Googling Inclusion brings up a whole list of education articles about including special needs kids. But Exclusion is the problem for society as a whole. (More)

From the Inclusion Network comes an interesting case study from New Zealand that reveals the very real problems of inclusion and exclusion:

We were in meetings where the groups were “inclusive” (i.e. had Maori and Pakeha representation). But while the two groups were “in” the same rooms, they were not WITH one another at all. They had never actually “listened” to one another; “talked” to each other. Two worlds apart, parallel unconnected realities – two worlds in collision. […] In microcosm, we had a chance to observe the dance of the tensions that parallel our struggles in Canada and USA. We learned as we watched.

This description seems to hold a whole lot of the problem in a few words: parallel worlds in collision, talking but not listening. We see this nearly every day in our political and social environment. Are we really getting through when we talk? We can’t always know.

It would be easy to dismiss this observation, however, with a claim that these were indeed two totally different cultures coming from an entirely different world view. But what is the rationale for exclusion when we seem to hold a common culture?

The unstated underlying assumptions of exclusion are, among others, that:

We are not all equal in capacity or value.

It is not feasible to give equal opportunity.

We must choose and thus train an elite who will take care of the rest.

They will benefit through the trickle-down theory.

I readily admit I do not share these views, but then I’m a progressive. Indeed, reading over those reasons for exclusion gives me the willies. I’m more ready to agree with the reasons for inclusion from the same article:

We are unique in value; however, each has unique capacity.

All people can learn.

All people have contributions to make.

We have a responsibility and an opportunity to give every person the chance to make a contribution.

The criterion for inclusion is breathing, not IQ, income, colour, race, sex or language.

What leads to these rationales for exclusion? It’s easy to point to racial differences because they are so superficially apparent, but we humans exclude for a lot of other reasons: age, gender, political affiliation, religious affiliation, disability. Coming up with reasons to exclude people seems almost as natural as breathing itself, and we come up with plenty of them.

It is my opinion, and just my opinion, that the reason we do this is not at its heart a matter of wrongness. We as a species have a tendency to categorize. We categorize everything in our world, so why not one another? But categorizing by itself does not need to be pernicious. The mere observation that another person is different in some way does not have to lead to exclusion.

We note that someone is in a wheelchair, or that someone speaks a different language, or dresses differently. Nothing wrong with that. It’s when we add a value judgment that we start down the path to exclusion. And I’ve heard some of the reasoning right from the lips of those making a judgment: He’s a drain on society because he a) can’t support himself in that wheelchair, b) can’t get a job unless he speaks English, c) since he dresses so poorly I must be supporting him with my tax dollars.

Yet we actually do not know those things most of the time when we make those value judgments. The guy in the wheelchair might be working in computers. The one who can’t speak English might own a Korean food store or a Vietnamese restaurant. That guy who dresses so shabbily may do so by choice.

Thus our natural need to categorize can lead us to make judgments that are not at all reality-based. When we exclude others, we often exclude those about whom we know nothing at all, while our personal circles may include some of the very people we would otherwise exclude, and at some level we look at them as exceptions rather than the rule. And sometimes we use these exceptions as proof that we’re actually not judgmental at all.

But regardless of where it begins, exclusion is expensive to society.

Our society has reached a turning point where we must make decisions about values, direction and budgets. We no longer have the luxury of buying a piece of all the solutions – and thus never having to answer hard questions. The hard questions are about values – what do we believe in? What kind of future do we want for our children? How do we get there?

My analysis identifies two opposing trends, two waging factions inclusion versus exclusion. This dilemma is broader than “schooling” and education. Most post- industrialized societies have begun to come to terms with the fact of limited resources. The debate is between people who believe in exclusivity and those who believe in inclusion (egalitarian opportunity as the predominant value).

So there it is, as stark as anyone can make it: the real conflict in our societies arises from exclusion versus inclusion. Maybe we can learn something from the Maori mentioned above:

The Maori leadership CHOOSE to focus ALL their energy on creating positive possible futures – and CHOOSE not to invest a mili-second of energy whining or complaining about past “injustice”. They are acutely aware of it. They understand it. It is part of their history. But they know that to create the future, they must refuse to be trapped in the talons of depression. Many are angry – a deep anger at injustice – one that seldom slips into the trap of personality or whim. As one wise elder stated, “We have experienced 150 years of failure in the “adversarial mode”. We need to switch paradigms – to create a NEW dialogue – a WIN-WIN dialogue – where people actually talk to each other. The old paradigm has failed us and will kill us unless we can change it.”

Wise indeed. But what about the expense of exclusion? How exactly does it cost us? It costs us talent, it costs us in lost labor, and the attendant welfare costs. Exclusion and its byproduct, inequality, also make our societies sicker. It costs us dreams.

As so poignantly put by a speaker at Frontier College over two decades ago:

“Those who are members of society, and those who are marginalized
from society, have a great need for each other’s gifts.
The sand of ordinary life is lived in community where people spend
their days doing very ordinary things. They write, talk on telephones,
teach children, play with babies, wash dishes, go for walks, read books,
and cry on each other’s shoulders. All of this happens in ordinary places
on commonplace streets, all the time, everywhere. This very commonness
is a real gift, a real benefit not to be ignored.

The gift of surviving and growing through change belongs to the outcast.
Living on the margin either bums you out and kills you, or it turns you
into a dreamer, someone who really knows what sort of change will help
and who can just about taste it; someone who is prepared to do anything
to bring about change. If these dreamers are liberated, if they are
brought back into the arms of society, they become the architects of the
new community; a community that has a new capacity to support
everyone’s needs and interactions.”
(Judith Snow at Frontier College, October 1988, 89th Annual Meeting).

Exclusion costs us our future.