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A Child, A Family, A School, A Community

A Tale of Inclusive Education

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Diane Linder Berman and David J. Connor

This book is a true story of one family’s journey into inclusive education. Having previously been told that her son Benny had "failed to function" in two exclusionary special education classrooms in New York City, Berman’s family set off in search of a school where Benny would be accepted for who he was, while having the opportunity to grow and flourish academically, socially, and emotionally alongside his brother, Adam. Connor’s interest was piqued when Berman shared her desire to document the ways in which the new school community had supported Benny throughout the years. Together, they thought, surely other teachers, school and district level administrators, parents of children with and without disabilities, teacher educators, and student teachers, could learn from such a success story?

The result of their collaboration is this book in which Berman skillfully narrates episodes across time, describing ways in which children, teachers, educational assistants, parents, and a principal came to know Benny—developing numerous and often creative ways to include him in their classrooms, school, and community. Connor’s commentaries after each chapter link practice to theory, revealing ways in which much of what the school community seems to "do naturally" is, in fact, highly compatible with a Disability Studies in Education (DSE) approach to inclusive education. By illuminating multiple approaches that have worked to include Benny, the authors invite educators and families to envision further possibilities within their own contexts.

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Chapter 6. Creating Classroom Community: Embracing Difference

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· 6 ·

CREATING CLASSROOM COMMUNITY: EMBRACING DIFFERENCE

There were many instances, large and small, throughout Benny’s time at Boulder School when his classmates contributed in an integral way to his therapy. At first, this made me uncomfortable, but ultimately I was able to appreciate the genius of this natural design. I began to see that the relationships developed through the involvement of the entire community were truly symmetric. While at first it seemed as though the children were involved for the sole purpose of helping Benny overcome some limitation, in fact they were all engaged in purposeful activities that enabled everyone to grow in valuable ways. The constant emphasis on creating a community is, to a large degree, what enabled Benny to find comfort academically as well as socially. When he eventually left for middle school, Benny understood that his individual strengths and his unique abilities that could enhance a classroom.

We have close family friends in a nearby district, a district that time and again outranks ours on various scales. These friends have two children and the oldest child (let us call him Jon) is a boy with somewhat similar issues to Benny, except that from birth until recently, he seemed to be “higher functioning” than Benny, in several ways. He was a stronger academic student, and his language skills developed earlier. At gatherings he never seemed, to my admittedly judgmental eye, as impaired. He spoke easily with friends and...

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