December 2017: Submission to the Commission on Inclusive Education

(The following was offered as a parent respondent to the Commission’s call for submissions. CL) 

When my son was in Grade Five he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Finally his oppositional behaviour made sense: he was in constant combat with a world he couldn’t comprehend and school was his primary adversary. Adaptations were put in place and they provided some relief but we still had to accept the fact that his struggle would be life-long. Knowing this to be case I made a point of saying to each of his teachers at the beginning of each school year that keeping his self-esteem intact was job number one. If push came to shove he could survive without an education but he could not survive without self-esteem. School ran the risk of being 13 years worth of reminders that he didn’t really measure up and it was important to me and to him that that didn’t happen.

Obstacles to learning aside my sense is that there are many who don’t measure up academically and that the reasons go beyond the traditional definition of special needs and that their self-esteem and pride and confidence suffer and leave them ill-prepared for the world and life beyond school. With this review we need to be thinking of them as well and using an intact sense of self-esteem as the barometer by which we assess whether or not we are preparing them for life.

For most of my life as a parent of school-aged children and looking back at my own childhood I felt that education worked for about 65% of the population. Why 65? I was going by nothing more than intuition and observation. School seemed to work for more than half but not much. There seemed to me to be a significant percentage for who whom it fell short. When I thought about myself and my own relationship to school, when I looked at my siblings, friends, kids whose struggles were evident and then rounded up on behalf of the invisible it seemed a not unreasonable assumption. At the very least it was safe to say the system didn’t work for all of us and that there was a good chance it was missing the mark by a wide margin. And for those kids, 13 years in a system that exaggerated their differences to their disadvantage meant there was a good chance that their school career was and is leaving them with neither diploma nor self-esteem. Inclusion needs to reach all kids who are struggling, as indicated by lackluster assessment, by whatever means necessary. Kids are sponges, they’re naturally inclined to learn, even those who appear to struggle. Learning needs to be inclusive in the biggest and most expansive sense of that word. It needs to be individually responsive.

My reading of the Commission’s interim report tells me that the scope is more modest by virtue of being more traditional in nature. And while those who have special needs of the variety contemplated by the existing definition of inclusion are eminently worthy and deserving and overdue for the attention they now stand to receive there are others who need ultimately to be included as well. My hope for the Commission’s work is that the recommendations will be broad and foundational enough to contain within them the seeds for even greater growth and next-stage inclusion. While the challenge of meeting even traditional definitions of inclusion is great we need to see within the recommendations the potential for a time when we can also serve those for whom success is elusive by virtue of other differences – race, gender or sexual orientation, physical ability, economics, mental and emotional health – and begin to satisfy their needs from this leverage point as well.

Thank you for your work and my best wishes for its adoption and implementation.

Cindy Littlefair

Parent and Elected School Board Member

Halifax Regional School Board, District 4



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