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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Does inclusive education sacrifice the best students to egalitarianism?

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” is a communist slogan made famous by Karl Marx, the author of The Communist Manifesto and architect of the bloodiest ideology in history.

While communism might be a discredited political system, the ethics of collectivism and altruism, on which this system rests, remain resilient. We expect the wealthiest in society to pay more through progressive taxation, for instance, simply because they have more. We also generally accept that need alone is a reasonable claim on the time and wealth of those more fortunate. So it is fair to conclude that "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is the moral foundation of the Canadian welfare state.

This moral foundation, the ethics of collectivism and altruism, was fiercely opposed by individualist philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand who wrote:

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”

This brings me to the TV and radio campaign being waged by the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), a 50-year-old organization “striving for the full inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.” The “No Excuses” campaign for inclusive education is “working for more kids with intellectual disabilities getting into regular classrooms.”

Here are the two TV commercials the organization is currently running:

The arguments for inclusive education rest primarily on the advantages inclusion brings to the mentally disabled. According to the CACL, children with mental disabilities do better in regular classrooms, inclusive education environments, than they do in special education classrooms. But how does this arrangement benefit children with normal or exceptional intelligence -- and should this even be a consideration in a culture that values collectivism and altruism?

In the past, I’ve worked extensively with the mentally and physically disabled as a volunteer. I am also a teacher by profession, and familiar with at least some of the literature on the subject of inclusive education and the practical challenges of this approach. And I’m also a brother to a sibling with a serious handicap who benefited tremendously from an inclusive education and who is now an excellent parent with an accomplished career. So I'm familiar with the unique needs of the intellectually disabled, familiar with the arguments for inclusion as well as the practical, classroom challenges, and intimately familiar with the benefits inclusive education can bring to someone with a disability. But none of this changes the fact that children with special needs do demand disproportionately more time from teachers. These intellectually disabled students also demand more from their intellectually superior peers, who are often thrust into the role of substitute teacher, tutor and counselor, arguably at the expense of traditional academic pursuits.

Parents look for the most academically and socially rich educational environment possible for their children, often turning to the private sector, an exclusive environment where high standards for both academics and behaviour are promised and expected. Some parents go so far as to home school their children, the least inclusive education option. Is it fair to ask these parents to sacrifice what they believe is best for their children to notions of social justice and equality? I would argue "no."

Since the Western Standard has a libertarian editorial mission, what does the libertarian philosophy demand of public education institutions as long as such institutions exist? Certain public schools, responding to demands for choice, already exist to cater to students of a particular language, religion, race, gender and, of course, academic prowess. Do these options violate the spirit of public education? Perhaps, but the spirit of public education may be worth violating in the pursuit of more choice, even if it comes at the expense of inclusion.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on April 28, 2009 in School Choice | Permalink


Our education system is in place to ensure that children are taught to accept propoganda as truth: To believe that our system of government and taxation are justified. To ensure that they are incapable of critical thinking. And if they should happen to learn to read and write, its purely coincidental.

I talk to kids all the time about what they are being taught and I visit the schools themselves as often as I can, and I do not like what I see.

They are churning out socialists. Fortunately, the majority of kids I talk to understand that (in as much as they can). There's hope in the kids...not in the schools.

Posted by: JC | 2009-04-28 4:24:44 AM

"The superior man seeks harmony, not sameness; the small-minded man seeks sameness, not harmony." -- Confucius (Analects XIII:23)

It seems that the small-minded outnumber the superior.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-04-28 11:26:20 AM

JC, I think you're right.

Public schools are treated like social laboratories, and not like centres of learning. There is, of course, a social and cultural component to schools, but teaching these components should not come at the expense of a first rate education. More importantly, they should not come at the expense of what parents think is best for their children.

There may be parents who think inclusive education is beneficial for their children, while there may be others who think some non-inclusive arrangement is better. Choice, and not forced inclusion, should prevail here.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-28 12:35:15 PM

Alain, if I understand you correctly, you're saying it is small-minded to oppose inclusive education.

Fair enough, but the natural path in a successful education is to move from highly inclusive environments to highly exclusive environments as we move from kindergarten to junior high to high school to university and even on to elite post secondary studies. Every step is less inclusive than the last.

We should not marginalize the intellectually or physically disabled, but an agenda to force inclusion is neither practical nor fair.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-28 12:43:36 PM


Sorry, but no, for the goal of inclusive education is sameness, therefore small-minded.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-04-28 2:09:40 PM

I should know better by now where you're coming from, Alain. Of course, I'm in complete agreement.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-28 8:28:27 PM

Matthew, the schools are where social engineering begins followed closely by the "type" of immigration policies we have.

Governments have no business (NONE) engaging in social engineering. But then our government is merely a puppet organization anyway. They must be, because they sure as hell don't represent "us" anymore.

Posted by: JC | 2009-04-28 9:46:49 PM

I'm confused, I thought the reasons the girl in the video was giving were pretty good.

I'm not sending my kids to public school. They can stay home and become weird, before I ship them off to a private school.

Posted by: Sam T | 2009-04-29 9:00:37 PM

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