It is a wonder of our modern and enlightened civilisation that every member of society has the opportunity to grow and shine. As the playing field becomes increasingly level, it becomes less and less important to be privileged or even able in order to be propelled to the top of the heap. In this utopia, being born into any situation, social or otherwise, will not cause an individual any issues of upward mobility, and that has to be a good thing, right?
The process begins in schools, where the notion of being ‘inclusive’ has become a cornerstone of educational philosophy. It doesn’t matter if a child has some sort of mental or physical disability, they should be educated in regular classrooms with regular kids, doing regular lessons. The only difference being that the necessary help that they require to attend such classes will be provided in the form of a teaching assistant. It’s all good, and very inclusive. After all, why should David be excluded from mainstream education just because he has a dicky leg? Why should Susan have to attend a special school just because her fine motor skills are a bit wobbly? Why should Michael have to pass up on his right to go to a regular school just because he can’t stop screaming and shitting himself all through the lessons? Why shouldn’t Samantha get to play with the other kids just because she is a danger to them? Why shouldn’t any child with a behaviour issue so bad that it impairs the chances of their classmates ever taking advantage of the high quality, free education that they have been offered be allowed to disrupt the school environment to their hearts’ content?
You see my point, I trust. Inclusion is fine and dandy when the children that we ‘include’ just need a bit of help with getting to class, or getting their thoughts onto paper. We should include every child who is able to participate appropriately. When the focus on being inclusive has a detrimental effect on the majority of a class, however, I have to take issue.
I came across a lovely example of stubborn inclusion a few years ago. I was teaching English to several classes of very young children. The kids were very well behaved on the whole, apart from Sally (not her real name), who screamed constantly during lesson time, and took to running around the classroom whist waving a pair of scissors at anyone who went near her. She had an allocated teaching assistant but, reluctant to get stabbed, she could do very little once Sally got into full flow.
As is my way, I asked for Sally to be removed from the class. My request, reasonable as I thought it was, was refused on the grounds that Sally was so mentally disturbed that we had no idea how much English she was taking in, and that the lessons may be very valuable to her. I pointed out that she was probably finding it difficult to hear what was happening in the lesson over her own screams, and that the other children in the class were finding tuning into proceedings very difficult for similar reasons, but this was to no avail. Sally stayed.
Fair enough, Sally’s condition (I never found out what exactly was wrong) was not her fault, and nobody should be discriminated against for something that is outside of their control, but equally, it wasn’t the fault of the other children in the class, and in my view, the needs of the many will ALWAYS outweigh the needs of the few. If 14 children benefit from my teaching, and one falls by the wayside, then I’m pretty happy with those figures.
Inclusive schools have been around for long enough to have impacted the adult world now. As impacting the adult world is the fundamental purpose of schools, I’m not suggesting that this is entirely negative, but it does seem to have led to a degree of ‘positive’ discrimination of which I find it hard to see the advantage.
About 16% of working age adults in the UK are registered as disabled, as are about 6% of children, but as these figures include the full gamut of disabilities, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the specific capabilities of all the individuals concerned, so it becomes necessary to look towards some more anecdotal evidence. Spending a little time watching UK television recently, I begin to wonder whether some of the people that I saw working as presenters were actually the best candidates for the job, or whether they had been selected for reasons driven more by inclusivity than appropriacy.
Television presenting is a highly competitive field. Successful presenters get to travel the globe, meet interesting people, develop a certain level of fame, and are quite handsomely paid into the bargain. As you can imagine, there are an awful lot of people interested in a career in the field. It surprised me to see then, a man with a massively deformed head and an accompanying speech impediment, presenting a show about food. He came across as a very intelligent and well-educated man, and probably a bloke that I would enjoy having a beer with, but he was very obviously not the best choice to present a television show. His co-presenter, a wheelchair user, was a much better fit for the medium, but I also find it hard to believe that she was the best applicant for the heavily travel based position either. The fact that they had been selected to present the same show also gave me cause to wonder at the probabilities involved. It isn’t that I mind these guys being on the telly. Of course I don’t. That would be make me prejudiced and unfairly discriminatory. I believe that everyone deserves a chance to show their skills, but I can’t help thinking about the two more suitable candidates who were probably still looking for work when the show aired.
I am well aware that there is a flip side in which equally unsuitable people are put into such positions purely for their good looks, and just for the record, I am equally irritated by that. As an able-bodied ugly guy, I don’t stand a chance!
It doesn’t seem unreasonable that everyone should be given the opportunity to go wherever their dreams lead them, but we should all play on the uneven playing field that is the natural world. I appreciate that when compared to many people, I am very fortunate, but there are some things that the conditions I was born with exclude me from doing. As a thick-set guy of 6 foot 2, I can give up on any dreams of being a jockey (I’m also terrified of horses, but that’s not the point). An injury that I had as a child makes me incapable of becoming a hand model. My large feet mean that buying shoes is more difficult for me than it is for most people. My allergies make working in the countryside quite impractical. I accept these things and move on, focussing on the things that I am good at to make a living and feed my family. Sure, I have the right to be a hand model, or a jockey, or to work in the countryside. I have a right to the same ease of shoe buying as the next man. I am just not well suited to cashing in those rights, so I live accordingly.
The playing field is not even. It never has been, and it never will be. It would be wonderful if it were as flat as a billiard table, but sadly it isn’t. It seems that some of us are born on rougher patches of field than others. Some of us have to climb out of valleys just to get a glimpse of the ball. Others are born at the top of paths that roll them straight towards the finish line (I’m not sure what game we are playing now, but ride with me). Most of us land on a bumpy bit somewhere near the middle, and we go from there. Wherever we start out, we should all be recognised for out talents and our limitations. What we shouldn’t do, however, is try to flatten out the bumps on our part of the field by throwing them onto someone else’s patch.
I love the concept of fairness which underlies inclusion, but the level of delusion that is required to create the idea that the world was ever supposed to be fair in the first place makes me want to kick a puppy up the arse.
And yes, that will be the puppy that can’t run away as fast as the others.
Minister of Stuff.