experience

inclusive exclusion

Throwing money at schools to provide more support for students with unique functioning says something about a profound discomfort in schools with any form of diversity beyond culture. When writing about the ‘cost’ of providing support for disabled students the needs of the majority of students who ‘might miss out on teachers time’ are privileged. The threat to the normative learning environment is what is represented when it comes to promoting increased funding and my concern is this moves schools further away from inclusive and more toward exclusive concepts of special needs. One of the reasons I think is a general dis-ease with any form of emotional, social, physical difference. The need to manage diversity by erasing undersirable outward expressions of uniqueness means schools have lost one of their most powerful functions, to provide young people with experiences with others who may ‘be’ un-like them to allow this unsettling to play an role in forging a genuine appreciation of the vast range of humanbeingness. Maybe this has something to do with the insanity behind assessment driven pedagogy, I’m not sure, but the dominant concerns indicate this might be part of the reason.

Another pressure point is the growing parental entitlement creeping into education. I don’t begrudge parents wanting the ‘best for their children’. However neoliberal forces seem to have condensed and concentrated this into a drive to demand that schools remove all barriers to their child achieving their best. It seems as though ‘accessibility’ has been hijacked as an idea to some degree. If litigation or media exposure is threatened, Principals can be backed into a corner to preserve their brand. These are some of the contextual influences skipped over by media in a bid to focus on economies of identity – financial bottom lines and the ever growing business management approach to education and pedagogy.

A concept I find increasingly needed but missing in schools is de-expertising. That is, you can actually ask young people themselves what they need! And be careful to allow for some space to just them to be teenagers, de-pathologising youth in general would be a good start. Getting frustrated, angry, emotional and struggling to communicate feelings is not uncommon for teachers…or young people. Let’s remember that and get back to basics – the 3 r’s – 1: Are assumptions disabling students more than their actual disabilities, 2: Are young people consulted when developing IEP’s? (especially year 11 and beyond but even before this), 3: Are the needs of the many really that different to the needs of the few?

Having said all this however I am acutely aware that parents are covering the costs of teacher aids and shouldn’t be. I’m also grateful for the work RTLB’s and TA’s do, an often invisible and underappreciated part of the fabric of teaching. To the Ministry Of Education, put your money where your mouth is but don’t let it suffocate a wider discussion of inclusion, belonging and feeling valued by everyday practices in schools.

Less abrasive is sharper

Bare foot on the beach. Sand and shells in various stages of decay, broken and beautiful. Beautifully broken. Hidden amongst the spiral cores and splintered fans a glint of green. Most likely this was once a bottle, now shattered and exposed to the elements. A hazard for the soft flesh, the original shape making way for razor sharp edges, ready to pierce any unsuspecting skin and inflict shock, pain and confusion. But not this piece, it is barely recognisable as a vitreous substance its edges pose no threat to delicate tissues.

Turning it over in my hand I wondered about the vessels of ourselves, those pieces of identity that we hold and contain beliefs, values our sense of truth, justice, right and wrong. When dropped or shaken we might crack or even break, exposing harsh edges, newly formed opinions, and ideas become weapons of self-defence and others might tread more carefully around. But if moved by the sea, through tides and storms it will be tumbled in amongst other abrasive surfaces the gritty friction of tumbling chips away. Smoothing and remoulding until it is unique perhaps broken again a single edge becomes clear and transparent. The uniformity of it’s original form forgotten, liberated from the need to maintain perfection and clarity.

May I continue to fracture and roll in the coarse moments that I may smooth and reshape in an endless dance with entropy.

Less visibility means you might see more

Fog doesn’t conjure up warm images or seem to offer much to those seeking motivating imagery. I’d go as far to suggest the ‘fog’ metaphor is probably more frequently applied negatively to imply a block or barrier to seeing clearly, or being able to operate at full capacity (whatever that is) such as the term ‘mental fog’. It’s also wet and cold – like rain – only much more stealthy and an umbrella won’t help.

It occurred to me that fog is a wonderful phenomenon that provides a useful opportunity to slow down both literally and metaphorically, take a different sensory lens to the world and ‘see’ what we might not have observed before. Fog reduces visibility or more accurately optical (visual) acuity, you lose the ability to pick up fine detail or the ‘sh*^t I can’t see anything’ factor. Driving is probably the activity most people would associate with impairment due to fog. What is immediately in front of you becomes lost in the murky soup of condensation and should mean an adjustment in awareness or at least some modification of speed and following distance. More often than not I suspect it is met with gritted teeth, reluctant braking and the dilemma of whether to have your lights dipped or on full. People rarely embrace the opportunity to focus in a new way or even notice how things appear in this new ‘muted’ light. They just want to get through it and out the other side.

I’ve noticed when running just how often I expect to get to the top of Mt Eden and look out over the city. My expectation is based on a preference for the view being panoramic but I have come to appreciate the beauty and contrast foggy mornings bring. Trees become silhouettes and lights become orbs and it always feels like I hear more. Breaking through at the summit, the city makes noise beneath the fleece of white cloud and other landmarks form a temporary new perspective of ‘ground level’.

So whether your are driving or just going about life generally if ‘fog’ appears either metaphorically or literally – take a moment to adjust and see what appears to emerge that might have come forward for noticing now that the usual background detail has blurred.

But if you are on a bike in the fog – just get over the ego and go high viz – become a Dutch football fan if you need an excuse, or go all the way and get a vest – embody Emmet from The Lego Movie…either way there are times when it pays to stand out and not blend into the background.