Also I'm like 75% sure I appropriated like 3 concepts but I don't know. I'll redo the video if so.
Script I used:
Hi everyone! I can’t sleep, so I decided to make a video explaining the difference between inclusion, integration, and assimilation in a classroom setting. I’m also supposed to be working on homework, but this was somehow less difficult. A quick note about my speech so people do not get confused: I have issues pronouncing the sound in English denoted by a “th” such as the beginning sound in “thing.” I may occasionally pronounce “things” with an “f” sound or a hard “t” sound. It depends, really. I prefer written communication to spoken—like 90% of that is because of my speech issues. I also tend to speak quickly because I used to do debate club and speed reading—or sp’rea-ding is an asset. I suggest reading along with the transcript provided below if you are having trouble understanding me. Anyway, here is my explanation!
First, the reasons for why this is even a video: Inclusion is a much discussed issue in special education at the moment. Not that it hasn’t always been, but even more so today it seems, there is significant push from students, disabled activists, and parents to make sure disabled or “special needs” children can have equal access to education. This is a worthy goal; however, there seems to be confusion about what that is and how to achieve it. There are vastly different opinions on it, of course—the one presented in this video is very much just mine.
To me, there is a profound difference between inclusion, integration, and assimilation. I want to start with assimilation. To assimilate according to Merriam Webster is “to adopt the ways of another culture: to fully become part of a different society, country, etc.” I along with many others take the view that this is almost always coerced—and that is the framework I will be using when talking of assimilation. To give a real world example, American Jews have become, in general, more and more assimilated into American culture. You can witness this in the growing importance of Hanukkah as a holiday for American Jewry, simply because it happens to be close to a very important holiday for a large amount of Americans: Christmas.
When I talk about assimilation in the classroom in the context of disability, however, I am talking about the making of children to act more “normally.” For example, the technique known as Applied Behavioral Analyses—or ABA—has the stated goal of making Autistic, and presumably other children, appear “indistinguishable from their peers.” ABA would be a tool of assimilation for Neurodivergent children. The inherent issue with assimilation in general, is that the disabled person is compelled to conform to honestly unimportant social norms. For example, a wheelchair user may have the ability to get through their day walking, but this may hamper their ability to do their homework or focus in class because they expended so much energy to appear normal.
Assimilation is a very medical model approach. The Medical Model assumes the impairment disables a disabled person rather than the infrastructure and society disabling a disabled person. The Social Model of Disability, by contrast, states that the society disables a disabled person through systemic oppression. Disability is by a large a fluid, social construct. In most North American indigenous societies, for example, d/Deafness was not a disability because the society did not disable d/Deaf people—there was almost always signed language. The largest being Plains Indian Sign Language which I just learned today you can learn online.
So not only does the assimilationist approach place the burden of an uncooperative environment on the disabled person, but it also has been shown to harm a child’s self-esteem and self-image. This is not the desired effect of education to say the least. Now, certain behaviors are certainly unacceptable in a classroom environment for a reason. It’s not just hand flaps [flaps hands] and other so called “unsightly behaviors” that are punished, but aggression is punished—and for good reason. Aggression makes an unsafe classroom environment. The answer to a lot of aggression problems however lie in the application of meaningful inclusion, but more on that later.
Let’s discuss integration. Integration is a term that brings a collective memory—at least in the States—of racially integrating schools. I want to be clear about that because to use the term integration in this context does feel a bit appropriative. It was certainly used during the nineteen seventies when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was signed and the horrified school systems worked as hard as it could to keep their policy of segregating disabled children from abled children. I just want to be clear about the history and why the usage of this term could be problematic.
Anyway, integration is the opposite of segregation. Integration is where a group basically just mixes with another group. That’s pretty much what it means. Integration for an Autistic person like me would be placing me in a sensory unfriendly classroom and melting down. That is not good. That is actually the opposite of good. Integration does nothing for the disabled person except allow them access to an environment that is actively disabling/oppressing them. Integration is basically the indifferent position. It is not justice.
Inclusion, however, is. Inclusion implies that a person will be a part of the environment and have access to it. Meaningful inclusion is based on the principles of universal design. Universal design is a concept that basically states that an environment should be made to be equally as easy to access for everyone. What this does is allow the disabled or special needs child to learn effectively and feel included with their peers. The culture of such a place would be one of acceptance. So whereas assimilation teaches children that they are undesirable if they are disabled, inclusion teaches them that diversity is normal, natural, and good.
To achieve true universal design in all settings is very difficult and considering the high prevalence of conflicting access needs; it is probably not completely feasible for the time being everywhere—but a classroom can get close! What meaningful inclusion would present itself as is what is sometimes called a consent culture. A consent culture values, above all, consent for an action to happen. Consent for those that do know, basically means permission, to allow. It is something that is generally taught in early childhood anyway.
What a consent culture would do is make it easier for a child to say “hi! I’m having a difficult time. Can everyone lower their voices for a minute?” What it also allows is for aggression to be punished in a just way. Aggression generally presents itself as a response to stressful stimuli—at least it did for me. The goal of my quote on quote aggressive tendencies when I was younger was not to hurt others, but to get people to stop hurting me in ways they did not understand because apparently sensory processing disorder is some sort of mythical thing that could not really exist. No, clearly I was just a bad child. Sarcasm. However, if there was a way for me to have my problems addressed, there would likely not be the “aggressive tendencies.”
I heavily used Autistic examples in this video for a reason—I am Autistic. Also I was too busy writing this out than to cite the things I could have cited. The ways I have defined these terms and what they would mean and how they would be realized is what I came up with at two in the morning on a Tuesday. It’s not really anything special. Also I could be totally misinterpreting things. That happens—a lot. My points still are valid, however. If you want meaningful inclusion, it compels you to practice universal design and create a way for all students to access educational space. There are some notable exceptions to this rule.
Deaf people, for example, may feel that the best, least restrictive environment is a d/Deaf only school. I don’t really have much input on this other than a Deaf friend of mine believes this and her reasoning made sense. As a hearing person, I really just have no idea. Again, I can only discuss the experiences I experience. I can cite people with different experiences, but not speak for them.
In any case, I hope this has been an informative and good post. Thank you for watching/listening. Hopefully one of these days I can get to sleep at a decent hour. Goodnight.