Today I heard words that made me cringe. We were in my inclusion class and we had just had a Socratic Seminar that my co-teacher and I thought had gone really well. So, trying to gauge how one of the students in the class with a higher reading level felt about it and whether she felt challenged enough, the co-teacher asked her how she felt the seminar went. The girl said that she enjoyed it, but when asked if she felt like she was being challenged in the class, she says, “Well, I may be moving to another class with some of my smarter friends.” It’s as if some subset of smarter kids existed and that those students were more valued.
Bear in mind that the child’s mother is a teacher and knows she is in an inclusion class and, further, the child herself probably also has some perceptions about her group of friends versus others. She is a sweet girl. She meant no harm in what she said. There was no malice in her words. She has to be one of the sweetest young ladies I’ve ever met. But those words. Those words pained me.
I’m not even sure if I can accurately explain the reason why those words hurt so much. I think it’s my feeling that the words are coming from her mother, who teaches and knows that she is in a class that has special education students in it after having come to an Open House and seeing that there were two teachers in her class. And it’s not about me. It really isn’t. It’s about the assumption that those other students in the room are somehow less than her. Less intelligent. Less able. That they’re going to drag her daughter down. The fact of the matter is that we are going at the same pace as all of the other Language Arts classes. We modify the way in which we cover material for those students who need it, but we cover the same material. We have some truly awesome, profound, intellectual conversations. If the perception is that our class is the “dumb” one, that is totally inaccurate.
And the thing is, other students. The special ed ones. They are not dumb. Oh my goodness. They are not. You should hear the things they say. We had this Socratic Seminar today and they had some of the brightest statements. Why? I think some of them have the richest life experiences. Maybe not the happiest, but the richest. They were insightful and contributed thoughtfully to the conversation. I am willing to bet that not a single student in that room knows they have an IEP. So, it’s totally unfair to assume that just because there’s an extra adult in the room (and therefore special ed students) that there are not smart kids in the room too.
Lastly, my own child is a special education student. At some point, he will be in a classroom with regular education students. What if a parent at some point recognizes that their child is in a classroom with him and erroneously believes that he is stupid or less than their child? That’s such a horrible assumption. He’s not stupid. He can count by 10s. He can spell. He’s a first grader and he’s reading books that are probably above where he should be for the beginning of the first grade. He can add and subtract. He can count to 100. Does he have behavior issues? Yes. Does he understand jokes and social cues? No. Can he make inferences? No. But is he stupid? Hell no. And none of those kids I work with at school are stupid either.
The truth is, all kids have strengths and weaknesses. ALL OF THEM. If you put them all together, they can draw from each other’s strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses and do some awesome things together. That’s what Inclusion is. Even the “smartest” kid in the room has weaknesses. Hell, I was 3rd in my class and I had things that I had to work on. I mean, really. We’re doing great things.
But the important thing that I really think needs to be said is that all kids deserve to feel smart. And telling your kid that you want them with the “smarter” kids is the same thing as telling them that they’re with the “dumb” kids. And that’s mean. So, think before you speak. Think really hard about what you say to your children. Because, honestly, do you really want them grouping kids into categories like that?
How do you feel about labeling kids by how “smart” they are? Weigh in by leaving a comment!