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In Education, What Is Inclusion?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated May 16, 2024
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Since the inception in the US of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 1970s, there has been much debate as to how to effectively educate children with special needs. Some argue that special education students should spend their school days in a special resource room designed specifically for them, while others argue the best option for special needs students is inclusion, which places the student in the regular education classroom during all of the school day. Proponents of inclusion argue that it allows the student to socialize with the appropriate age level, reduces social stigma, and allows special education students the same educational opportunities as regular education students.

The idea of full inclusion — special education students staying in the regular classroom for the entire school day — has been met with skepticism from many people. Critics argue that full inclusion takes away valuable resources from the special education student, such as resource rooms and special educational aides like computers and other accommodations. The regular education classroom often will not be equipped with those valuable resources, putting the special education student at a disadvantage. In addition, regular classroom teachers are often underprepared or unequipped to handle the needs of many special education students for the entire school day. By putting a student in a fully inclusive setting, that student may not have access to special education faculty best equipped to handle their needs.

Proponents of inclusion argue that the special education student has the right to spend their day in the regular classroom and should not have to "earn" their way out of a special education classroom. An alternate theory called mainstreaming places the student in the general education classroom for certain subjects only, or for part of the school day but not others. Proponents of inclusion argue that mainstreaming does not go far enough to allow special education students the same education as regular education students, and further argue that this technique enhances social stigma. Inclusion would avoid such a scenario, allowing the special education student normal socialization and access to an equal education. In fact, this may even open more doors to opportunities like academic scholarships or even certifications! Consider hiring an online tutor with experience in special education as a way to further aid whatever learning your kid gets in school. If you want to be able to teach the kids in these classes, consider offering online tutoring services. You can start by signing up with tutoring companies or agencies that will train you on how you can become one.

The debate as to how to best educate special education students still exists today. Both mainstreaming and full inclusion techniques are used in schools throughout the United States, and each method can be used effectively, provided each individual special education student is evaluated correctly and assessed regularly. Schools must develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for special education students, and the best method for including the student in the general classroom is discussed at the IEP planning meeting. We also recommend looking into grade school math tutors to supplement any learning at school. This allows your kid to have more exposure to different teaching methods and you can also get reports on progress you can use for monitoring significant changes.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon926930 — On Jan 21, 2014

All children have a right to the best education they can receive. We do not know what a child is capable until given the chance to demonstrate their competence. Would you not want your child to be given the best chance? Think if this were your child.

By anon159676 — On Mar 13, 2011

Wonder why our test scores are lower than other industrialized countries? They don't test the developmentally disabled like we are forced to.

If we tested only our average students, and not all those who clearly have no business in regular classrooms, then we would all be better off!

I'm basically forced to pass SRS who can barely read or write because they qualify for Special Services. Is McDonald's going to modify and accommodate their work for them? "Oh, it's OK sir, Little Johnny didn't put fries in your bag because he has accommodations!" Yeah, right!

By anon159675 — On Mar 13, 2011

"Special" children should be in "special" classrooms where they can get the help they need. They shouldn't be in senior level British Literature just so their "precious" self esteem can be stroked. They only hold back the other students who might actually have a chance in college.

By anon159674 — On Mar 13, 2011

Mainstreaming is killing public education. 90 percent of our time is spent on 10 percent of the kids at the expense of the majority!

One of the biggest reasons public education is failing today is because of this namby-pamby idea that a kid with an IQ of 55 is better off taking trigonometry and holding back the other kids than being in self-contained where he/she can get the help the help they need.

This is stupid! NCB actually means that all able-bodied children get left behind at the expense of the mentally disabled.

By anon151526 — On Feb 10, 2011

i think that special students should not be placed in the regular classroom because most of the time the teacher is not trained to attend to their needs. They need special attention and this can be time consuming for the teacher while other children are in need of assistance.

By anon121881 — On Oct 25, 2010

As a mother to a special needs child, I say that it is important for these children to be mainstreamed. I do not delude myself into thinking my daughter should be full mainstream, she is not, and never will be.

But my daughter deserves the same rights as any other child, and I will fight to see that she gets to be socialized with other children her age, 'normal' children. And if you ask me, it can't hurt the 'normal' children to be socialized with special needs children. It can only help them to understand how other people can be different.

I agree with Sunny27. My daughter would likely disrupt a class during math, or reading. But she can sit and write, she can use a computer, probably better than most 'normal' children, she can play instruments and use playground equipment. She eats and uses the restroom the same way any other child does.

By anon109292 — On Sep 06, 2010

As a teacher I can assure you that mainstreaming serves no other purpose than political correctness, similar to every other idea from the nation's ed schools.

It isn't so much that "the teacher is not prepared for special education students" and "doesn't know how to teach them." It's more accurate to say that most special education students are not ready for instruction which challenges intelligent mainstream students.

In order for teachers to accommodate special ed, the curriculum must inevitably become watered down and slowed down. Brighter students will flee these classes. Because I've actually seen it, I know. This is just common sense.

By cafe41 — On Jul 04, 2010

Sunny27-I agree, but sometimes children respond to labels. If children feel labeled and that they are somewhat deficient than their classmates, they may respond accordingly and never progress.

Some people feel that special education students need to feel normal so that they could develop accordingly. I am not sure if that is true, but I do agree that a compromise of mainstreaming is best.

I do feel a combination of appropriate hands on tutoring and participation in a general classroom makes the best use of the circumstances.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 04, 2010

I agree that mainstreaming is a good balance for special education students. Special education students need additional resources especially for critical subjects like reading, writing and math.

It is not fair to subject these students into a general classroom while these subjects are taught. Likewise, a teacher needs training in special education in order to facilitate appropriate lesson plans for these children.

A regular teacher without this designation does not offer the special education student adequate instruction. Special education students can participate in a regular classroom for other subjects that are less critical.

Subjects like art, physical education, and music allow the special education student the opportunity to socialize without compromises his or her education.

By anon65669 — On Feb 15, 2010

When were the "late 2000s"?

another issue: congress is so disappointing with its 9000 earmarks in the 2010 bill, and where is our president? He said he was going to control this, not just sign bills.

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