I had the privilege of working for a short time with Jane Lane, a tireless campaigner (forgive the cliche) against racist attitudes of all shapes and sizes in Early Years. It is her thoughts I want to reflect on very briefly here.
We were sat one rainy evening in a café working through some documents I think Jane wanted some feedback on, and I can’t remember what sparked it, but Jane looked up from the papers we were reading and she gave us all a warning about words to do with water: floods, and influx were already words that warned of an uncontrollable situation, and therefore carried with them negative connotations. She then said “It’s like ‘They’ and ‘Them.” We looked at her, and she went on to say “If someone talks about immigrant children as “they” you know we’re facing a lot of trouble.”
It’s the lumping of people together that, to a greater or lesser extent depending on context, denies their personhood. That’s why when @elly_chapple today on Twitter described inclusion being about humanity, I was back in that rainy café. Inclusion is a problematic term, or at least one we have been asked to ponder at the start of Brookes ITT Inclusion week (#obuinc19), because it is multifaceted, moveable according to who we are talking to or about, evolving (we’d hope) as our capacities and reflective practice change. The head teacher who has staff wellbeing to think about; the teacher whose relationship with the parents hangs on That Tone of Voice when she meets them at the end of a day; the TA whose time is punctuated by demands for all sorts of expertise; the child herself. And this is (so far) one child who needs to be included in the educational project of the school, or the county or whatever; inclusion also has to look at the system-drivers and system-users for Child A who has a hearing loss; for Child B who has foetal alcohol syndrome and is in the Looked-After system; for Child C on the Autistic spectrum… and the temptation is to reach for the They. “Yes we are proud of our inclusive ethos in the school,” says the head, beaming with good intentions. “They are well catered for.” And no doubt the needs are well met within the system.
But inclusion has to go beyond the system. It has to go beyond the number-crunching to the needs – and not just the shortcomings and deficiencies – of the children or their families. It has to embrace, as Elly says, their humanity. It’s therefore not about coping with (or solving) problems, but meeting the child and the family (and those they come into contact with) where they are. Maybe it’s about a smile, a good word as well as a “Can I see you about…” It’s certainly about seeing the child in focus as part of a wider set of societal expectations, but also seeing them as an individual, and definitely not as “one of Them.” Think how many of us might have been excluded at one time or another by being part of “Them;” think how fragile the right not to be seen like that can seem to some sectors of society here or elsewhere.
To those who work with the complexities of atypical development, critical social need or physical or sensory challenge this is probably self-evident. I’m just not convinced that the children and families always hear this, always are aware that they are not They.