Inclusion in a dilemma perspective

Inclusion in a dilemma perspective

It is of course possible to have different opinions about exactly how the idea of ​​inclusion appears from a dilemma perspective. Here I will start from my own interpretation of what a dilemma perspective means in relation to the issue of inclusion. My interpretation has emerged from a book chapter "Theorizing special education - time to move on?" by Alan Dyson and his collaborators (see reference below).

The dilemma perspective is founded on the fact that educational systems have to deal with certain basic dilemmas, which means that the systems must find a balance rather than reaching an endpoint where all contradictions end. Such a fundamental dilemma concerns whether certain students should be categorized as deficient in various respects or whether all students should be treated as unique individuals.

What Dyson et al meant was that the movement for inclusive schools and classrooms tended to ignore the contradictions and dilemmas that all education systems have to deal with. It was not the case that Dyson and his collaborators were opposed to schools and classrooms developing in an inclusive direction, but they criticized theorists who postulated in advance what characterizes an inclusive school more or less without taking into account fundamental dilemmas and contradictions.

In this way, there was something almost imperious in the idea of ​​inclusion. It was already decided in advance what inclusion meant and also in part how inclusion should be implemented. In some of these visions, it was imagined that all students would meet as individuals in a community without derogatory categorizations and special solutions. All actually existing schools and classrooms could only deviate in a negative direction from this ideal image.

Dyson et al further argued that there are several legitimate perspectives regarding how society should shape education and provide support for students in different types of difficulties. Representatives of the inclusion movement should thus not have a monopoly on how education should be configured.

From the realization that there are several legitimate perspectives on schooling, the step is not far to ask who should decide which perspective to choose. My own conclusion had been that this is a question for democracy. I have argued that the question of democracy is overriding the question of how education should be shaped. The question of who should decide over the education system is thus more fundamental than what form it should take. But who then decides on education in our democracy? In order to approach this issue, the Swedish educational system will be used as an illustration.

Education within Swedish democracy

In the Swedish society, there is a relatively clear division of power with regard to the issue that ended the previous paragraph. Elected politicians determine overall goals for the school system which are expressed in laws and regulations such as the school law and the curriculum. School authorities, teachers, principals and others have to work within the framework of these objectives. Students and parents are also given certain opportunities to influence what happens within the school.

The role of research is to critically examine the school system but also to facilitate that the democratically decided objectives of the system can be realized. Researchers have different opinions about which of these objectives that are most important.

Politicians are accountable to the citizens in elections. In a democracy, it is important that citizens have knowledge to be able to assess how well politicians carry out their work. In this way, it also becomes important how different activities are described in the media.

Thus the democratic system in itself distributes power regarding who is to decide what as concerns schooling. Thus, even if a person, such as myself, is affirmative of the idea of inclusion, I believe we should to take the power distribution in the democratic society as our point of departure when deciding what school system to develop.

Inclusion and dilemmas

From a dilemma perspective, it thus becomes important to take the purpose decided for the school seriously, while at the same time it becomes legitimate to criticize the school system for not achieving the objectives that are decided upon in the democratic process. Since the Swedish school law and the curriculum prescribes a more inclusive system than is to be found in practice it is legitimate to critize the system from a democratic standpoint.

It is important to again emphasize that a dilemma perspective is based on the fact that one cannot ignore basic dilemmas in the education system. On the one hand, it is desirable that students are treated as individuals and that differences between students are viewed as natural variation. It is also desirable to avoid segregated learning environments. On the other hand, students need to be categorized, among other things so that support needs can be identified, and sometimes support may need to be given outside the work in the regular classroom.

The recognition of such dilemmas means that from a dilemma perspective it is not seen as possible to achieve the almost utopian state prescribed by certain inclusion theorists.

My own attitude is that we should mainly see students as individuals, the difference between students as differences and promote participation. However, it is a utopia that we could get there and all known education systems use categorizations (for example to make it clear who should have extra support), shortcomings (because there are requirements for what is to be achieved) and also in some ways use compensatory solutions.

To sum up. There are two aspects in a dilemma perspective that have significant consequences for the issue of inclusion. First, the recognition of different legitimate viewpoints within the dilemma perspective means that the question of power becomes absolutely central. Second, the identification of fundamental dilemmas implies a skepticism that a utopian inclusive state can be created. Of course, the latter does not mean that school systems can be more or less inclusive, but it seems wiser to try to take steps in the right direction than to be seduced by a goal that is more or less unrealistic.


Clark, C., Dyson, A. & Millward, A. 1998: Theorising: special education. Time to move on? I C. Clark, A. Dyson & A. Millward (red): Theorising special educa-tion. London: Routledge.

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