I'm proud to share a guest post by my amazing wife, Mary Snyder Radel.
Mary is an attorney, advocate, and President of the 21 Club of CNY, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and supporting people with Down syndrome and their families.
“He’s so fun!”, “he is a pleasure to work with,” “he is so smart.” “He’s defiant,” “he distracts the class,” “he can’t keep up with the work.”
These are all quotes about the same student- my son- a person with Down syndrome.
You might wonder how that is possible. You might ask what is really true?
The answer is that this is inclusion. This is inclusion done well and inclusion done poorly. The same child, but different teachers, attitudes, and circumstances – the same student, but different mindsets, skillsets, and “heart-sets” from the adults who support him.
Our son has been included for more than a decade. We’ve always been able to tell which teachers will work well with him pretty quickly. In our experience, the teachers that have a difficult time also struggle to reach more “typical” learners. Of course, we can never tell them that.
Our son is the “canary in the coal mine.” He is radar that something is amiss in a particular classroom. And, it’s usually wrong for all of the students, not just him. Why? Because true teachers are happy to include. They already do it every day. They want to reach every learner. They value every learner. They don’t give up. They find a way. The learners feel that. My son feels it especially. Less skilled teachers are nervous and scared and (sometimes) hostile about the child with an IEP, they view them as a problem that belongs “elsewhere.” As parents, we know that “elsewhere” is actually nowhere.
So, we push for inclusion. We live in the possible. We endure the “survival years” with the less skilled teachers. We endure their criticisms of our children and their judgments on our parenting. We hold our tongues when we want to tell them “no, it’s you that is the problem.” “It is you who think you know it all and who know so little. It is you who need training and repeatedly turn it down. It is you who see my son and others like him as burdens. It is you who cause his behavior. It is you who seek to exclude when we know inclusion works!”
It’s that elusive promise. The knowledge that we have and can’t get rid of. We know inclusion works! Not because we say it does, but because it actually does. Check the research. Talk to the teachers who were successful with my son. He’s the same student. He’s always been the same. He’s always wanted the same thing, to be included, to be engaged, to feel valued.
The law is on our side. We know that. What good is it? Do you want to sue the people you are hoping will help your precious child learn? Few of us do. Few of us have the money or emotional fortitude.
Yet, the knowledge that success is obtainable is so enticing it keeps us holding on. Maybe the “game changer” is out there and coming to our school? Maybe the current team will read the resources we share, will seek out the professional development we offer, will see our students as the learners we know they can be?!
Until then, we get up every day, and make our kids go to school. Mainly because bad inclusion is still better than the institutional alternative of separate schools or separate rooms. Maybe because the social injustice of it is so appalling that we feel it is our moral obligation to stand and fight.
Are we alone? Our hearts are breaking, our time is running out. This is everything. We need the promise kept.