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The Inclusion Delusion?

Reflections on Democracy, Ethos and Education

Aislinn O'Donnell

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.
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7 ‘Inclusive’ Educational Policy in Ireland – An Illusory Quest?




This chapter critiques the development of inclusive policy and practice in Irish education. The author examines the rhetoric of policy and legislative documents and argues for a reorientation of policy, from integration to inclusion and from categorical perspectives to strengths based perspectives. Policy change is advocated and it is argued that the acknowledgment of the role of teachers in developing inclusion is central to its effectiveness. Moving forward, policy changes, therefore, must be developed in partnership with teachers, their view of themselves and their relationships with others.

Elusive Definitions and Conceptual Challenges

Inclusion is the operational framework underpinning social and educational policy in most democratic societies across the world. Inclusion is a nebulous concept engendering much confusion, misunderstanding and disagreement. A fundamental challenge relates to the identification of inclusion: there is a need to know what inheres in the idea. Florian provides examples of definitions and concludes that a ‘truly satisfactory definition has yet to emerge’ (2007, p. 16). Similarly, Norwich writes that ‘it is rare to read or hear about inclusion nowadays without someone commenting ← 113 | 114 → that we are unclear about what it means’ (Norwich, 2013, p. 4). Yet without a definition, Wilson argues ‘we have only a set of what might be called passionate intuitions which we then translate uncritically into practice’ (2000, p. 297). The difficulties in defining ‘inclusion’ itself have led some to argue that ‘we literally do not know what we are talking about’ (ibid...

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