“Have inclusion and integration in schools failed?”

On Beat Kissling’s critical examination of current school concepts

by Eliane Perret

“Have inclusion and integration in schools failed?” is the title of a newly published book that invites a differentiated discussion on this topic. It also takes a much broader view of this issue than has been usual so far and includes fundamental questions about education. Beat Kissling, educationalist, teacher and psychotherapist, gives us the basics in his book. It is therefore a pearl of great value for anyone who does not want to get lost in the trade of barbs. And it is a reflective book that is committed – to each individual child and to the mission of the school.
  In his introduction, the author provides insight into the biographies of people who experienced either successful or failed integration. This already sheds light on the complexity of the question, which must always do justice to the individuality, the network of relationships and the circumstances of the person concerned. After this sympathetic introduction to the topic, the author takes the reader on a historical excursion about the emergence of a specialised special education system, presents its turn towards integration and inclusion within the framework of international conventions, and discusses the mostly unknown scope for action nevertheless contained in this global framework.
  Using concrete examples, the author shows how integration and inclusion are implemented and what requirements, associated problems and critical objections must be taken into account. Not only renowned academics have their say, but also directly affected former special needs pupils. Here again, the author’s concern is palpable that a factual dialogue based on human values should replace today’s discussion characterised by polemics – in the interest of the child.
  Special attention should be paid to the anthropological chapter, in which the current state of research regarding successful learning is presented by the author in a differentiated way. It is not only about specific basics of learning with children and adolescents with special needs, but about learning processes in general, because understanding how to learn best is a task for all types of schools and all ages. Special emphasis is placed on attachment research, which is the author’s valuable addition to the results of the Hattie study. With this anthropological part, the book stands out pleasantly from many new publications that do not go into enough depth in this regard. It stands to reason that the reader will ask questions about the individualising forms of teaching and learning arrangements that are common today and seem to be establishing themselves (in a cascade of school reforms). As these hardly meet the quality requirements, measured against the worldwide state of research presented in the book, doubts are legitimate.
  The anthropological foundations also result in demands on the understanding of the role teachers and their scope of tasks, which go far beyond the simple teaching of subject matter or the provision of learning environments. The author concretises this problem area with impressive examples from school practice and draws on his own teaching experiences and the authentic descriptions of pupils.
  To return to the question in the title of the book – what are the conditions for successful integration? The scientific findings presented up to this point already provide answers and lay the foundation for the following chapters. The author now analyses examples from literature and film that show how a child’s development is shaped by the personality of and relationship to the teacher, and he describes school experiments by pioneers in psychology and pedagogy (such as those produced by individual psychology) in which integration was lived. When reading, one’s own positive but also negative school experiences immediately come to mind, and one cannot help but rethink previous perspectives. In this context, it is interesting to read the author's remarks on “dialogical learning”, in which the subject matter is developed and learned in joint discussion – a form of learning that has been used for some time, especially in the Anglo-American world, and is replacing previous unsuccessful reform experiments there. This form of teaching is associated with the “interdisciplinary qualities” that are often demanded today, such as empathy, teamwork and critical faculties. It should also be given a central place in our (curative) pedagogical courses of study! Thus, this part of the book also contributes to a differentiated view of the factors which make a successful learning process possible.
  Finally, the author comes to conclusions which are again characterised by scientific accuracy, pedagogical farsightedness and human diligence, but which should not be anticipated here.
  The book is therefore recommended to anyone wanting to flesh out the idea of a “sustainable school” and a genuine “education for all” and to provide it with content. On the one hand, it is a treasure trove of new, scientific findings; on the other hand, it unfailingly makes reference to the always demanding pedagogical practice. In this – and this is decisive – it is supported by a basic pedagogical attitude committed to a personal conception of humanity. The book thus provides the basis for a discussion, not only on the question of integration and inclusion, but also on questions of school and education in general. This discussion is still pending and must not follow educational policy strategies, but must be conducted on the basis of scientific knowledge and civic responsibility
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Kissling, Beat. Sind Inklusion und Integration gescheitert? Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung. (Have Inclusion and Integration in Schools Failed? A critical examination.) Bern: Hogrefe. 2022. ISBN 978 3 456 85920 0

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