When inclusion becomes integration

When inclusion becomes integration

There are may reasons to recall an important distinction that has often been made between the words in the title. The difference was highlighted when the term inclusion increasingly came to replace the terms integration/mainstreaming (for sake of simplicity, I will only use the word integration here).

Several claimed that inclusion, unlike integration, was about adapting the entire learning environment to students' differences. According to many, the integration movement had not succeeded because it had come to be about trying to adapt students in difficulties/with disabilities to environments that were not adapted for them at all.

The idea of ​​inclusion shifted the focus, so to speak, from the individual to the environment. The importance of this shift in focus can hardly be overstated. Instead of considering the school environment as nature, i.e.  as something fixed and finished, it was seen as something constructed, i.e. something that could be changed and influenced. Inclusion also came, to a greater degree than integration, to be about all students, rather than just those with a disability.

In a radical form, inclusion came to mean that communities should be created in schools and classrooms. This is a thought that in many ways goes against the focus on the individual that e g characterizes Swedish schools.

However, there has always been a tendency for the word inclusion in several contexts to mean roughly the same thing as integration when it is used, i.e. as a question of how students in difficulties / with disabilities should be adapted to an environment that does not necessarily suit them.

It is thus important to distinguish between words and the thought content we attach to the word. So while inclusion was seen by many as a way of challenging the way schools and classrooms were organized (i e the word was used to bring forward new ideas) it was given other meanings by others. Since inclusion was a positively charged word, many wanted to use it, even when a rather traditional special education was advocated (the word was thus linked to a traditional thought content).

To sum up the reasoning so far. The term inclusion came to replace integration to make it clear that the entire school environment needed to change in order to be make it accessible to students with disabilities/in need of special support. However, the word inclusion is used in several different meanings and sometimes as a synonym for integration.

How we speak and what we want

It is important to keep two things separate. On the one hand, the words we use when we want to talk about these issues. On the other hand, how we want education to be organized and carried out.

Some are tired of the discussion about what we mean by the words: "Well, it's not that important what it's called, but I think the school..." In my opinion this is a dangerous way to go because we risk believing that we are talking about the same things when in fact we mean different things.

However, such a discussion about the meanings of words is not an end in itself, but a prerequisite for us to be able to discuss the more important question of how the education should be organized and carried out.

It is therefore important to be clear, for example, whether by inclusion we mean that the entire learning environment should be changed to suit students' different conditions or whether we mean that it is about adapting students in difficulties/with disabilities to a certain given environment.

In fact, good science is based on being clear about our basic concepts. The entire discussion about inclusion has been characterized by a relatively long-standing conceptual confusion.

But, as I said, we should distinguish between what we mean by a word like inclusion on the one hand and how we think the school should be organized, on the other.

It is quite possible to say that inclusion means creating communities in schools and classrooms and at the same time say that this is not feasible or something to strive for. In a similar way, it is quite possible to say that inclusion means placing students with difficulties in regular classes and at the same time to say that it is possible to form communities in schools and classrooms.

However, the relationship between what one means by the words and how one wants the school to be organized is not completely arbitrary. Thus, we were able to show in a study that more radical concepts of inclusion (such as, for example, saying that inclusion means the creation of communities in schools) were also associated with an advocacy of such communities. A more "integration-like" understanding of inclusion, on the other hand, was more often associated with the advocacy of a more traditional special education.

The conclusion is that it is important to be clear about word meaning.. I do not think educational science research will move forward if researchers don not become more clear about what they mean when they write about inclusion. This becomes no less important today as we seem to witness a return to a more traditional special education, Just placing pupils with special needs/disabilities in classrooms that are not fitted to their needs is not about doing inclusion.

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