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What is Inclusion?

Inclusion is about ALL of us

Inclusion is about living full lives - about learning to live together.

Inclusion makes the world our classroom for a full life.

Inclusion treasures diversity and builds community.

Inclusion is about our 'abilities' - our gifts and how to share them.

Inclusion is NOT just a 'disability' issue.

Inclusion.com creates & shares tools, resources, capacities, so all can live full lives.

Inclusion.com is for citizens: educators, families, individuals, organizations - all of us.

Below are three articles that serve as an introduction to Inclusion.
(For additional material, see Inclusion Articles.)

1)What is Inclusion    2)Inclusion: It's About Change!   3)The Ethics of Inclusion

What is Inclusion?
by Shafik Asante

In 1955 the story of a brave and tired woman named Rosa Parks was put in front of this country's awareness. They say this woman had gotten tired, in fact, historically tired of being denied equality. She wanted to be included in society in a full way, something which was denied people labeled as "black" people! So Rosa Parks sat down on a bus in a section reserved for "white" people. When Rosa was told to go to "her place" at the back of the bus, she refused to move, was arrested, and history was challenged and changed. All of this happened because Rosa Parks was tired, historically tired of being excluded. She had sat down and thereby stood up for inclusion! Another powerful cry for "inclusion" is being heard today. This new cry is being raised by people with unrecognized abilities, (the so-called "disabled"). Many people whose abilities are regularly denied or ignored feel that society is not honoring the right to participate in society in a full way. Part of the call is for better accessibility, such as more wheelchair ramps, more signs and materials in braille, community living, etc. The Americans with Disabilities Act represents an attempt to hear the "inclusion" cry. However, much more needs to be done including a search for an acceptable definition and practice of inclusion. Across this country a definition of inclusion is offered. It is generally accepted that "Inclusion" means inviting those who have been historically locked out to "come in". This well-intentioned meaning must be strengthened. A weakness of this definition is evident. Who has the authority or right to "invite" others in? And how did the "inviters" get in? Finally, who is doing the excluding? It is time we both recognize and accept that we are all born "in"! No one has the right to invite others in! It definitely becomes our responsibility as a society to remove all barriers which uphold exclusion since none of us have the authority to "invite" others "in"! So what is inclusion? Inclusion is recognizing our universal "oneness" and interdependence. Inclusion is recognizing that we are "one" even though we are not the "same". The act of inclusion means fighting against exclusion and all of the social diseases exclusion gives birth to - i.e. racism, sexism, handicapism, etc. Fighting for inclusion also involves assuring that all support systems are available to those who need such support. Providing and maintaining support systems is a civic responsibility, not a favor. We were all born "in". Society will immediately improve at the point we honor this truth!!

Shafik Asante is a former leader of New African Voices in Philadelphia, PA. He passed on in 1997.

Inclusion: It's About Change!
by Jack Pearpoint & Marsha Forest

Inclusion means change!! We believe both inclusion and change are inevitable. Whether we choose to grow with and from these changes is a choice.

It has been instructive to be a participant in hundreds of emotional meetings about "inclusion", when it is crystal clear after a few minutes that inclusion is only nominally the topic. The real topic (seldom stated) is Fear of Change! Many people in education and human services are afraid they will lose their jobs. Afraid of new responsibilities. Afraid of what they don't understand. Afraid of being accountable.

The words that come out are: "But, we don't have enough money! But, we haven't been trained to take care of those! But, I didn't choose special ed! But, I don't have special curriculum guidelines , and I don't have time to create a special program for "them". The other children will suffer!" We all recognize the phrases. Listen deeper. Most of the "buts" are about "me" "I". The buts that are couched in deprivation to the other children reflect both ignorance of virtually everything we know (for centuries) about cooperative learning and peer tutoring, and too often are a guise to cover "I don't want to risk giving up control!". "I am afraid that people might find out that I don't know everything! I don't want to do this." I am Afraid! This is the key phrase underneath most of the kvetching and whining. But for many, there are deeper fears that are teased out with great delicacy. People are afraid of being "faced" with their own mortality, with imperfection. People are afraid 'they might catch IT'. These deep seated fears are a product of our culture. It is not the fault of individuals (teachers and human service workers) that they are afraid. We were all taught to 'put "them" out of sight' and as citizens and taxpayers we have. But, now we know that 'putting people away' is a decision just one step away from extermination. The film, Schindler's List reminds us that segregation in any ghetto is life threatening.

The answer is that we must Face the Fear, and Do It Anyway i.e. include everyone. This will be uncomfortable - even terrifying for a few moments, but fears pass. When we face our fears, and proceed regardless, they immediately diminish and come into perspective. We have had conversations with hundreds of "Inclusion Survivors" - teachers and human service workers who were petrified. They endured a few weeks of "Tylenol Therapy" and then as if by magic, the terror passed. In interviewing people about that period, there is an overwhelming pattern. Every single person remembers being terrified. No one can remember what they were afraid of... just that they were afraid - and it passed. It usually takes about six weeks which is the general pattern for any crisis situation to get back to normal.

There are lessons to be learned. All too often we tell people who are being faced with change: "Don't worry. Don't be afraid!" This is nonsense! Inclusion is about change. Change is terrifying - for all of us. Our bodies are designed to seek "homeostasis" - equilibrium. Change upsets us. It's scary. It's unpredictable. But since the issue is one of survival - about the Human Rights of individuals, we must do it anyway. We do not have the right to exclude anyone. Our fears are simply an obstacle to overcome. They cannot and must not be a reason to deny any person their rights. A second learning is that people need support to get through the crisis period of change. The fascinating facts are however, that this has very little to do with budgets. The key ingredient in effective support of change is supportive relationships. What we need is to 'practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty' - a kind word - a thoughtful gesture. It is knowing someone will be there when you need them. Recently, the American Federation of Teachers launched an attack on inclusion - a tragic and misguided assault. They have identified support as essential for effective inclusion and find "dumping" practices abhorrent. We totally agree. But the enemy of lack of support in schools, training and beyond is not innocent children or the issue of inclusion. The villains are faceless policy makers who continue to slash at the support structures that enable and encourage teachers and others to go the extra mile. If some educators cannot come to terms with including everyone, it may be time for them to move on to other jobs. It is entirely legitimate to provide job security - but not security against change. People who cannot support rights for all have the right to their own personal opinion but not the right to stand in the way of the rights of other citizens.

We conclude that Inclusion is purely and simply about CHANGE. It is frightening - and exciting. The rewards are many. It will be and is hard and often emotionally draining work. Erik Olesen in his book 12 Steps to Mastering the Winds of Change says, "the mediocre resist change, the successful embrace it." We must invite success for inclusion and thus embrace change with all our hearts and souls. We must build strong teams to support one another. We must stop wasting our time worrying about the "kids" when what we need to develop are creative design teams that meet every problem with the same spirit found in the corporate sector. Let's borrow the lines from people who sell hamburgers, running shoes and hotel rooms - their slogans: DO What it Takes! JUST DO IT! and YES, WE CAN! These are messages we can adopt for our own work!! Finally we like to remember that "An injury to one is an injury to all!" and in the case of inclusion, "The benefit to one will be the benefit of all."

The Ethics of Inclusion: Three Common Delusions
by John O'Brien, Marsha Forest, Jack Pearpoint, Shafik Asante & Judith Snow

We want to begin a dialogue on the expectations about personal behavior that go along with a commitment to Inclusion. Unattainable expectations confuse good people and fragment efforts for change into factions organized around hurt feelings. We who care about Inclusion can reduce this drain on the energy necessary to work for justice by being clear about three delusions which are common, but mostly unconscious among advocates for Inclusion. When we replace these false and destructive beliefs with simpler expectations of decency and working constructively in common, we will all be better able to live out the real meaning of Inclusion by honoring and growing from our shared struggle with our diverse gifts, differences, and weaknesses.

[In writing this article, we have struggled for clarity. We talked about whether to use "delusion" or "illusion". Delusion means "a mistaken idea or belief". Illusion a 'false appearance or deceptive impression of reality". They are synonyms - but we have chosen "delusion" because it is stronger.]

Delusion 1
Inclusion means that everybody must love everybody else or "We must all be one big, happy family!" (OBHF) This delusion is at work when people who care about Inclusion feel shocked and offended to discover that other Inclusion advocates don't really like one another. Sometimes this delusion pushes people into pretending, or wanting others to pretend, that real differences of opinion and personality don't exist or don't really matter. The roots of this delusion may be in a desire to make up for painful experiences by finally becoming part of "one big happy family," (OBHF) where there is continual harmony and peace. The "one big happy family" (OBHF) delusion is the exact opposite of Inclusion. The real challenge of Inclusion is to find common cause for important work that cannot be done effectively if we isolate ourselves from one another along the many differences of race, culture, nationality, gender, class, ability, and personality that truly do divide us. Educating our children is one such common task. The reward of Inclusion comes in the harvest of creative action and new understanding that follows the hard work of finding common ground and tilling it by confronting and finding creative ways through real differences.

The "one big happy family" (OBHF) delusion destroys the possibilities for Inclusion in a complex community by seducing people into burying differences by denying their significance or even their existence. People in schools or agencies or associations which promote this delusion lose vividness and energy because they have to swallow the feelings of dislike and conflict they experience and deny the differences they see and hear. Denial makes a sandy foundation for inclusive schools and communities. Community grows when people honor a commitment to laugh, shout, cry, argue, sing, and scream with, and at, one another without destroying one another or the earth in the process. We can't ever honestly celebrate diversity if we pretend to bring in the harvest before we have tilled the ground together.

Delusion 2
Inclusion means everyone must always be happy and satisfied or "Inclusion cures all ills." A group of good people came together to study inclusive community in an intensive course. One person, Anne, angrily announced her dissatisfaction from the group's first meeting on. She acted hostile to everyone else and to the group's common project.

At first, the group organized itself around Anne's dissatisfaction. A number of members anguished over her participation. It was hard for the group to sustain attention on anything for very long before the topic of how to satisfy Anne took over. The group acted as if it could not include Anne unless she was happy. And, they assumed, if they could not be an inclusive group (that is, make Anne happy) they would be failing to live up to their values. Two other members dropped out the group, frustrated by their inability to overcome the power of this delusion and move on to issues of concern to them.

The group broke through when they recognized that true community includes people who are angry and anguished as well as those who are happy and satisfied. After overcoming the delusion of cure, the group gave Anne room to be angry and dissatisfied without being the focus of the whole group. Let out of the center of the group's concern, Anne found solidarity with several other members, whom she chose as a support circle for herself. In this circle of support her real pain emerged as she told her story of being an abused child and a beaten wife. She did not go home cured or happy, but she did find real support and direction for dealing with the issues in her life.

The delusion that Inclusion equals happiness leads to its opposite: a pseudo-community in which people who are disagreeable or suffering have no place unless the group has the magic to cure them. Groups trapped in this delusion hold up a false kind of status difference that values people who act happy more than people who suffer. This delusion creates disappointment that Inclusion is not the panacea.

Real community members get over the wish for a cure-all and look for ways to focus on promoting one another's gifts and capacities in the service of justice. They support, and often must endure, one another's weaknesses by learning ways to forgive, to reconcile, and to rediscover shared purpose. Out of this hard work comes a measure of healing.

Delusion 3
Inclusion is the same as friendship or "We are really all the same"

Friendship grows mysteriously between people as a mutual gift. It shouldn't be assumed and it can't be legislated. But people can choose to work for inclusive schools and communities, and schools and agencies and associations can carefully build up norms and customs that communicate the expectation that people will work hard to recognize, honor, and find common cause for action in their differences.

This hard work includes embracing dissent and disagreement and sometimes even outright dislike of one person for another. The question at the root of Inclusion is not "Can't we be friends?" but, in Rodney King's hard won words, "Can we all just learn to get along - to live with one another?" We can't get along if we simply avoid others who are different and include only those with who we feel comfortable and similar. Once we openly recognize difference, we can begin to look for something worth working together to do. Once we begin working together, conflicts and difficulties will teach us more about our differences. If we can face and explore them our actions and our mutual understanding will be enriched and strengthened. To carry out this work, our standard must be stronger than the friendly feelings that come from being with someone we think likes and is like us. To understand and grow through including difference we must risk the comfortable feeling of being just like each other. The question that can guide us in the search for better understanding through shared action is not "Do we like each other?" but "Can we live with each other?" We can discover things worth our joint effort even if we seem strange to one another, even if we dislike one another, and it is through this working together that we can learn to get along.

The delusion of sameness leads away from the values of Inclusion. It blurs differences and covers over discomfort and the sense of strangeness or even threat that goes with confronting actual human differences. Strangely, it only when the assumption of friendship fades away that the space opens up for friendship to flower.

An ethic of decency and common labor Inclusion doesn't call on us to live in a fairy tale. It doesn't require that we begin with a new kind of human being who is always friendly, unselfish, and unafraid and never dislikes or feels strange with anyone. We can start with who we are. And it doesn't call for some kind of super group that can make everyone happy, satisfied, and healed. We can and must start with the schools, and agencies, and associations we have now.

The way to Inclusion calls for more modest, and probably more difficult, virtues. We must simply be willing to learn to get along while recognizing our differences, our faults and foibles, and our gifts.

This begins with a commitment to decency: a commitment not to behave in ways that demean others and an openness to notice and change when our behavior is demeaning, even when this is unintentional. This ethical boundary - upheld as a standard in human rights tribunals around the globe - defines the social space within which the work of Inclusion can go on. This work calls on each of us to discover and contribute our gifts through a common labor of building worthy means to create justice for ourselves and for the earth through the ways we educate each other, through the ways we care for one another's health and welfare, and through the ways we produce the things we need to live good lives together.

In this common labor we will find people we love and people we dislike; we will find friends and people we can barely stand. We will sometimes be astonished at our strengths and sometimes be overcome by our weaknesses. Through this work of Inclusion we will, haltingly, become new people capable of building new and more human communities.

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