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Inclusion: The Intentional Rebuilding of Community

"Before human beings got organized into class societies, there was much hardship and difficulty in living, but there apparently was little deliberate exploitation of humans by humans. We can presume from present patterned behavior by humans that there could be occasional oppression when someone had acquired a pattern of greed or impatience or anger from some accidental catastrophe or by contagion from someone who'd been accidentally hurt badly and then acted out the hurt pattern at the other person in a way that 'seemed' advantageous to the dramatizer. But the natural affection between intelligent people who lived together as associates and families and bands would probably have made sharing and mutual support the dominant themes in the simple groupings that grew from families into clans and tribes.

"Life would often have been hard for all under the primitive conditions of the first million years or so, and the person who suffered some impairment of his or her physical body or mental skills would have often had a somewhat desperate fight to live and live well, even with the support of loving and well-meaning associates. This is a different kind of difficulty than arises with oppression, however, and the advance of civilization, the acquiring of knowledge and skills, would have naturally led to finding survival functions for people with impairments and affectionate nurturing for their very humanness arising out of and modeled upon the treasuring of children that arises spontaneously from our human natures.

"The development of animal husbandry and agriculture certainly made possible the taking advantage of weaker people by stronger. With the patterns of making war already in existence, and greed patterns undoubtedly already being present, it is understandable that the enslavement of war captives of one group by another group which had taken them in combat could lead to the development of the first class-societies, consisting of basically slave-owners and slaves. These persisted for about 6,000 years and in persisting allowed the invention of many new forms of oppression as a way of keeping the oppressed divided against each other for the benefit of the oppressors. The internal contradictions of the slave societies led to their collapse and downfall as the slave 'empires' became unwieldy. Their breakdown allowed the subsequent feudal class societies to arise, consisting primarily of serfs and nobles but fostering the emergence of a much larger contingent of middle-class people within the religious bureaucracies and as supervisors, knights, and scribes. Mistreatment of people with impairments certainly was regularized and justified at least as much under feudalism as it had been under slavery, but the collapse of feudalism and the emergence of an owning-class-working-class society intensified the mistreatment of people with impairments under the commercial slogan of 'he who does not produce, neither shall he eat.'" -Harvey Jackins

THE DESTRUCTION OF NATURAL COMMUNITIES

The unnatural organisation of present-day societies, built as they are on a history of oppression and greed, has distorted and confused our natural human tendencies to build communities. We are led instead to build exclusive fortresses around ourselves and then hang on to them, desperately afraid of losing the fragments of security we have scratched together. We call these unnatural communities 'our family,' 'our church,' 'the Gay community,' 'the young conservatives,' 'the gang'-and many other names. None of these are natural communities in the sense of the earlier organisation of people living together in one locality.

Even where our humanness has won through to create structures and services which reflect our love and concern for each other-such as our national health service, our comprehensive education system, and our 'safety net' benefit system-the oppressive society has deliberately dismantled communities through a relentless volley of blows. It has cut off our lifelines, our ability to act collectively, replacing these with a system of market forces and competition designed to make us feel adversarial towards each other. Add to this increasing poverty and personal debt to banks and building societies. We have reached a critical point in our history. Our lives have become once again about our very survival.

This time the enemy is heavily disguised and very dangerous. It is like a withering of the spirit, a slow, creeping indifference to other people, a numbing out of our sense of purpose, an overload of information about which we feel we can do nothing.

The global economic system seems too vast to think about or understand, let alone change. We do not know where to begin.

BORN TO SHOP - ECONOMICS AND COMMUNITY

It is undeniable that economics affects the way each and every one of us lives. It does not matter whether or not we think about or understand economic systems or policies; these systems and policies shape our lives anyway.

The system which currently dominates the world relies on people buying things. Money has to circulate like blood in an animal or the system will die. 'Progress' of a nation is defined solely by the degree in the rise of its gross national product, irrespective of the quality of life of the people who produce it.

Getting people to buy things cannot and does not stop. There is never a point when 'enough' is reached. People must go on wanting more, better, bigger, newer things constantly.

Those people responsible for getting people to buy things have had to be extremely inventive and knowledgeable about human patterns to keep this system operating for so long. The best way they've found is to try and fill a real need materially, creating dependencies on material things, or on money itself, instead of on ourselves or each other. Once land (and consequently the means to feed oneself and build one's own shelter) was 'appropriated' by the 'owning class,' such dependencies were guaranteed. For much of the world the struggle to obtain basic necessities is still a big challenge.

For a smaller part of the world, the so-called 'developed' world, getting people to buy things has had to be developed into a fine art. Successful advertisers or promoters use 'psychology' to distort our needs and vulnerabilities. For example, the subtle use of sexual imagery to sell soap, cars, clothes, cosmetics, and much else is widespread. The manipulation of our vulnerability to addictions is used to sell food, alcohol, cigarettes, and forms of gambling. The ideas of independence, privacy, and personal freedom have been used to sell the 'dream house' of one's own, lots of gadgets, a car each, and so on. The dependency we then experience on these things becomes an exploitable fear of loss. This is used to sell insurance policies, security systems, defense systems, pension plans, and investments such as shares, a new phenomenon which is occurring as the economic system runs into difficulties.

One of the outcomes of profit-motivated economics is that gradually more and more wealth ends up in the bank accounts of fewer and fewer bodies (such as giant multi-national corporations), and more and more 'ordinary' people have less to spend as we lose our jobs or as our real wages decrease. We are more inclined to save what we have. In such circumstances we tend to be more selective and frugal, choosing to spend on what we perceive as 'needs' rather than 'wants.' The sellers have had to react to this by persuading (or forcing) us to individually re-buy needs which we once bought collectively. These include our nationalised industries, council houses, transport, health care, education, and social services.

What all these have in common is that, in our current way of living, they are 'essentials,' not luxuries, and people have to go into massive debt in order to survive. Even very elderly people are being made to sell all they own and spend their savings just in order to be cared for in their last years of life.

The personal result of this onslaught is that we are made to feel that our needs are individual, are material, and that we cannot rely on other people to help. This dreadful isolation is the price we are really paying.

It is vital to the inclusion movement to acknowledge that this isolation is created deliberately to keep us buying things and services.

"I want to tell you about my school. I left Uganda during the war and whilst I was away I became a qualified teacher and I also learnt about Re-evaluation Counseling. When I came home I saw some boys playing under a big tree. They were playing 'wars' all the time. I did not like this. I thought their games would become confused with reality, and they would grow up not knowing anything else. I wanted to use all I had learnt so I started a school with seven pupils under this tree.

"I had learnt that love is the most important thing so I made a relationship with each child so that he or she would feel that he or she was known and loved. This is a necessary foundation for learning. I taught all the curriculum taught in the government schools plus a few things I added to make it nicer. More children came, and I had to employ teachers. No one except me had any training in 'special' education, but in my training what I had learnt was patience, and any teacher can learn that. This is what the children need, and everyone is welcome in my school. We have physically disabled children and five children with Downs Syndrome. They do everything. They do everything. The number of children at my school who pass their exam to secondary school has gone up and up. This year was one hundred percent pass, so everyone wants to send their children to me. Now we have over a thousand pupils.

"Of course I feel bad that the children are still learning to write with sticks in the dirt and that they have no chairs to sit on . . . ."

-Head-teacher in Uganda

"Inclusion could never happen in British Schools because it requires a situation of unlimited resources . . . ."

-Head-teacher in English school

THE PROFESSIONALISING OF CARE

It has been noted many times that human beings are not easily persuaded to consciously do each other harm. People must be persuaded that the 'harmful' act is the 'helpful' act, or at least a neutral act. One little-recognised process which has profoundly altered the way human beings in so-called developed societies relate to each other has been the profession-alising of care.

Like so many things, what started as a genuine attempt to help people in crisis, such as orphans, or ill people, or destitute people, or disabled people, fell prey to the classist system. Status, power, and prestige were to be gained by becoming a doctor, a psychiatrist, a manager of an institution, a trustee of a well-known charity. The professionalising of care led to the notion that ordinary people could not do it, that you must be educated and specially trained to do it, or that you must take your orders from such a person without whose guidance you would probably do more harm than good. The idea that ordinary people couldn't do it has subtly changed into 'shouldn't' do it-'It's not my job.' Homeless children, disabled people, ill people, and elderly people can find themselves living in the midst of people and yet at the same time have no one in their lives who isn't paid to be there. At the same time there are the 'carers,' usually women, who want to look after loved relatives who are ill or disabled at home. They often find themselves unpaid, unsupported, unvalued, and usually exhausted.

With the breakdown of the welfare state, the marketing of care services has moved us one step further, creating a whole new layer of professionals called 'care managers.' These people are responsible for assessment of need and provision of services, which are contracted out to private agencies which are run for profits. Turning 'care' into an industry results in an inhumane society in which neither the carer nor the person needing the care has any control over how and where and by whom that care is given.

Caring for a vulnerable human being is a privilege and something of mutual benefit, whether this be caring for a newborn baby, a persondying of an as-yet-incurable illness, a person with Downs Syndrome, or an elderly grandparent.

The proportion of people who need a great deal of practical support is manageable in any natural community if people could share the work and have the work valued. But because resources are currently misdirected away from communities and into institutions and their managers, people are forced to rely on fund-raising and charities for such essential needs as a wheelchair or an aid for communication, or are being forced into unemployed, isolated poverty in order to provide care for someone they love.

Not much of this makes sense unless you look at it from the viewpoint of a system which must keep enough people employed and spending money.

There are far more people employed in the 'caring' industries and associated administration than there are people being cared for. The health service is the United Kingdom's biggest employer, followed by charities. Add to this the education system, Social Services, the Prison Service, the probation service, the benefits agency, residential care services, rehabilitation and sheltered employment, plus all the civil servants and administrators in every local authority. And yet oddly people still feel they have to fight for everything and that there is no one there to help.

The problem with giving people what they really need is not that it costs too much, but that it doesn't cost enough.

A 'new economics' must be included in any philosophy of inclusion because the problem of people not spending enough money is not going to go away. In fact, it will get worse. As the system attempts to maintain itself, it will try and push us farther along the road of exclusion. The signs are already there with the picking off and devaluing of expendable (i.e., expensive) people. The right-to-kill debate focused on loving parents wanting to put their brain-damaged children to 'sleep,' and on the attack on 'travellers' (people forced into 'gypsy'-like cultures), single mothers, the unemployed, teenagers, homeless people, squatters, the elderly, minorities-all being blamed for causing poverty! If people are to be blamed for their problems, then condemnation, punishment, and exclusion are, of course, justified. For an inclusion movement to work we must always make sure that we do not collude (actively agree with) any such blaming of a victim. This includes people whose personalities have been so distorted by psychological injuries that they are not able to function rationally or even safely. Even if we do not know yet how to rescue all these people, it is vital that we hold a correct 'line' or have a correct policy towards them.

THEY JUST NEED ATTENTION

How many of the people currently in prison, in psychiatric institutions, or on the streets would be there if adequate help had been given to them as children?

The help most people need from others is very simple, but in our unnatural communities it is the hardest thing to get-real attention from another person. With real attention we can heal ourselves of past hurts, think clearly, make plans, and put them into action.

With real attention we can become less self-absorbed and more able to consider other people; we can become more objective in our opinions and more flexible in our responses to situations and people. Why is it so hard to find this (although we always live in hope)? It is because attention is like love-it has to come free of judgments, conditions, and pre-determined outcomes. It cannot easily be given whilst a person is fulfilling a role for which she or he is being paid. It does happen that some real attention is sometimes given despite, or in addition to, the role, and it is interesting how we often describe the interaction as someone becoming 'a friend' at that point. But for the most part, we only expect real attention in our informal relationships-friendships, romances, or from our families. Unfortunately, even in these relationships, it is often an unfulfilled 'want' because everyone is trying to get attention, not give it.

Some people have had a very simple insight. It works better if you take turns. These people-some quarter of a million world-wide-have intentionally added a new type of relationship to their lives, that of freely exchanging 'attention' with each other for a pre-set amount of time. These people have reported benefits to themselves and their lives, and many have become deeply committed to making the world a better place for all. We can guess that this process is inherently human-that it would lead us all to seek a more 'humane' world. Even a relatively small proportion of people able to think outside of the materialistic conditioning will be able to come to better policies, devise better systems, and lead others forward.

THE INCLUSION MOVEMENT

The 'inclusion movement' has evolved from a comparatively small number of people who, for one reason or another, have realised that our future depends on our determination to stop travelling down the well-worn path of divide-and-rule and start a journey on a new path altogether. The most passionate of these people all have something in common-they are, or have been, excluded from 'normal' society on the basis of some 'flaw' within them, or they have loved or do love someone who is in danger of exclusion. Literal, physical exclusion, the worst punishment in natural communities, takes away the meaning from a person's life, the chance to make a difference. Putting 'types' of people all together in institutions and pretending that an alternative and equally valid community has been formed does not work. They just get to be meaningless together.

The reason this small group of people (the inclusion movement) has been able to have such an impact is because they have given voice to much of that which is human in all of us, and they have come with new information and tools to start the work. Their realisation is that we have to intentionally alter the way we do things in order to enable everyone to participate, and nothing we currently think or do is exempt from the process.

SCHOOLS AS MODELS OF COMMUNITY

Schools have been centres for many of the earliest attempts at change. Schools are full of potential because many schools in all parts of the world still reflect some of our best thinking to date about community. Firstly (in the United Kingdom), all children have a right to go to school regardless of class, race, religion, and since 1957, ability. Schools also assume that there is a wider community outside the family in which everyone has some responsibilities. Most schools are situated within wider local communities and enable young people and associated adults to make friends, play together, share events and celebrations, initiate collective projects, go to each other's houses, and help and support each other in times of need. There is a lot wrong with schools as they exist within and are influenced by the oppressive society, but they still hold enormous possibility for good.

It was noted by some parents, some professionals, and some ex-pupils that schools have never actually included every child who lives within their catchment areas. Some children have always been seen as too 'different' to include and have been directed away from the mainstream system into a variety of separate institutions, often for the rest of their lives. It seems to have come as a great shock to people to learn that the children concerned were sentient beings who did not appreciate what felt to many of them like a punishment, a life sentence for a crime they had not committed. As soon as it has become possible for such excluded people to have a 'voice' and to organise collectively, they have made it clear that what matters to everyone is the same-to be a valued member of an ordinary, natural, and diverse community where each and every person has a part to play.

Some parents have realised that their children, who once would have been automatically singled out and segregated 'for their own good,' could receive any specialist services they needed in their local schools without suffering any of the loss of relationships or sense of value that have for so long seemed an inevitable outcome of needing some significant extra help.

Where such parents and children have been fortunate enough to bring this challenge to professionals who are able and willing to respond, a truly creative partnership has evolved. This partnership has built something which has never happened before-a community in which the most vulnerable and dependent members are put at the very centre and are viewed as essential to the true education of a new generation.

This decision, in some instances, has meant the literal tearing down and rebuilding of the physical environment to allow children who use wheelchairs or who need to lie down, who may need nursing, tube feeding, catheterisation, or physiotherapy, to have those without going away.

It has also meant looking at every aspect of the school policy, teaching methods, curriculum, and staffing levels.

It has brought more adults into the school as teachers' aides, welfare assistants, counsellors, therapists, technicians.

It has involved parents closely in designing their children's education plans.

It has acknowledged and valued the enormous contribution children make to each other's learning, formalised in peer-tutoring and collaborative planning groups.

It has put friendship high on the agenda by talking about it, thinking about it, and deliberately setting up circles of support around isolated children. Children learn to feed each other, push wheelchairs, use sign language, read sign boards, encourage each other, be responsible for each other's success, and applaud individual achievements without comparison. They are often asked to appreciate each other's gifts and to value themselves. Adults have been required to face their fears rather than to justify them, including their fear of change. They have been asked to learn a whole lot of new skills and at the same time to give up the idea that they are either special education teachers or mainstream teachers.

Truly inclusive schools do not exclude on the basis of emotional and behavioural disturbances but try to help and understand what has caused the child to 'act out.' In the very best examples 'flying services' have been developed attached to school systems. These flying services can move between schools when called, offering support not just to the child but to her or his family or carers when it is needed. This is seen as 'preventive medicine' and is an example of using resources to bring together rather than separate. It is also economical in that two weeks' intervention of this kind often saves several years later on.

It is the opposite of our 'not-until-a-crisis' support services.

With the tools developed in Canada-particularly by Marsha Forrest, Jack Pearpoint, and Judith Snow-parents, disabled children, and allies have learnt to dream together, set directions, and identify the steps to take and the support they will need from others.

The Tools of Inclusion-Structured Attention

The first practical steps to rebuilding communities are already being taken.

The 'Circles Network' is the intentional bringing together of people around a vulnerable person who needs help to solve a problem in her or his life. The focus person can be anyone at any time. The impetus for forming circles of support came from recognising that some people's real needs could only be met if those who cared about that person came together to help. These people are being excluded by an oppression, and the circles of support think and act together to challenge the oppression and forge a new sense of community. Circles are structured and led, and attention is given to everyone who comes.

'Maps' and 'Path' are two more tools developed to put people back in charge of their lives. Both are forms of structured 'attention' to a whole group of people who want to identify a common goal (or 'dream') and make a plan to get there.

'Collaborative Teaming' is yet another structure designed to help frightened professionals to stop acting on their panic and isolation and to instead share the challenge with each other. Again, taking turns and paying attention to each other are the vital ingredients of success. Collaborative learning groups are being developed in inclusive schools amongst pupils with diverse learning skills. Their goal is not only for each member to learn individually, but also for each member to make sure every other member of the group has learned and understood the particular concept or skill concerned. Any one group member must be able to represent the conclusion and reasoning of the whole group. They are allowed to prompt and remind each other of facts and pool their information and insights.

Disabled people have brought in our own insights and skills. In the United Kingdom in particular, we have developed powerful training courses which help people to systematically examine, de-construct, and replace the structures of exclusion. People discover how the idea of 'disability' is one entirely created by non-disabled professionals through their almost total control of disabled people's lives and their insistence that disabled people do not know what is best for ourselves. By delivering the courses in person, we try to bridge the gap between the 'image' of disability and the reality of our lives.

The things we fight for are of benefit to everyone: the right for people to be valued because we are alive, not simply for our economic productiveness; the recognition that independence is about making one's own decisions, not about managing to live without support; the need for public services to be designed to accommodate everyone; the need to re-direct resources back into 'ordinary' provision.

THINK - ACT - THINK AGAIN

Theory without practice is useless. The intentional building of community is a focus to develop our skills as human beings. It is based on the understanding that new thinking is born out of the experience of trying to stay in relationship with people from whom we are usually separated. This way the excluded and 'voiceless' people become the leaders of a new society, not the victims of 'good intentions.'

Inclusion means not wasting our time working out how to 'destroy capitalism,' but rather protecting each other whilst we work out a better economic system.

The most exciting thing is that it requires us all to think together about fundamental issues as if we were in charge of our own destinies. And this time, no one will be left out.

Micheline Mason
London, England

 


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00