Separation and Inclusion
Separation and Inclusion
IN LOS ANGELES HISPANIC PARENTS PICKET A SCHOOL, demanding that their children be taken out of bilingual education classes and put into regular, English-speaking classes; in Florida the state department of education officially chastises the schools in Orange County for not providing bilingual education classes. A mother hires attorneys and spends two years fighting to have her developmentally disabled teenage daughter placed in a full-time residential facility at public expense; another set of parents pays for neuropsychological testing for their five-year-old son with cerebral palsy so that they can do battle if the Wellesley, Massachusetts, school district tries to move him out of a regular kindergarten class. In Montclair, New Jersey, one parent opposes a plan to eliminate ability grouping in ninth-grade English because he “doesn’t want his daughter jeopardized by the possibility that the new plan isn’t going to work”; another supports the plan because “an end should be put to a [grouping] system that intentionally or unintentionally privileges a small minority and fails to do justice to the rest of the children.” It is extremely hard to figure out how best to educate children who are in some way distinctive in their physical, emotional, or academic capacity, or in their English language proficiency. These children may differ not only from the majority of students but also from those perceived to have the same characteristics. Their advocates sometimes disagree passionately about how the inclusion of students with distinctive characteristics affects their achievement and that of their peers. In addition, the placement of these students is often affected unfairly by the usual racial and class hierarchies. Everyone concurs that whether we help children with distinctive characteristics to achieve their dreams is an important test of our nation’s commitment to the American dream. But deep disagreements remain about how to do it. Most Americans believe, in principle, that interaction in the classroom and playground is the best way for children to learn to appreciate, or at least deal with, people different from themselves. Mixing in this way may even lead students to find new dreams, see new possibilities, invent new futures. This is the premise behind the view that the collective goals of education are best achieved when students are educated together regardless of variations in ethnicity or race, gender or religion, ability or disability, background or beliefs.
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