Friday, February 11, 2011

"It's gone too far!": A teachers' union launches a campaign against inclusion

While listening to the radio at home the other day, I was surprised to hear a radio ad from Montréal teacher's union that took a strong stance against inclusion. "The inclusion of students with learning difficulties has gone too far," the narrator intoned. I wanted to find out more, so I turned to the web.

It turns out that the radio ad was part of a broad campaign by the Fédération Autonome de l'Enseignement (FAE), a Francophone teachers' union with more than 26,000 members. In addition to the radio ads, the union also has produced several television ads, which are currently available on Youtube. On of the most striking commericals is below. A stressed-out looking science teacher stands at his desk and tells a story of runaway inclusion:

The translation of the ad is as follows:

In my class of 29 students, I have two hyperactive students, six who have learning difficulties, one with hearing problems, and one who fights with the others [image of fallen chair]. It doesn't make sense to teach in these conditions! We need more special education classes. The integration of students with learning difficulties has gone way too far. Mr. Charest [Premier of Québec], solutions exist. Let's take the time to listen to our teachers. The Fédération Autonome de l'Enseignment--for public schools with services that suit all students.

The FAE has also held a number of public demonstrations on the issue of inclusion--a union brochure includes the following arresting photo from a protest in Québec City:

The caption given for this photo indicates that the protest represented "all of the unknown children whose needs were substantial but not being met, as well as other children who have no particular difficulty, but, due to a lack of services for children with special needs, have not received the quality of teaching they deserve."

In addition to TV and radio ads, the union has also commissioned a marketing firm to conduct a poll on inclusion. The results of this poll (published on the Féderation's website) are as follows:

-- 97% of parents agreed that "teachers need more support to help students with behavioral or learning difficulties."

-- 89% of parents agreed with the following statement: "If public schools have to admit all children, regardless of the difficulties they have, regular classes will not be able to meet the needs of children with learning difficulties."

-- 60% of parents agree that "the presence of children with learning difficulties in regular classes harms the other children's learning."

-- 61% of parents disagree with the assertion that "regular public school classes must accept all children regardless of their difficulties and/or handicaps."

It isn't hard to understand why teachers have mixed feelings about inclusion of children with special needs. Frequently, teachers asked to deal with children who have difficult and complex problems, but are given very few resources to deal with these problems. This does not mean, however, that a full-on public attack on the idea of inclusion is the right approach, and this seems to be the path that the FAE is currently pursuing.

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