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Teachers| Segregation or Inclusion?

A really cool old ruler
Creative Commons License photo credit: HA! Designs – Artbyheather

How do you measure what is important?

Hain Ginott, the famous child psychologist and author of classic books like “Between Parents and Child” and “Between Teachers and Child” taught about the power of establishing your own rules. He reasoned the rules helped you communicate your core values and helped you measure your actions.

One of the first articles on this blog was Shouting My Commitment. Where I tell the world exactly where I stand.

Over the years, my rule has been reduced to one sentence:

“Does this action lead toward inclusion, or toward segregation?”

End of Semester, but Beginning of Life.

Here at Climbing Every Mountain, many of our readers are students in Diversity and Disability Study classes at area universities.

As the semester is ending, I hope your time here has been informative, entertaining and caused you some “cognitive dissonance.”

Cognitive Dissonance

Piaget and other educational theorists say we must have “cognitive dissonance” to challenge our existing paradigm and beliefs–or there can be no change–no evolution in our thinking, no learning.

I received emails when several people disagreed with my last post, I love Aaron| I hate Autism.” I spoke my truth, it meets my rule–so I am confident in my position. I welcome their “cognitive dissonance” and hope they will continue the discussion–so all of us will learn new things.

Evolving from Student to Teacher

One of the responsibilities of being a teacher is to raise issues, even if they are not popular. Sure, you need to be thoughtful and research your topics. Sure, you need to present logical arguments and use real world examples. Sure, you need to be aware of learning styles and cultural diversity.

At the end of the semester, a student must synthesize all the new information and create your own rules to live by. What will you “prune” away, and what ideas, facts, theories will now become part of the way you think and act?

If your measuring stick is different than others, this is tricky. Many people will disagree and see things based on their own measuring stick. That’s okay. That’s their right.

WARNING: The more important the topic–the more diversity of opinion.

And, even though it is hard to admit, they might be right. Their opinions might cause you cognitive dissonance and the spiral of learning begins all over again.

Evolving from Student to Teacher to Student

As teachers, you are going to be the advocate for not only yourself, but also the children in your care, their parents, the other teachers, the administration, the community, everyone.

You will have to keep learning, not just for survival, but because you want to keep growing and changing. You will have to find the empathy to see things from other’s point of view.

You will have to learn to take baby steps and compromise–often.

Nothing is Perfect. Nothing is totally Pure.

If you are a leader, you will face difficult decisions. You will need to be able to know what you stand for. When to walk away. When to compromise. When to ignore. When to dig in and fight.

Inch by Inch, anything’s a cinch (Schuller)

“Does this lead toward inclusion, or toward segregation?”

This mantra works for me but you will need to find your own. What defines you, your heart, your truth? What is your call to action?

Bronfenbrenner, another educational psychologist, showed us how to think in systems. I’ve written about how this applies to Aaron, my son with the label of autism in a post called The Circles of Life, but want to share some ideas from system’s theory and my point about moving from segregation to inclusion.

Individual Change

If an individual student with a disability can join general education students at a lunchroom table–this is one inch toward inclusion and away from segregation. It is a move in the direction of inclusion.

Classroom Change

If a colleague differentiates an assignment for a class, so that ALL can participate–we celebrate this step toward inclusion.

School Change

If a policy is changed, and students with disabilities can go on the fieldtrip with their general education class–this is a small step toward inclusion.

Cultural Change

“Disability World” is socially constructed. It can follow the philosophy of a medical model and try to cure the individuals, or it can follow a different philosophy and say the individual is fine, we need to cure the world.

In my opinion many people want to go back to the medical model. Recent political events demonstrate certain politicians are trying to demonize public employees–especially teachers and take away the programs which support people with disabilities to work, go to school and live in the community.

In my opinion, they want to further their agenda to only teach certain conservative curriculums, dismantle collective bargaining and a teacher’s influence in his/her own class, sabatoge the public schools, and create more private/charter schools at public expense. They no longer want to separate church and state.

Using my measure of, “Does this action move toward inclusion, or toward segregation” it clearly moves toward segregation.

As teachers in the 21st century, you are going to be caught in the cross-fire. You will need to make choices and decisions.

The administration in private/charter schools can make a rule that says, “We don’t take kids with disabilities.”

Since private/charter schools do not have to follow many of the federal laws this is their right. I believe in the separation of church and state. If a school or church wants to discriminate against people with disabilities — that is America. That is their right. I just don’t agree with it.

Personal Change

You are not going to be able to just ride this one out. YOU are going to have to make choices and decisions.

What rule do you want in your community, your life?

Is this the kind of community and/or school where you want to teach?

Where you will send your children?

Do you want to be forbidden subjects about diversity, science, history and even basic tenants of democracy and freedom?

Obviously this is a major discussion. What role do you want to play in the discussion?


I want to invite everyone to continue as members of our Climbing Every Mountain community, and encourage you to make rules that will guide your life.

I wish you well. I wish you courage.

Below is part of a speech Haim Ginott gave to a group of teachers on the first day of school. I find it inspiring, I hope you do too.

Dear Teacher,

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness.

Gas chambers built by learned engineers.
Children poisoned by educated physicians.
Infants killed by trained nurses.
Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

So, I am suspicious of education.
My request is that teachers help students become human.
Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.

Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human…
(Haim Ginott, 1972, Teacher and Child)

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,


Share your Thoughts

Do you have a bottom line? Can you sum up the rules of your life in one or two sentences? Do you believe in inclusion, do you believe in segregation? It is that simple. Whatever your choice—your actions are more important than your thoughts or words. What did you think of Haim Ginott’s message to “be human”?

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29 Responses to “Teachers| Segregation or Inclusion?”

  • Mike Valdini says:

    I have been a frequent late night visitor and have been impressed (as usual) with your “dead on” observations and philosophical approaches to life. Reading this post, I had to reflect on Aaron’s opportunities in school with those I can now offer to my students today. Aaron progressively spent more time learning in the community on vocational job sites, grocery stores and restaurants to the point by the time he was a senior, he was learning in his community 75% of his school week, with his in school time spent in classes with his peers. The past 2 years, our special education director (who never taught students with disabilities) has sent me notices that we can only go into the community 8 times for the year and freshman cannot go out on job sites due to levy failures. My arguments to her and board members are to no avail. What should be a part of their natural curriculum should not be held hostage by a levy. I argue that this was part of our curriculum for my first 27 years in the district, surviving past levy failures due to committed administrators who understood the value of a teaching students in the settings where they will be for the rest of their lives. I even told the Lou Brown story of the parent who told a room full of educators at an IEP meeting ” If my son is not going to learn as much as the other students, you better spend time teaching him the things he needs to know and not waste time on things he’s never going to use”. My heart hurts for not being able to provide my present students with the same opportunities as their peers: to develop the skills they will need to be successful in their post secondary community environments. So, to those who are just beginning, know what the word “best practice” means for your students and their families and place yourself in a district where that can happen or where you can make it happen. Unfortunately, where I am at now, I guess teaching for 35 years doesn’t mean much. I never thought I would be offering students fewer community opportunities now than I did 29 years ago. I offered this question to my administrators: “what other curriculum in any subject area is teaching less than what they did 29 years ago?”. Not surprisingly, no administrator replied to my question. Mary, thanks for all you do and have done for all of us.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Dear Mike,

      My heart breaks for you and for all the students who are losing the one chance they have to learn the skills they need to live, work and recreate in the community. Plus, they are losing the opportunity for an inspired, talented teacher to guide them in their journey.

      School board and other community members don’t understand that some of us have to learn how to go to the grocery, go to the Y, go to Wal-Mart, go to the bathroom…. And they don’t value a teacher like yourself who has dedicated his life to mastering teaching, understanding the needs of people who don’t talk with words, and keeps up with “best practice”.

      Aaron’s years with you were the best of his life. Of course we didn’t know it then, and I probably didn’t tell you enough how much I appreciated your caring, talents and hard work. When he was with you we still had hope. We believed the future for Aaron was full of promise.

      We used to bring at least 2-3 national speakers in each year. SERRC and SOC and many other organizations used to all chip in and try to invest in the leaders in Special Education to help us move forward. I also remember that quote from Lou Brown’s visit. I’ve been cleaning files and Lou’s first trip to Cincinnati was Sept. 27-28, 1981. That was one of the transformational days in my life too. Finally we had a direction, a curriculum that would be “functional” useful to our children.

      The reason Aaron qualified for his own SSDI payments were because you gave Aaron the opportunity to work at Grote Bakery and Americana, and the tennis court and the movie theater… Aaron got to feel important, he earned skills, self-esteem and the SSDI that is helping him for the rest of his life. How can I ever thank you for that?

      I wish I could help you Mike. I wish I could help those poor children who are being cheated of an education which doesn’t count because it can’t be measured in multiple choice questions on a standardized test.

      Tommy and Ana live in Lakota and they will vote for the levy, but I don’t understand Boehner, the Tea Party and the others in our school district who don’t care about education for everyone. It is so short-sighted and selfish. They will gladly spend $100 on a Bengal or theater ticket, but won’t spend $100 for taxes for schools. And their drive to privatize education won’t work for children with severe disabilities because their private schools don’t want children with disabilities. If anything they should be voting for the public schools so they can keep segregating their own children and keeping them from those children who are different. These people make me ill with their hypocrisy.

      Well, Mike. I send my thoughts and prayers and every best wish. You should feel proud of all you have accomplished. You gave it your all. Aaron is lucky to have had you in his life. Tom and I are lucky to have you in our lives. And Lakota is lucky–even if they don’t know it.

  • Meredith Meyer says:

    I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this class besides that I was going to learn about individuals with exceptionalities. I had no idea the kind of torment history put individuals with exceptionalities through. I also did not realize the type of commitment that advocates, teachers, politicians, etc. had made to get those with exceptionalities equal rights (I guess I didn’t realize that they never had equal rights because this subject was never really touched in past history classes.) This class has opened me to a world that needs help that I was unaware of. I feel like I have only been taught the definition of “segregation” but now that I have learned the opposite, I see a more united world in the future in which people are not forced and expected to know/do/learn the same things. I believe entirely in inclusion. This way, people would be open to more experiences and in this way, they could be more educated in life versus just academics. I believe the rule of life are to live life to the fullest by experiencing moments with meaning behind them. I do not believe this rule is easy for it will take planning, hardship, discouragement, sadness, growth, etc. for living life to the fullest includes all of these troubles as well. Haim Ginott’s message was incredibly touching and so powerful. His perspective really changes how I view my education and the future of society. His message clearly is from an inclusive view. In telling us to “be human” I believe he is saying to learn skills, but not become them. For example, learn the skills of a doctor and not become a doctor, but be a person with the skills of a doctor. Therefore, the person never loses sight of who they are. (I hope that makes sense.)

    • mary says:

      Meredith, what an amazing response. Really, I am deeply touched. I’m so glad you shared your thoughts and your journey. The future depends on each of us to step up and “be human.”

  • Megan Koehler says:

    I really liked this post, and the previous one about separating the individual from the disability. When I graduate in a couple of years from college, my hope is to become a teacher. However, with all the difficulties as a result of Senate Bill 5, I’m not exactly sure how that is going to work out. In terms of “shaking” up the public school system, I don’t think we needed it. We needed change, certainly, but not a shake up that will result in both good and bad teachers losing their jobs, their benefits, and their collective bargaining rights. I am absolutely for inclusion, and I want to teach in a public school where inclusion is the norm. Multiple intelligences in the classroom is something that I find very interesting, something that I want to tap into and build upon for the students in my class. Finally, Haim Ginott’s message would be a hard thing to implement. How do you teach someone to have a conscious, or to have morals? I think the closest you can come is to put emphasis on critical thinking skills, and perhaps modeling decision-making skills. Take care, and enjoy the upcoming weekend!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      I love your passion Megan. And I agree with you. You sound like exactly the kind of teachers we need.

      Sure there are a few bad apples, but teachers for the most part have worked their hearts out to make their students “more human” and give them the skills they will need for the next 40-50-60s of their lives–maybe even longer–think about that.

      I certainly don’t have the answer about the political issues. I just hope they remember the children, the weak and vulnerable–like Aaron and people with disabilities, the public servants (including teachers) who often have Masters degrees and work hard to advocate for those who don’t have a voice.

    • Megan – I love to hear of another student who is so committed to inclusion and the importance of having multiple learning styles in the classroom. What concerns me is why by the time college students get into the schools, the mentality changes. Most gen ed teachers are not equipped to have special needs student in their class. In fact, my experience has shown most are terrified.
      I have spoken to college level classrooms, and they all feel the same way you do – but unfortunately – it doesn’t play out this way in the schools.
      Where does the disconnect happen? Mary – can you enlighten us? Thanks.
      Valerie Strohl recently posted..Case conferences and the IEP’s future

      • Mary E. Ulrich says:

        Hi Valerie,

        Have you ever heard of Partners in Policymaking?
        I would think you would love this. It is in every state as well as has online courses and tremendous resources on its website.

        It is looking for parents like yourself who want to get the best services for their children. Check it out.

        If you have trouble finding anything–let me know. It is a fantastic group.

        • I am very familiar with this group as I served as an appointee to the last three governors of Indiana. I have since stepped down from this position, but when I was with the state I simply did not have the time to pursue it. I may have to look into it again – although I’m not sure they like people like me. I seem to look at things from a different perspective than most.

          It was my time at the state, and the absolute pain I witnessed so many parents going through, that has brought me to where I am today. Unfortunately, and as I am sure you can tell by now, I am not a big fan of the government intruding in our loved ones lives.
          Valerie Strohl recently posted..Case conferences and the IEP’s future

          • Mary E. Ulrich says:

            We each have to find our own way. I think there is value in hearing the other side’s concerns and stories. I too hear the pain from many parents and people with disabilities. It is a long road.

      • Gary Jordon says:

        Hi Megan, Mary and everyone else. While I’m replying to Megan’s point about teachers being scared of of us “freaks” I may as well throw a few points for Mary and anyone else joining this discussion.

        I think that most general ed teachers have been terrified for a long time. I think that this largely comes from the communities in which they are embedded. This brings to the point about support. As Mary rightly states “Just throwing a kid into a regular class is not inclusion.” But it is not just the teachers and the student that needs support it is the “village” that needs support. As an example I did have one or two regular ed teachers (1rst and 2nd grade) who genuinely tried to have me a part of the class. There were a couple of things that prevented this from actually working.

        1. They had to almost force the other students to interact with me at all. This is most likely came from the attitude and belief system of these students parent, neighbors, and civic groups like churches.

        2. The administrators mainly a couple of principals and the higher ups had policies and practices that encouraged or just allowed bad interaction to occur. I strongly suspect this had something to do with smugness that I detected from most people in our very conservative environment.

        3. Bad and or overly narrow definitions in supposedly education films on disabilities that were shown. the film and teaching topic was my blindness. For those who aren’t familiar I’m legally blind with some usable vision. The film and the teaching aides focused exclusively on total blindness. This didn’t help them understand that i lived in both worlds.

        So for you up and coming teachers you may still encounter these factors even though it has been a long time since I was a kid.

        Hope this helps in becoming the best you can be and helps the next generation of people with disabilities.

        P.S. Mary I’m so glad you have seen the better educational stuff that brings inclusion. I would dearly love to see such things. Then maybe I wouldn’t be so skeptical and pessimistic about the future.

        • Mary E. Ulrich says:

          Gary, you mom was one of the pioneer moms who kept you at home instead of sending you off to a “School for the Blind.” Your experiences are real, and they are from 25 years ago (or more, I can’t remember how old you are).

          Because of experiences of kids like you, teachers, community members, parents and even kids have learned many new ways of seeing diversity as just one condition of living–one thing that brings us all together in this “human” society.

          We have learned about universal design, we have learned about Multiple intelligences, we have learned about differentiated instruction, and there is new technology for modifications, accommodations….

          Inclusion means the teacher and the student both get the support they need. That is why there is a formal IEP process with due process for whoever disagrees. It is not a perfect system–but each year it evolves and solves some of the bugs in the system.

          There is so much to be hopeful for. Gary, I know it is hard to let the bruises heal, but I’m like you, I keep trying to forget the past and concentrate on the present and the future. Those are hard enough.

          So, bottom line, there are many wonderful teachers, parents, administrators and advocates who are working every day to try and help our children have a better life.

          This week there is a bill preventing “seclusion and restraint” in congress–all part of the journey. Check out “Our Children Left Behind” for more info.

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Mary I admire your optimism. I agree that would be the ideal situation. Not to mention wonderful to witness.

    But I can imagine that at least a few people just won’t go along with the idea. That could easily turn others off if they have to constantly deal with person(s) who make life miserable so they can have an ego trip or whatever. So do we allow a small group to make life miserable to maintain an all inclusion enviroment or do we accept that those people and group will not likely change their view.

    I’m not trying to burst your rather nice bubble but I would rather some means of dealing with those who won’t accept others for what they are.

    Thanks for your feedback. This is a nice yet important discussion.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Gary, this is more than just optimism. I have seen it work with Aaron and many other students. I have seen teachers using differentiated instruction and multiple intelligences (using music/rhythm, art, writing, language, science, movement/dance…). I have seen young people with all kinds of disabilities get the modifications and adaptations they need.

      Inclusion means you get the support you need–Both the teacher and the students. No support–no inclusion. Just dumping a kid in a general education class is NOT inclusion.

      This is not just a dreamy fuzzy idea. It takes vision, determination and hard work–but it is more than possible–it is happening every day.

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Hi everyone. I’m going to jump into the fire once more. Damn its in here.

    Ok enough of my bad jokes. The whole topic is very important. What strikes me most is not the inclusion/segregation issue. For me that is way to old a problem. But the fact that I keep hearing about saving a system. Those too can change and the relationship to the whole can change as well. For me the importance of 1. Education and learning 2. a social environment where children and adults to need to pretend to be something they are not.

    I don’t think this necessarily mean public schools as we have known them. But it does mean that whatever form the 21rst century style or styles of education must address these theing.

    However I couldn’t agree more on the current crop of charter schools. The conservative gave us “No child left Behind” But that is what charters can do.

    A strange thought just occurred to me. Maybe limited segregation might be useful. What I mean is maybe we can have some learning enviroments that do segregate for say special skills or for those who after being exposed to inclusion just plain can’t handle it in a reasonable manner or level.

    One last thought. Mary you left out intuition in the toolkit of educators and students. Feeling from the heart and sensing in a non intellectual fashion helps and is just as valuable as rationality. Both I think will be neded in the future of our species on Mother Earth.

    Have a great day one and all.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Okay GAry, you are taking to a “rabid inclusionist.” The only time I think it is necessary to segregate someone is if they just want some alone time (up to 15 minutes). OR, if it is a specific tutoring session (sort of like a tennis lesson with your coach to work specifically on your first serve) but then you jump back into the tournament to play your game.

  • Jessica Wolfrum says:

    Mary, this post was extremely enlightening. As a future educator, I believe that waking up our public schools is essential. As teachers, we need to be concerned with the issues regarding a child’s learning experiences and how to provide a universal educational setting to all in the classroom. Inclusion is so important, and that goes for everyone, even the teachers, because it provides a learning experience for all. It provides all of the students with learning opportunities and academic success, and it allows the teacher to learn and experience from her students how we can make a change i each of our students lives. It promotes critical thinking for all and allows the teacher to advance the skills of each individual child in their class. I heavily promote inclusion in the classroom and hope that the future of public school systems can only further advocate this as well. I pray that our schools never turn away any child and that our teachers work to give each child in their classroom the best education possible.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Jessica. I share your hopes and prayers. Children, teachers and our society is at a crossroad. We can only hope ALL people will have access to the American dream. Jeffersonian democracy and free public educations were built on the idea that the only way a strong democracy could exist would be an educated populace. Best wishes as you advocate for children…and all of us.

    • Jessica – it gives me great hope to read your comment. You are the future and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could figure this all out and just put every kid – every learning style – in one room. You embrace this and it brings me great joy.
      Valerie Strohl recently posted..When will we move beyond IEP’s

  • Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Thanks for your comments Char. Unless people understand the history of segregation, they will not see the horror of going back to the “special” movement.

    What really upsets me, is after 30 years we have a great deal of information and research supporting what we need to do to make inclusion happen in the schools. It just breaks my heart that so many people are ignoring it.

  • Char Brandl says:

    Right on, Mary – and write on! I taught in the gamut of educational settings, from residential facility to segregated school, to being present in a regular school but still not really included, to almost-full inclusion. No doubt about it, the more fully included a child is, the more s/he gains from being in school. ALL kids learn from their peers and kids who need to learn social and communicational skills NEED to be surrounded by typical peers. If they grow up together, they are totally comfortable together. If we segregate them along the way, how can we expect them to suddenly mingle comfortably when they turn 21?
    I have similar concerns about the charter school movement. We must do all we can to support public education for all!

  • Nice post. And in light of the topic, I will say that the public school system needed to be shaken up. When we have wonderful teachers being let go simply because of union rules and failing teachers protected – we have a problem. Perhaps what we will see is far greater creativity in schools because they will have fewer resources. Will it finally force our public school system to embrace inclusion in the classroom because they have no choice but to do so?
    I don’t know, but I just find that shakeups usually end up making things better in the end.
    Again – nice post.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks for your comment Valerie. We can agree that we need more creativity in schools. We can hope this will make the schools embrace inclusion.

      A neighboring school district is laying off over 100 teachers. Good, bad… and there is no union to protect anyone. I read a statistic that almost every distict in Ohio is laying off at least 60 teachers for next Fall.

      It is a time of shakeups indeed.

      • Those are some crazy layoff numbers. You have obviously been around the disability block, so we are used to upheaval in the education process. I guess that’s why I don’t get too upset – I have been faced with uncertainty every year when it comes to my daughter’s education.
        I believe that people are by nature good. I know I may have to spend more time with my daughter, assist teachers with material resources – whatever it takes. Every year my daughter learns and grows and so I believe that will continue to happen. Love your site and your style!

        • Mary E. Ulrich says:

          HI Valerie,

          It sounds like you are very active in your daughter’s life. It’s great that you can assist the teachers–that’s a great way to get to know your daughter’s friends, interests and talents. I wish we didn’t have to worry about so much uncertainty. Churchill said, “Man can stand anything but uncertainty.” (I always love that quote) of course another of his quotes is, “There is nothing so exhilarating as being shot at–and missed.” I think parents of kids in special education can also relate to that one 🙂

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