In Brookfield’s book “The Skillful Teacher”, he emphasizes the connection between inclusion and learning. As teachers we need to be aware that there are some practises that may inadvertently exclude certain groups of students and this will impact their learning. This is not the same as selecting strategies that are effective for our learnings. Rather, our actions and strategies may position some students as ‘others’, creating a negative or hostile learning environment. While we cannot expect that all learning activities we select are effective, I think it is our duty to minimize exclusionary practices, as this does not foster fairness and justice in our classroom.
Yesterday a perfect example of this popped up on my Facebook newsfeed:
This article caught my attention for several reasons. First, I grew up in this community, so it’s interesting to watch their educational systems evolve. Second, I was “that kid” who was forced to make father’s day cards and did not have a father. While I survived these card making sessions and my primary years, it was not without much pain.
What’s incredibly interesting about this issue is the debate. I was shocked that most people seem outraged that this school decided to oust the making of mother’s and father’s day cards. Reading through the comments can be heart-wrenching, as some comment “have the kid make a card to take to their parent’s grave” or “why do we need to accommodate a few ‘sissies’?”
Through these outrageous comments, I realize that few understand the objectives and mechanisms of learning. The focus of the debate appears to be anti political correctness, which not at the core of this decision. It’s about Exclusion in education.
Exclusionary practises like this set up students for failure. If a student feels alienated, their learning will be inhibited. A child that is forced to make mother or fathers day cards and comes from a non traditional family will be temporarily derail the student and make it much harder for them to reconnect with subsequent learning activities. This can also disrupt the trust a student has in us as teacher, making them feel unsafe and less likely to take some of the risks learning entails.
In a very similar debate regarding the use of terms like “you guys”, most people immediately jump to debates about Political Correctness. But again, this is exclusion. A term like this invites “guys” which for young learners or ESL this could be taken literally.
It is our duty as teachers to create supportive and positive learning environments. This can only be done with Inclusion, so we need to be aware of any practise we use that may exclude any student.