Extending the ideal style

6th April 2001 at 01:00
DECONSTRUCTING SPECIAL EDUCATION: Constructing Inclusion. By Gary Thomas and Andrew Loxley. Open University Press pound;15.99

The strength of this book lies in its challenge. The authors do not envisage a smooth transition to inclusive education. Unlike most works on the subject, it does not refer to inclusion as a "journey". Instead we are led through a series of arguments about what has to be unravelled or undone to achieve inclusive education.

While this is a weighty book, there is real clarity about the key ideas and no doubting their importance. For the authors, inclusion is about extending the comprehensive ideal - about equality and collective belonging. This, they argue, requires letting go of the so-called scientific or theoretical knowledge behind special education. They show how this knowledge has been constrained and somewhat reified and question the way it leads to exclusive practice.

Another of their important claims is that thinking of children as needing something special has distracted teachers' attention from their real resource: that is, the use of common humanity to understand others and common sense to make schools more humane, inclusive places.

While the authors are highly critical of "glossy and elaborate forms of assessment and pedagogy", they have a lot of faith in ordinary teachers'ability to teach diverse groups of childen.

Two chapters offer case studies to illustrate these central arguments. One looks at children with emotional and behavioural difficulties and one at children experiencing difficulties learning to read. Both show how myths of special need are constructed, leading to an "entrapment of the child in a cocoon of professional help".

An important chapter on policy discusses the tensions that have arisen from introducing inclusion on top of policies and practices that are the vestiges of the New Right and that undermine it. We are reminded, however, that policy has to be put into practice by ordinary practitioners and in this way the power to build inclusive schools is returned to the teacher.

There is more in this book: an extended critique of the concepts of need and difference, debate about the status of inclusion as ideology, interpretations of evidence on teachers' readiness for inclusion, and ideas about redistributive justice, recognition and respect.

This is not a light read, but as an ideas book it has more practical relevance than I first imagined. It should not simply be seen as an academic text for students of inclusive education, because its relevance is much broader and its challenges to our thinking make it essential reading.

Melanie Nind is a senior lecturer in inclusive and special education at the Open University

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