I am sitting with 9-year old Jonas and his teacher in the special class, where Jonas is enrolled, discussing what he is about to do in the upcoming summer holiday. All of a sudden Jonas looks at his teacher and says; “Next school year I don’t want to be in the special class anymore.” The teacher looks at him and asks him why. Jonas answers: “Because I don’t want to be strange anymore.”
Having a stigma like the one a student with special needs has is not easy. After 4 years of working in different special classes I have met a lot of students who are getting bullied and have low self-esteem. Neither themselves nor the other pupils find them normal and therefore they are easy targets of bullying.
Reading Cara’s blog post (see post) about wearing school uniforms somehow got me to think about this. It reminded me of the very current situation of social and academic inclusion that is going on in Danish primary schools right now. Not because the demand for inclusion in Denmark is about whether pupils should be wearing school uniforms or not, but because the debate and implementation of inclusion is all about conformity. The school system is putting students into boxes and categories where they all have to be more or less alike. If a student is being excluded from the class community it will be labeled as an outsider and outsiders are easy to bully – therefore each student has to fit in.
In theory I like the way of thinking where schools should be able to contain every kind of student no matter what sort of special need they may have. Unfortunately the theory struggles when it comes to practise. But before I talk any more about the implementation let me first of all take a look at what inclusion really is.
What is inclusion?
All humans have the need to belong and the need to be part of a group. We are social beings and strive to feel accepted and included in something bigger. In a matter of school policy inclusion means that the schools should be able to contain all kinds of pupils no matter what kind of special need they may have (in a matter of learning and social competence). A couple of years ago the Danish government decided that roughly 10.000 pupils with learning difficulties who went to special classes had to be included in normal classes before the exit of 2015. This means that pupils who already stood out in a normal class by having special needs for either academic or social reasons (and therefore were sent into special classes) now again have to try to fit into these frames of being “normal”.
But when is a student normal? And do we really need to take a look at the individual student’s “normality” or rather be looking at the ones bullying the pupils they find strange? This is something I will focus on in the next post.