This week's reading, "Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome", by Christopher Kliewer, was inspiring and relevatory as teaching special needs' students is something with which I have had low exposure. I am in awe of the several teachers mentioned in this chapter who have seemingly become masters in altering social places so that classrooms are communities embracing the idea that diversity is normal and that "school citizenship requires that students not be categorized and separated based on presumed defect".
Kliewer examines several special needs' students who have flourished in well designed inclusion classrooms. Isaac Johnson, a student with Down Syndrome, gained acceptance in the classroom community while interpretating and thus, showing meaning of literacy, through his teacher's design of a Where the Wild Things Are dance interpretation lesson. This wise teacher realized that "community acceptance requires opportunity for individual participation in the group, but opportunity cannot exist outside of community acceptance."
This "community connectedness" was what was lacking in John Mcgough's early learning experience in one California city where his mentally retarded label severly limited his access to a rigorous classroom. However, when his family moved to a more progressive community, which accepted and challenged him, he became productive and creative. In fact, "John's dramatic shift in persona is an example of 'altered social place' from a location of hopelessness to one filled with possibility." This happened, in part because of the recognition from community partners of John's "inherent value to the community" and in doing so fostered the opportunities needed "in establishing and confirming that value."
Much of the theoretical basis of the pedagological focus of inclusion as shared community values is found via Howard Gardner's work in "patterns of learning" which mirror democratic values. Along with the traditional school values of honing logic and linguistic skills, Gardner includes five other areas of multiple intelligences: spatial, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal - all of great cultural value but which are often ignored in schools. Kliewer cites these intelligences as areas which should be recognized and fostered in a truly inclusive classroom. Teachers of students with low cognitive functioning can, as attested by Isaac's and John's teachers, bridge understanding and build community by focusing on any/all of these multiple intelligences.
While I found this piece to be inspiring, I also wondered how building an inclusive communtiy of learners would work in secondary literacy classrooms with multiple special needs students and no aids. For instance, many city secondary schools have students with cognitive needs, second language needs, and emotional needs. Although I have never taught a child with Down Syndrome, I have taught many classes with second language learners with IEP and 501 plans. With limited staff, the IEP students are usually pulled/tutored after my class and while I would love to incorporate more classes focusing on kinesthetic or musical learning, preparation for rigorous state tests, and a curriculum focused on developing literacy via traditional reading strategies, which must be followed with fidelity, makes those lessons more difficult to squeeze in.
So, as usual, the culprit is a one-size fits all curriculum and schedule, designed to get students to pass their state tests, which makes the types of lessons/classes higlighted in this text, more difficult to initiate with my students.