Through the Lens of Inclusion: Racial, Cultural, Linguistic, & Gender Equity

Woman reading outside on bench

Author: Cathy Giardina, Stetson & Associates, Inc.

Parents have been and continue to be the driving force for inclusive education.  Looking through the lens of inclusion, we see that whether children are separated because of special needs, race, ability, or any other label, a separate education is not an equal education.  How do we address and eliminate the biases and barriers that limit a child’s hope for learning, growing, and contributing to society?

Many schools in countries across the world address equity and inclusive education with the following core education priorities:

  • Committed leadership
  • Positive learning environments
  • Instructional excellence
  • Social opportunities and relationships

Click here to complete our self-assessment tool that will guide a custom review of current practices regarding inclusive education.

But what can we as parents do to promote inclusivity instead of exclusivity? 

Stay Informed

  • There are reams of research that debunk common myths about inclusion. For example, current research shows that “typical” children and children with disabilities learn as much or more in inclusive classes. Take advantage of the many resources and support options found on our website.
  • Check out the information about Inclusive Schools Week, which will be celebrated the week of December 5th-9th, 2011. 

 Inclusive Schools Week highlights and celebrates the progress schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education for all students, including those who are marginalized due to disability, gender, ethnicity, geography and language.  It is an annual international event that acknowledges the hard work and commitment of parents, teachers, administrators, and students in making their schools more inclusive and, thereby, significantly contributing to the development of a more inclusive society.  This year’s theme is “Awareness to Action: Moving Forward.” 

Use Person-First Language

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” 

-Mark Twain

The words we use to describe people send a powerful message to our children about how we think.  Every individual regardless of gender, culture, race or ability deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. One way we devalue someone is by using words or labels to identify a person or a group as “less than” or “not like us.” Our language then shapes our perceptions and attitudes and eventually our actions.

In 1949 Rogers and Hammerstein introduced the musical classic, South Pacific, but one of the songs, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” raised much controversy.  It’s still poignant today.

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.  You’ve got to be taught from year to year.  It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear.  You’ve got to be carefully taught.”      

-Lyrics from South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein

When we look through the lens of inclusion, we see the person first—a student, friend, brother, cousin, musician, athlete, artist, writer, leader—human beings with feelings, talents, interests, needs—just like all of us!  Using people first language—putting the person before the disability or difference—by eliminating stereotypical labels, can move us in a new direction toward true inclusivity instead of exclusivity.  The disability is no longer the primary, defining characteristic of an individual, but one of several aspects of the whole person.

Encourage the use of “person-first” language at home when talking about people who are different.  That way our children learn to see the person first rather than the disability or difference.  It allows every child the chance to dream, grow, and contribute because people first language emphasizes each person’s value, individuality, and capabilities.

Here are some tips regarding people first language:

  • Do not equate a person with a disability.  People first language tells what a person has—not what a person is.  Ex:  The child who has a learning disability instead of saying the child is learning disabled or the learning-disabled child.
  • Emphasize abilities not limitations.
  • Avoid negative words that imply deficits.  Examples:  afflicted, handicapped, bound, unfortunate, etc.
  •  Refrain from using “special” to indicate separate or segregated.
  • Encourage respect, understanding, and positive language.

What’s on TV?

Children learn powerful messages about how to treat other people from media and books, so help young children choose books that represent people in positive, people-first language and reflect the values you want children to learn. Know what your child is watching on television, in the movies, and on computers.  What book is your child currently reading?  When negative messages or stereotypes surface, use them as teachable moments for discussion.

Here’s a link to many resources, including books that represent the diversity of students within the classrooms of today.  

Our children learn respect for differences by being taught to respect differences. 

What messages are our children hearing from family, friends, community, books and media?  

Encourage Positive Relationships

Friends are an important part of growing up and belonging.  Although we can’t choose our children’s friends, we can certainly encourage positive relationships—friends who show respect for each person’s value, individuality, and capabilities.

  • Challenge your child to get to know kids from many different backgrounds and perspectives. In addition to exposing your kids to more diversity, it will also help them learn more about themselves.
  • Get involved and spend time getting to know your child’s friends and their families. 
  • Provide structure and set limits as to the amount of time your child spends with friends so there is balance between family time and time with friends.
  • Consider volunteer work in the community as a family.  This allows interaction with other groups and often results in positive relationships.

So how important is it that we look through the lens of inclusion?  Take a look at the parent letter, “When Special Isn’t So Special,” posted on the Family to Family Network website.

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