asked who actually would be served by this building,
no clear answer was given.
However, on the keep em in side, with the
recognition and utilization of innovative support options, inclusion
is not only possible but highly desirable. In addition, by using
millions of dollars to support educational reform rather than
build institutions, we believe we can come up with more worthwhile
alternatives to the kick 'em out model.
The process toward inclusive education
is indeed a process - a journey to create an education system
where excellence and equity walk hand in hand and where the highest
values of our nations are respected, honoured and achieved. The
purpose of this chapter is to help make inclusive education a
viable option for students who have or could potentially exhibit
severe aggressive behaviours. We will do this by presenting emerging
possible solutions that have been successfully used in keeping
or returning such students to the educational and community mainstream.
In a perfect world, all children would
grow up in a nurturing environment, in strong families (which
could be variable in design), and thus feel secure, loved, and
confident about their future. They would have hope, dignity,
self esteem. They would have friends. They would interact with
and for people because it was right - not out of greed or selfishness.
They would have learned how to learn, to accept challenges, and
to push themselves to their own limits -- whatever they might
However, the future is not so rosy for
an enormous number of children -- many children are experiencing
little other than frustration and failure within our educational
and social system, others have all ready fallen through the cracks.
Many have already learned to be incorrigible .
Increases in teenage suicide are a barometer
of how many youth view the future -- they don't see one. They
are imploding with despair at the very time when they should
be vibrant about their lives.
In a society rampant with cynicism and
defeatism, it is hard to face reality optimistically. But that
is exactly what we must do. We must immerse ourselves in life
-- with real people. It is hard, but it is healthier than the
latest food/clothing or technology fad. It is real. And it is
economically sound. There are massive numbers of students having
school problems who are screaming at us with their behaviours.
They are telling us that school is irrelevant, boring, dull,
not meeting their needs, and driving them crazy. These students
drop out, form gangs, and get in trouble and we continue to blame
the victims rather than looking deep at ourselves and our school
system for creative answers and alternatives.
STUDENTS AS SOLUTIONS
The following two case studies illustrate
how students can serve as both valuable and very effective resources
in helping classmates who exhibit challenging aggressive behaviour.
Jane, a generally well behaved 12-year-old
started doing strange things at school. The principal, teacher
and resource person agreed to call in the behaviour specialists
to design a compliance training program.
For a short while Jane stopped being a
nuisance and life went on until Jane suddenly attacked a schoolmate
on the school yard, knocked the girl to the ground touching her
breasts and genital area. She had to be physically pulled away.
The attack frightened the other
child involved but did not seriously injure her.
The principal immediately phoned both sets
of parents and to his surprise, the mother of the attacked
student did not get hysterical as soon as she realized her
daughter was not hurt.
Jane's entire family was called in for
a serious talk with the principal.
Enlist Student Help . The following is the process used to involve
Jane's classmates in helping Jane to be more accepted and welcomed
by her school peers and concurrently eliminate her undesirable
Rule #l Go to the students. Be honest with
Hi, I'm Marsha and I just heard about what
happened in the yard between Jane and Melissa. I think it's important
that we talk about this frankly and confidentially. I asked them
what confidentiality meant. They understood. A pin could have
dropped in the room.
Rule #2 Talk to students as If you were
talking to your own friends. Don't lecture Make the discussion
Teachers know how to teach, but many have
forgotten how to talk to children or young adults as people.
Children hate it when you water-down Important issues or skirt
around the truth. Be direct.
Rule #3 Ask questions. Ask opinions, such
as WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Simply ask, What do you think is happening
to Jane? What's your view of the Incident? Tell us your opinion.
A torrent of pent up thoughts gushed forth
and the adults later said that they were amazed at the seriousness,
thoughtfulness, sincerity and depth of the children's answers.
The students basically said they felt Jane
was totally isolated at school, had no friends and was miserable
and unhappy. Jane's parents, they added, treat her like a baby
and won't let her go out of the house. She's a real pest at school,
bothers everyone and is getting more and more out of hand. The
following is an actual list of what the students in Grade 8 said
like an outcast
like in jail
like committing suicide
Rule #4 Ask students to help. Value their
opinions. Make them part of a team with the teachers to solve
We've always been suspect of simulations.
There are enough real-life issues and problems to deal with.
We don't need to role-play and make up games. This was real.
The children were involved and captured by the reality of helping
a flesh and blood life person solve a genuinely serious problem.
Rule #5 Stop talking about the problem
person and turn the conversation around to each students' own
When the conversation about Jane got quite
heated, Marsha asked everyone to forget Jane for a moment, and
think of their own lives. She did this by having each student
construct their own illustration of their circles of friends.
Marsha gave each student a sheet of paper and asked them to draw
four concentric circles from a small one in the centre of the
page with each of the others progressively larger around the
smaller ones. She told them that the four circles should be large
enough to cover the entire page. She then said:
--- A: In circle #1 the smallest and closest
to the centre put the names of people who are the closest to
you in your own life - the people you love most. (When everyone
was finished Marsha asked for responses. Why did you put those
people in circle one? What do you do with the people in circle
one? How do you feel about the people in circle one? How do those
people feel about you?)
--- B. Circle #2 is exactly the same except
the people aren't quite as close as circle #1. Follow the same
--- C. Circle #3 are groups of people in
your life -- sports groups, teams, Boy/Girl Scouts, church groups,
--- D. Circle #4 are people paid to be
in your life ie.. teachers, doctors, hairdressers, and the like.
(Throughout the procedures students were requested to share and
discuss their insights).
--- E. The students were then asked to
switch gears for a moment and think about how they would feel
if they had just a few or no people in their circles. (A circle
illustration of a person whose life included a few friends was
shown to the students).
--- F. How would you feel if your life
looked like this?
--- G. How do you think you'd ACT if your
life looked like this drawing?
Here is a list of actual student responses:
do bad things
I'd commit suicide
I'd be scared to death
I'd think I had to go to an institution
I'd annoy people
I'd hurt people
When we have done this with children and
adults, without exception they connect the behaviours to
a person's attempt to send messages. In this case, everyone realized
that Jane was behaving a certain way because she was sanding
a message to us. It's our job to figure out the message, respond
positively, and thus change the destructive behaviour.
The circle process can't be done by lecturing.
People have to experientially relate Jane's suffering to their
own lives and see that how people behave has something to do
with the environment they are in. We can't simply fix the
person without looking at the person's whole life.
The Grade 8 students immediately saw that
Jane was acting in almost the same ways that they had described
in their lists. What particularly scared them was the part about
suicide. The final question involves ACTION...
--- H. What can WE do to get Jane back
on track? Again, a flood of response:
tell her right away that we're her friends
tell her we like her
invite her to our parties
go shopping with her
visit her at home
make sure she's not alone
An interesting event happened during this
discussion. The principal of the school got so excited about
the process that he went to his office and canceled recess that
morning so the discussion could continue and he could participate.
To make a long story short, the students
did what they said they'd do, and Jane's behaviour has changed
Rule #6 There has to be a strong adult
in the environment to facilitate and assist the circle to grow
and stay together
Jane must also be present at all (or most)
meetings. The group should name itself, but not use the name
of the person.
The special education teacher took on the
task of nurturing what Marsha had started. A group of 17 students
from the class decided to name themselves the S.W.A.T. Team (Students
Who Are Together).
Marsha returned to the class two months
later to follow up the situation and find out in their words
what was happening. The following is a summary of the discussion:
Our S.W.A.T. team has a weekly meeting
with Mrs. Gill (the resource teacher). Jane comes to every meeting.
At the first meeting we told Jane we wanted to help and be her
friends. We told her that no matter what she did, we'd be there
for her. We apologized for not being around enough before. Sarah
invited her to a party and Sue went to visit her at home. Danny,
Rose and Linda call her a lot. Jane's happy now cause she's got
the S.W.A.T. team and because she has friends. Were all making
new friends too. Jane's whole attitude has changed and she hasn't
hit or attacked anyone since we talked to her.
The teachers reported that they
are amazed at the change in Jane and that she is:
more included in everything the other kids
knows everyone in the class now
is generally happier
is much friendlier and
hasn't been in the principals office in two months
I asked the S.W.A.T. team to write a few notes about their experience
with Jane. Here's what they had to say:
A Poem About Jane
Jane came three years ago
No one did she really know
We tried to teach her wrong from right
Tried to make her days sunny and bright
Still she walked around so sad
And we knew that we had
To make her feel like one of us
And over her wed all fuss
Now Jane has many good friends
And 1 hope `our' friendship never ends.
Jane has changed since her first meeting
with the S.W.A.T. team. These past couple of weeks she's really
opened up. She now feels she belongs, and she knows WE ARE her
friends. She hasn't been acting up or annoying us like she used
to. Instead she's been very friendly. She used to ignore us,
now she's cheery and always talks to us.
She was just recently invited to her
first party with boys. She really enjoyed it. I think Jane has
really changed. She used to be so quiet and always kept to herself.
Now she is more outgoing and talkative. Like any teenager Jane
needs friends and a social life.
Before S.W.A.T. I found Jane moody,
babyish, she swore, she spat and once in awhile she would pee
in her pants. When S.W.A.T. started helping, Jane was overjoyed.
Jane would always say she didn't care about anyone or about school.
About 4 days after saying how she didn't care about school she
got suspended because she touched a kid in the private spot.
Because of S.W.A.T. she is really changing
now. I called her at home and she talked to me for ten minutes
on the phone. Jane is trying to act like us! She's becoming LIKE
When Jane first came to this school
I could tell she was nervous so I became her friend. As time
went on, Jane started following me everywhere I went and she
wouldn't even let me talk to my friends in private .
Finally a group in my class formed the
S.W.A.T. team. Jane began to change. She stopped swearing and
doesn't follow me everywhere I go. She's more open to everyone.
I think the S.W.A.T. team really has improved Jane's behaviour
and attitude toward other people. (Nicole Salmon)
Jeff is another student at Regina Mundi
school. He too was described as a major behaviour problem. His
teacher was concerned that Jeff would be in big trouble in high
After hearing what had happened with Jane,
Jeff's teacher wanted to give it a try for Jeff. But everyone
was concerned that the Grade 7's were not as good a group as
the Grade 8's and wondered if they would they respond in a similar
fashion. (Jeff's story, while described more concisely here,
operated on the same rules described in Jane's story.)
If anything, the Grade 7's surpassed their
classmates in Grade 8 and surprised everyone by their sensitivity
to Jeff. The following is the student oriented intervention sequence
that occurred for Jeff.
--- A. What are some words to describe
Jeff? They said:
he fights all the time pushes acts rough
picks on the little kids hides swears a lot doesn't talk bothers
the girls is lonely makes rude noises when he eats takes things
and doesn't give them back
--- B. Can you think of anything good about
Jeff? They said:
he says hello to some people
finishes his work
offers to help some people
participates well in gym
(It's interesting to compare the Grade
7 responses with the Grade 8 group.)
--- C. How would you feel if you had no
one or few people in your life? They said:
I wouldn't care about anything or anyone
down In the dumps
nobody loves me
--- D. What would you do and how would
you act if your life had no or few friends? They said:
unable to concentrate
try to get attention
making up stories
crying for help
want to be alone
need someone to talk to
With the help of the teachers, the class
drew a picture of what Jeff's life actually looks like:
Circle #1: Jeff is very close to his older brother.
Circle #2: Jeff likes Mrs. Gill and another teacher.
Circle #3: He's not involved, in any after-school activities.
Circle #4: teachers, doctors
The students were shocked and surprised
at the drawings of Jeff's life. It had few, if any, friends.
--- E. How do you think Jeff feels about
his life? They answered:
down in the dumps
They all agreed Jeff needed friends who
could understand his isolation and anger. Almost the whole class
volunteered to get involved.
Jane and Jeff aren't real names, but they
are real children. These stories can be replicated for any child
at risk of being left out or kicked out at any age. There are
no children anywhere, be it in Toronto, Los Angeles, or a small
rural town In Iowa, who do not respond to honesty, openness and
Children, and especially teenagers, know
the pressures of life these days. They relate to suicide, death,
war, disease. They don't want to run away from these problems.
They want and need to face them head on. They need teachers to
help them face life, not run from it.
It is the adults who are frightened to
confront the pain of growing up and growing older. We are creating
new labels to mask our Ignorance and our fear. Diseases are born:
L.D. (learning disabilities), B.D. (behaviour disorders), A.D.D.
(attention deficit disorders), M.B.D. (minimal brain damage).
Living, however, is not a disease to be cured by the medical
profession. What we suggest costs little and is based on common
sense and human kindness.
LET'S TALK TO OUR CHILDREN AND TO EACH
OTHER. LET'S LISTEN TO THE JOY, SORROW, AND PAIN OF OUR NElGHBOURS.
LET'S NOT PRETEND WE LIVE IN A POLLYANNA WORLD.
Jane and Jeff could have ended up in jail,
group homes or on the street. Instead they are going to parties,
going to the mall, and heading for a decent future.
The above is practical. It is not magic.
It is not an answer, it Is a process, a journey. What do we need
to make more Jane and Jeff stories:
time to listen
time to dream
time to hear
time to cry and laugh
time to work
time to act and
time to listen again and again and again
COMMUNITY MEMBERS AS SOLUTIONS
The following is one case study of how
a community member who experienced exclusion for his undesirable
behaviour used his experiences to assist youth considered to
have severe behaviour problems to learn to function and succeed
In the educational and community mainstream. There are a number
of such cases that can be cited but only one is included here
to illustrate that community members, including those many people
considered to be a problem, can provide solutions If given the
opportunity and support.
Some years ago, Frontier College in Toronto,
began a small program -- originally to respond to our expectations
about the `literacy' needs of prisoners in Canadian jails. We
learned a great deal by listening. First, we had to learn how
to listen; not just to the words, but to the meaning. And when
we listened we discovered that reading & writing wasn't uppermost
in prisoners minds. They wanted to get out of jail. They wanted
a job. We adapted and decided to help people get a job when they
We knew most inmates didn't have enormous
job skills , that tests wouldn't tell us much about what
people could or would do, and that we would simply lose credibility
by resorting to them. We devised a very simple test. Over coffee,
we asked people What do you like ? What do you want
to do ?
We made all kinds of excellent guesses
about what people wanted and needed. Usually we were wrong. But
we listened, and because we actually tried to find jobs that
people said they wanted, our small program worked remarkably
Then along came Charlie.
Charlie Tann had been in prison for 27
years. He was released to see us largely because he was
dying of cirrhosis. He had been given three months to live, and
it was going to be more convenient to have him die on the
outside . We were a bit traumatized by Charlie, but didn't
know what else to do, so we asked, What would you like to
do ? Charlie replied,
Id like to work with kids
When we regained consciousness, Charlie made his case. He had
been in front of juries before and we were just another jury.
He argued that he had completely wasted his life, had been addicted
to every drug, messed up in every conceivable way, and that was
exactly what he had to offer. He argued that none of us could
really communicate with kids who were already on the skids, but
that he could. He could tell them that he was just like them
and that if they weren't smarter, they would end up just like
him - dying - after having spent most of his life in jail, for
nothing. Charlie argued that he could do something we couldn't,
and that he deserved the chance. He said he wanted to do something
decent in his life, and he didn't have long to do it.
Charlie was convincing. He sold us. Then
the nightmare began. We talked to school board people. That was
a bust. No responsible official would be caught dead allowing
a life long criminal like Charlie near children. We retreated
to the prison system. There was a lockup where young offenders
were stored -- after everyone had given up. We talked to them
and reluctantly they agreed. They had young offenders who had
frustrated their best efforts again and again. Fundamentally
it was a waiting game -- waiting for death by suicide, overdose
or murder. Those were the choices. No one had anything to lose.
Charlie got access to some kids.
Charlie's technique was extraordinary.
He went into the lockup, picked the toughest kid, and appointed
himself his/her friend for life. It was remarkable. He would
walk In, sit down and say, Angie, I'm your friend. That was it.
That was Charlie's technique. He would tell them, I am self-appointed.
I have decided that I am your friend. There is nothing you can
do about it. There is nothing you can do to offend me, because
I have done worse. And I will find you -- and I will be your
friend. You are stuck with me. This message of unconditional
love coming from a hardened life long criminal was staggering
to kids. They didn't know how to deal with it. Each, in their
own way, tested Charlie. They ran, did drugs, stole his money
and clothes. Charlie always found them and offered more. Mostly
he gave the only real thing he had to give -- himself -- a commodity
that was in very short supply.
Not all of Charlie's kids survived, but
Angie and Kelly made it.
I found out about Angie by accident. I
was at a HELP staff meeting (HELP is a Frontier College program
that employs approximately 37 ex-offenders to find jobs for ex-offenders).
A young woman came up to me and asked, Remember me?
I drew a blank. She said, I'm Angie....Charlie's Angie
She was on our staff, and I didn't even
know. Since then, she has become a loving mother and a part-time
But at that moment my world closed in.
You see, Charlie had died -- four years after all the doctors
said he couldn't live another day. Charlie drove himself beyond
bodily limits - because he had to live to save more kids. And
he did. Angie was the first of Charlie's kids. She was one of
the toughest women offenders in Canadian prison history and today
she is Angie...
And there isn't just one Angie. There were
hundreds. Charlie even married one of his stray kids .
I got a call the other day. She just graduated from University
at the top of her class. Her professor called as well. He had
never had a student like Kelly. He didn't know why. I did. Kelly
was one of Charlie's successes.
The problem Charlie, a rejected community
member, became part of the solution; a number of incorrigible
teens through his help and others like him were able to turn
students from undesirable behaviours toward more acceptable positive
behaviours through acceptance, friendship, inclusion, and success
in the mainstream of educational and community life.
However, Charlie couldn't have used a wasted
life to salvage doomed youth if some straight people hadn't
been willing to trust and work with him. This isn't a traditional
partnership. It isn't based on a negotiated contract. But if
anything, the bonds are more powerful and the implications more
It is easy to think that Charlie was wonderful, but what does
Charlie have to do with oil spills in Valdes, the school crisis,
Our point is that there are Charlie's everywhere.
Hopefully most won't have to waste 27 years in jail before someone
connects with them. But in your family, your classrooms, across
your fence or street, at work, school and in your church or synagogue,
there are people who you can partner with.
As long as we push people out -- reject
them -- devastation and despair will continue. People will grow
more angry, more frustrated. Violence will erupt -- anarchy will
We don't have to let that happen. We can
begin now -- at home, with our families, our friends, our classrooms,
The accumulated anger and frustration of
decades of systematic failure and rejection will not disappear
overnight. There are no microwave solutions to long term
Charlie Tann couldn't possibly have helped
kids. Think about It. He was an uneducated life-long criminal.
But Charlie did save lives. He and others
like him are among our best teachers.
Students who display severe behaviour difficulties,
like all children, can and should be included in the mainstream
of our schools and communities. The key to making it possible
is relationships. It should be no great mystery that if we can't
lean over the back fence and talk to our neighbours as people,
similar trends ooze into boardrooms, international negotiations
and prison ranges. There is a common factor -- people relating.
A fundamental element of relationships
is that everyone has a role to play. Not everyone can or should
be the same. And as we all know, someone with a Ph.D. in theoretical
physics may not be a master at human relations or be able to
repair the lawn mower, while a mere untrained farm hand could
talk his way through a country auction and be Mr. Fix-it. The
point is that we all have strengths -- and often the people we
identify as `the problem' are a key to the solution.
Together, in new and genuine partnerships,
it can be done -- the impossible just takes a little longer.
If we invite the people who are our charges and/or are labeled
as problems to join with us, the talent, commitment, creativity
and resources are there.
It is a matter of will.