The Politics Of Integration - new sites for old practices?

Year: 1992

Author: Slee, Roger

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Discussions about the integration of students with perceived disabilities into the regular classroom are frequently reduced to debates over inventories of human and physical resources. Certainly, the considered deployment of resources is an important piece within the mosaic of a successful inclusive education. However, it is but one aspect of that picture. Moreover, the debate about resourcing integration seems to have been blighted by this same form of reductionism. Suggesting that the struggle is simply one of getting more resources is inadequate. Depicted in this way, the politics of integration becomes the politics of struggling to open the public purse wider to wrest more funds for the integration program.

This resource driven analysis deproblematizes integration through the absence of an appreciation of the social construction of disability and, axiomatically, non-disability(Oliver, 1990; Higgins, 1992). Also ignored is the fact that inclusive education necessitates a reconsideration of the complex and potent cocktail of pedagogy, curriculum, school organisation and the ideologies that inform these components of schooling.

For a large number of educators, both regular and special, integration is understood as a technical problem. To appreciate the pervasive grip that this perception has on the general and educational communities alike, we need to interrogate the history of special education, the expansion and jealous protection of special educational expertise(Tomlinson, 1982; Lewis, 1988), and the confused understanding of failure generated by regular schools (Barton, 1987; McCallum, 1990; Skrtic, 1991; Meadmore, 1992). Underpinning this are notions of disability, historically constructed and culturally maintained, which cast human variation to the margins and beyond.

This paper argues that while Departments of Education around Australia have apparently moved to support the integration of students with disabilities into regular classrooms (Cook & Lewis, in press), this may be too simplistic a reading of policy and practice. There is a veneer of intellectual response to current equity discourse and legislation. The veneer however is thin and those who are said to be included travel across thin ice. Discourse, procedures, and even sites, may change, but traditional ends are affected because of the resilience of ideologies of `failure' and `normality', and the established bureaucracies which sustain these understandings.