Support for the PICS Vision

When I was going to school in the 1950s and 60s there was one way to “school” children and one way to make one’s way through school. Children with disabilities either did not attend schools or attended only the very early grades. Blind or deaf children were sent to schools in the city. Some never saw the inside of their community’s schools. Even children who were challenged by a strictly academic curriculum often dropped out or failed to graduate because of rigid curriculum and assessment practices. It was not a time to be a child who was not academically endowed.

It was in the 70s well into my teaching career that I, and many other teachers, became acutely aware that the system in which we were working systematically denied a large number of students the right to be participate in any meaningful way, let alone succeed in the way we did schooling. Along with this awareness came an increased recognition that there was a direct connection between schooling experience and the overall purpose of education, namely access to the “good life,” always defined in more than economic ways. Simply put, poor school experiences had the potential to greatly affect access to living well beyond school.

More importantly, we began to understand that this exclusion from, or denial of, appropriate schooling was a significant moral and political issue for a society which purported to value equity and equality of opportunity. We were reminded that a system which provided the means for a good life for some but, at the same time, denied it to many others, was ethically untenable and politically unsustainable. In short, it was just wrong and unwise. I call this a welcome reminder, even a wake up from a long slumber, as our laws had long established the principle of in loco parentis for teachers and schools. The school was to be a place where teachers, acting in the place and role of parents writ small and large, helped the community prepare children and young people for the greatest possible participation in the wider society.

Parents, of course, have always been their children’s first and staunchest advocates – for parents whether a child is disabled or otherwise different, counts for nothing … and everything. Good parents love their children no matter what and want the absolute best for them at home and at school, and will go to great lengths to achieve what they think is best. Their support of their children remained, and remains, a steady, unwavering force through all the pendulum swings which schools experienced and still continue to experience. Parents first requested, then demanded, that schools accommodate their children. And they were not alone.

Anthony Appiah, a world renowned moral philosopher, in The Honor Code (2007), claims that when a society becomes ashamed of its practices, moral revolutions happen. To some extent, I think this is what accounts for our changes in attitudes and practices in schools which have, particularly from the late 1970s to the present, increasingly sought ways to not only “accommodate” all children, but also to welcome and celebrate their appearance and participation in schools. Today, we are proud when we can say our classrooms and schools are inclusive, even though we cannot claim to have captured either the spirit or practice of inclusivity to the extent that would make most of us we have achieved our goal of total inclusion. It is to this latter concern – that we not relent in these efforts – which Planning Inclusive Community Schools speaks.

The partners in this project (page iii) represent a significant part of those who have joined parents in being advocates of children and young people in Manitoba. They are either well known provincially or in their communities, school divisions and schools, as long time friends of all children. To my knowledge all have worked tirelessly for three to four decades to promote and achieve the inclusion of all children in our school system. With this publication, they are sharing their educational (ethical and political) wisdom and vision with us. They extend our human ideals to moral practices. They have shown that they understand that our actions and involvement transform our minds and our worlds. While they acknowledge that their work is just one more step on the way, they encourage us to never give up pursuing the good life for everyone. In fact, pursuing a better world for all is part of living the good life. Like all educators, they offer their best to us without demanding anything in return but our attention and consideration. They are societal exemplars and role models for all of us to emulate.

Planning Inclusive Cultures in Schools is no small accomplishment. As the current culmination of their efforts, but certainly not the end of the road in their journeys of pursuing basic human rights to freedom and dignity, they have once again challenged our very humanity and our human ideals. It is a reminder that one of the real tests of our humanity is how we relate to the most vulnerable who share the world with us – when we, through our systems, treat our children more respectfully, it makes us all better human beings. And they have done so with the dedication, love, grace, joy and optimism which are evident in all their efforts. They are telling all of us we have it within us to be better people, to build a better world – that the way to do so is with and through all our children. They are also saying that there is a place for all of us in this great leap forward in our humanity. Indeed, they claim we are all invited into, and needed, to make inclusion possible. More importantly, they believe that together we can accomplish human miracles. Planning Inclusive Cultures in Schools encourages, prods, shows and reminds us how we can all be miracle workers.

John R. Wiens, Ph.D.

Dean Emeritus and Professor

University of Manitoba