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What's Inside the 'Boxes' of Inclusive Education

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There’s a really cool graphic that’s popular in education circles. It’s particularly popular in inclusive education circles. It’s meant to demonstrate that different kids require different types and amounts of support in order to succeed in school (and in life… but let’s keep the focus on school, for the moment). There are different versions of it, but here’s the one I’m most familiar with:

Equality vs. Equity image of children standing on boxes to watch a baseball game..

I’ve seen this graphic many, many times, but I always have the same reaction. I see three kids who have the same goal. Let’s watch a baseball game together! The only problem is that in the picture on the left, the two big guys are busy enjoying the game… while the only thing the little kid can see is fence. In the graphic on the right, the kids have figured out how to solve the problem. We have enough boxes. All we need to do is transfer a box from the big guy to the little guy. Now we can all see. Look at that… the Red Sox just scored a home run!

However, I’ve learned through painful experience that not everyone sees this graphic the same way I do.  Some people look at the graphic and experience a sense of loss. Why does the big guy have to give up his box?  True, the big guy can already see over the fence without the box… but aren’t we holding him back by taking the box away? Couldn’t we push his development by giving him some more boxes?

I think our society perpetuates a scarcity mentality. What’s in those boxes? How do I get one for my kid? I also think our society elevates individualism over community. Who cares about that little guy, as long as my kid can see the game? We can see this play out in so many aspects of our day-to-day lives.

Let me tell you a bit about what’s inside my kid’s boxes.  Our first boxes were delivered when G was just 9 months old. He wasn’t meeting his physical benchmarks, so he started working with a physical therapist. We added speech therapy and occupational therapy when he was two.  Later, we added behavioral therapy and a play skills group. Did I mention we received all these boxes before he was even 3 years old?

I worried about my son’s future and feared he would miss out on opportunities other kids his age had. But after three years with a behavioral therapist, we finally made the decision that G had made enough progress to “graduate.” While he still needs many other supports, he had acquired the specific set of skills she had to offer. He no longer needed one of those boxes.

Back to the graphic…  I think it’s a natural reaction to want the best for your kid. And maybe when you see that someone else’s kid got two boxes, while your kid has none, it might raise some questions about the boxes. What I’m asking is to please, please….  think for a moment about what might be inside those boxes.

Those boxes represent ramps that make buildings disability accessible. Those boxes represent assisted listening devices for kids who can’t hear. Those boxes represent hours of phonics instruction for kids who can’t hear the difference in the sound of a “p” versus the sound of a “d.”  Those boxes represent aides who can support students in overcoming the obstacles they face due to autism, ADHD, anxiety, or many other medical conditions or disabilities. Those boxes represent whatever a kid needs so they can see the ballgame instead of the fence.

So again, I ask you… let’s keep our focus on our goals as a school community. Heck, let’s keep our focus on our goals as a society. At the end of the day, it’s not about how many boxes you have. It’s about working together to make sure everybody can see the game.

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Originally published: April 24, 2017
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