The Inclusion Delusion?

Reflections on Democracy, Ethos and Education

by Aislinn O'Donnell (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection X, 284 Pages


It may seem self-evident that a democratic society ought to develop inclusive institutions and an inclusive educational system, yet when we try to define what we understand by inclusion, its complexity becomes apparent. This book does not seek to diminish that complexity but aims to deepen our understanding of the idea and ideals of inclusion, as well as examining the presuppositions, values, aims and blind-spots associated with the language of inclusion. What do we mean by the concept? What normative assumptions underpin discourses of inclusion? What happens when we fail to think about the unintended consequences of including those who were previously excluded? Is there an implicit ideal of ‘normality’ at play? Does the concept of inclusion foreclose interrogation of patterns of privilege and power?
This book argues that in order to develop just and inclusive institutions we must begin from the standpoint of those who feel silenced, marginalised and excluded. Responding to the context of Irish education, it makes an important contribution to ongoing debates in Ireland and internationally about how institutions need to change if they are to become genuinely inclusive.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Section I Dialogue and Dissent
  • 1 Inclusion and Educational Theory: Developing Broader Understandings
  • 2 The Provision of Elementary Education in Munster: Inclusion at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century or Since?
  • 3 The Social, Personal and Health Education Curriculum as an Agent of Inclusion in Twenty-First-Century Ireland
  • Section II The Inclusion Delusions?
  • 4 The Pursuit of Independence? Reconsidering the Role of the Special Needs Assistant in Inclusive Education
  • 5 Time for Inclusion to Detach from ‘Differentiation’? Re-Looking at How Teachers Support Learner Differences in the Mainstream Classroom
  • 6 Including Students with Challenging Behaviour: A Focus on the Implementation of Individualized Support
  • 7 ‘Inclusive’ Educational Policy in Ireland – An Illusory Quest?
  • Section III Re-Framing Inclusion: Alternative Perspectives
  • 8 Education for Sustainability: An Inclusive, Holistic Framework for Teacher Education
  • 9 Applying the Developmental Perspective of Emerging Adulthood to Understanding Identity Development of Diverse College Students
  • 10 Including Pupils in the Assessment Process: Implications of Pupil Self-Assessment for Classroom Practice
  • Section IV From Science to Religion: Neutrality and Blind Spots
  • 11 ‘Science is just for “nerds”’?
  • 12 Inclusion and Catholic Primary Schools: Some Issues Worth Considering
  • 13 ‘Fairness in our schools’? Weighing up the Recommendations of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector (2012)
  • Section V Silence, Invisibility and Exclusion
  • 14 Teacher Identity: A Case for Inclusion?
  • 15 Beyond Hospitality: Re-Imagining Inclusion in Education
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index



It can seem self-evident that we should strive to develop inclusive institutions and an inclusive educational system, yet when we try to define what we understand by inclusion, it becomes a more complex matter. This book does not seek to diminish this complexity but aims to deepen and enrich our understanding of the idea and ideals of inclusion, as well as to examine the presuppositions, values, aims and blind spots associated with the language of inclusion. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in the Genealogy of Morality that ‘There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival “knowing”; the more affects we are able to put into words about a thing, the more eyes, various eyes we are able to use for the same thing, the more complete will be our “concept” of the thing, our “objectivity”’ (Nietzsche, 2006, p. 87). Just as philosophers like Nietzsche and William James believed that the more ways in which we can come to understand something, the more ‘objective’ we will be, the essays in this book offer expansive and dissonant interpretations of inclusion. They do not frame the question of inclusion through an analytic approach that aims to clarify and define a concept before showing how it can be operationalized. Rather, like Nietzsche, greater ‘objectivity’ is developed through a pluralistic and perspectival epistemological approach that not only seeks to multiply the ways in which something is seen and understood, but which also remains attuned to the genesis of ideas and concepts. The kinds of questions explored by the authors in this book include: What we do we understand by inclusion? What normative assumptions underpin discourses of inclusion? What happens when we fail to think about the unintended consequences of including those who were previously excluded? To what extent are discourses of inclusion bound to deficit models? Is inclusion the right concept to be mobilizing if we wish to value the singularity of each child and student? Is there an implicit ideal ← 1 | 2 → of ‘normality’ at play in discourses of inclusion? Does the concept of inclusion foreclose interrogation of patterns of privilege and power?

In many respects, this project is resonant with contemporary work in philosophy and political philosophy as it seeks to examine the values, aims and ideals that shape educational theory, policy and practice through a careful examination of the concept of ‘inclusion’. Philosophers like Moira Gatens, Genevieve Lloyd and Michele LeDoeuff argue that it is important to pay attention to the images underpinning political and philosophical concepts. This concept of the ‘imaginary’ does not connote fabulation, creativity or fiction, but rather seeks to draw out the implicit presuppositions, images and commitments embodied in concepts, and the ways in which these images shape lived experience and the practices of our institutions. Examples of such images include Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, a powerful image of the sovereign state which has structured our political imaginaries, the idea of sameness bound up with the concept of identity which continues to shape our lived experiences of personal identity, as well as images of cultural belonging, community and nation, and the digestive, appropriative metaphors at play in discourses of ‘assimilation’.

Inclusion is not simply a concept. The image of inclusion structures, and is constitutive of, educational imaginaries. It has tended to be conceived in spatial terms by simultaneously demarcating and questioning boundaries, identifying those who have been historically excluded, and inviting them ‘inside’. It thus provides a powerful image of democracy as a mechanism for incorporation of those bodies previously seen as not sufficiently human to belong to the polity. Yet, what seems evident and desirable – that our institutions should leave no one outside – also tells a story about the origins and operations of ideas in practice, in particular the latent anthropologies that remain insufficiently interrogated when the genealogies and histories of our institutions and concepts are bracketed. For example, the ethico-political commitment to the equality of all human beings, which itself presupposes a common and shared humanity, has, in principle at least, come to be embodied in political and legal creations such as the extension of the franchise and universal human rights. Yet, paradoxically, attempts to foster inclusion may serve to further exclude those most marginalized if one is unreflective of, or insensitive to, the ways in which ← 2 | 3 → idealizations of particular kinds of humans and institutions are implicit in the functioning of ideals and practices. If inclusion is understood according to the logic of sameness, or even of welcome, then there is a danger of an unwitting assimilationist orientation in schools. If what is emphasized in difference is ‘difference from’, then it is important to consider the ways in which some may be ranked in comparison with others, albeit benevolently. If discourses and practices of inclusion do not attend to the genesis of institutions or curricula, then the genesis of such, which may have been premised upon practices of exclusion or differentiation, may serve to perpetuate historical relations of power and images of normality. What can appear to be legitimate normative commitments that seek to dissolve those boundaries and classifications that have served to classify and rank human beings may in practice rely upon images of identity, sameness or idealizations of particular kinds of human beings, even in those discourses that purport to be universal.

Each writer in this volume approaches the question of inclusion from the perspective of a discipline and from the experience of pedagogical practice. Each essay extends the way in which inclusion might be imagined, by including domains and questions that may not often be considered as relevant to discourses of ‘inclusion’. These range from science education to religious education and from philosophy to psychology. The chapters are presented in a manner that is contiguous rather than continuous, providing a rich selection of very different ways in which inclusion can be understood. Each author responds in his or her own way to the provocative question of whether inclusion is a delusion as things currently stand. They offer a rich framework for reflection upon the nature of educational institutions and the values and principles underpinning educational practice and theory, and, whilst written from the context of the Republic of Ireland, the questions that they raise will be of interest to those concerned with education more broadly. Inclusive education has become associated with special needs education, however, this book argues that the concept of inclusion has a deeper and more entangled history and a more messy and complex present. For this reason, the chapters in this book sit uncomfortably alongside one another. They are dissensual, rather than consensual, often following lines of enquiry that appear at odds with one another, ← 3 | 4 → complicating straightforward commitments to ‘inclusive education’. Such disagreements are nonetheless productive.

The first section, entitled ‘Dialogue and Dissent’, includes three essays offering three very different ways of thinking about the question of inclusion. Tony Bonfield explains some philosophical and theoretical challenges to the desire to identify foundations for epistemological certainty in education. He argues for a more nuanced and subtle understanding of the pedagogical relation as inclusion. Following Martin Buber, he draws upon the language of dialogue, understood as a way of being in the world that is responsive to the living human concreteness of the other. In this case, the orientation of the inclusive relation moves outward, turning towards the other as other, rather than seeking to draw the other in. Eilís O’Sullivan takes another approach, reminding us of what has been forgotten, erased or marginalized in the history of Irish education. She tells stories of the efforts to educate the poor by women of the Ascendancy in nineteenth-century Ireland. Her essay addresses the difficulty of understanding inclusion in the context of class and gender hierarchies, and it also tells a story about the genesis of education on the island; one that can be easily occluded in the context of discussions about the relationship between education and cultural nationalism or religious faith. The final essay in this section is by Carol O’Sullivan. It mobilizes the example of Social, Personal and Health Education as a tool to help reflect upon the way in which inclusion has been conceptualized. Whilst inclusion has become increasingly framed by individualistic discourses of developmental psychology, O’Sullivan argues for a more critical understanding of inclusion that is attentive to the dangers of reifying otherness and the desire for consensus and harmony. By conceptualizing inclusion through the language of same and other, and by presupposing an invisible norm that provides the standpoint from which ‘diversity’ is observed, discourses of inclusion can end up constructing a ‘musée imaginaire that exoticizes those deemed ‘other’, precluding self-reflection and critical interrogation of dominant norms and values, in particular in relation to intercultural and multicultural discourses. She suggests that the focus on the language of self-esteem in the SPHE curriculum has meant that questions of citizenship have not been foregrounded, thus lessening the potential for what she calls ‘authentic inclusion’.

← 4 | 5 → The next section, ‘Inclusion Delusions?’, takes a direction somewhat different from the previous one. It focuses on responses from the discipline of educational psychology to the question of inclusion, in particular in relation to special needs education. Claire Griffin’s essay offers a historical review of the Special Needs Assistant (SNA) Scheme in Ireland and questions whether there is evidence to support the current model of provision. Whilst acknowledging that there are children who may need an SNA to meet their care needs, she argues that the role of the SNA has increasingly shifted from one of care to one of education, and asks whether this is the best use of resources, in particular since SNAs are not trained to offer this role. Rather than an individualized approach, she suggests that a whole school approach centred upon capacity-building of both child and system would help create a genuinely inclusive environment. This involves developing collaborative models that move away from the individuated deficit model seeking instead to foster the autonomy of children. Marie Ryan also adopts a sceptical position in relation to current practices of differentiation in schooling. Like Griffin, she is critical of deficit-based approaches to inclusion, in particular those premised upon psycho-medical models, and she argues for a holistic and ecological approach that seeks to build capacity and is cognizant of systems cultures. The language of differentiation has, she suggests, served to classify, segregate and rank rather than provide the conditions for inclusion of all children. Instead, she argues for an approach to education called Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that begins with the difference of all children and is focused on planning and assessing for learning. The essay by Siobhán O’Sullivan and Susan Birch gives a detailed analysis and evaluation of one approach to dealing with challenging behaviour called Functional Behavioural Assessment (FBA). Rather than a punitive approach, FBA adopts supportive strategies in relation to inclusion, and again attention to the broader needs and culture of the school is underlined as key to success. Finally, Suzanne Parkinson’s essay offers a critical overview of the difficulty of defining inclusion, the problems with operationalization of such a ‘nebulous’ concept and the challenge of evaluating effectiveness when the meaning of inclusion remains so contested. By distinguishing between a model of inclusion understood as integration or assimilation whereby the child ← 5 | 6 → fits into existing structures and an approach to inclusion that involves the restructuring of the mainstream school, she raises the question of whether inclusion is simply a process of accommodation if institutional structures are not re-imagined. Parkinson is critical of the inconsistencies in educational policy in respect of inclusion, and like other authors in this section, she underscores the implications of labelling and deficit-based models for the experience and life of the child. She shares with these authors a belief that fundamental change in educational institutions is required to support the needs of the child.

The third section of the book is called ‘Re-Framing Inclusion: Alternative Perspectives’. It constitutes a significant departure from the concerns of the previous section by extending the exploration to three very different domains of enquiry seldom explored in discourses of inclusion; however, resonances with the concerns articulated in Section II remain as the authors emphasize the importance of an ecological and holistic approach to the question of inclusion. The section addresses three primary themes. These are the earth and education for sustainability, identity and emerging adulthood, and formative self-assessment as a mode of democratic participation. Anne M. Dolan argues that the idea of inclusion must involve an integrated approach to knowledge and a deeper awareness of the conditions for inclusion – our earthly existence. Her essay makes a compelling case for an approach to initial teacher education that encompasses a broader array of values, including ecological, aesthetic, spiritual, scientific and existential values, inviting awareness of the conditions for life on this planet. Claire W. Lyons takes up the question of identity from a different perspective, asking whether third-level institutions are sufficiently cognizant of the ways in which young people seek to make sense and meaning in their lives as they enter adulthood. Moving from an approach that privileges positivist methodologies and an atomistic empiricism, Lyons understands the person as a relational developmental system and maps the ways in which one comes to develop a sense of one’s identity. This is an unstable process, but one that is transformative if one cultivates the conditions that allow development to take place. Without attention to this developmental dimension of identity formation, Lyons suggests that it will be difficult to cultivate inclusive institutions at third ← 6 | 7 → level. Finally, Sandra Ryan and Linda Grogan look at the practice of formative self-assessment. Interestingly, they suggest that it is not so much a tool for differentiating the abilities of students as a tool for participation and self-reflection. In this way, it allows a democratic ethos to be fostered in the school environment. This invites another way of understanding the conditions for autonomy, reflection and participation in the school environment, and the impact of an emphasis on summative approaches which focus on a child’s achievement in relation to others rather than her capacity to reflect upon and assess her own learning. Assessment can be a means for capacity building and the construction of a more democratic, participatory classroom.


X, 284
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (November)
complexity normality privilege power
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. X, 284 pp., 3 fig., 4 tables

Biographical notes

Aislinn O'Donnell (Volume editor)

Aislinn O’Donnell lectures in Philosophy of Education at Mary Immaculate College (University of Limerick). She is interested in democratising philosophy and developing collaborative forms of research and co-inquiry through philosophy and the arts. Her writing, teaching and research are influenced by her work in formal and informal settings, including closed institutions. Her broader philosophical interests include contemporary European philosophy, Spinoza and the Spinozist heritage, feminist philosophy and critical race theory.


Title: The Inclusion Delusion?
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