The Ministry of Inclusion

Rebecca Urban of The Australian has written a story about an article for The Encyclopedia of Teacher Education. The authors are Jennie Duke and and Ben Whitburn. They were not available for comment when contacted by Urban.

It is a bizarre paper ostensibly arguing against instituting a phonics check of the the kind used in England and some Australian states.

Stuart Kitto has published a thread taking the paper apart. Kitto’s thread should be a blogpost and so I am publicising it here. Please take the time to read it:

It is hard for those of us who have not been inducted into the relevant jargon to fathom a paper such as Duke and Whitburn’s. It seems for all the world like it is making the argument that by setting a benchmark for achievement of 28 out of 40 on the screening check, we are dividing children up into able and non-able categories and that this is somehow ableist. Furthermore, the kinds of interventions that we may implement to help struggling students – but as Kitto points out, probably not those who just miss the benchmark by one question – are somehow exclusionary. We should, instead, be keeping all children in the same classroom at all times. The science of reading or, as the authors describe it, the teaching of ‘allegedly scientifically evidenced skills’ [my emphasis] should be secondary to concern about ‘neoliberal-ableism’.

To a public who are, by and large, rightly sceptical of the ‘all must have prizes’ culture that is alive and well in sections of educational research and practice, this confirms their worst suspicions. It is clearly significant that this is an entry for an encyclopedia of Teacher Education. I shudder at the thought of how it may be used with teacher education students. What damaging ideological stances will they bring to their teaching practice as a result?

To be included in society involves access to society’s resources, including intellectual ones. To be able to read a newspaper, access the internet or do your online banking means being a part of society. Yes, a tiny proportion of students are cognitively impaired to a point where they will never learn to read and we must make accommodations for those children. For all other children, we owe them nothing less than the best possible teaching methods based on the best possible evidence available to us right now. Reading is that critical.

There is something Orwellian about this. In the name of ‘inclusion’ we exclude students from a significant section of society and the world. Welcome to the Ministry of Inclusion.


3 thoughts on “The Ministry of Inclusion

  1. John Pierry says:

    “The science of reading or, as the authors describe it, the teaching of ‘allegedly scientifically evidenced skills’ [my emphasis] should be secondary to concern about ‘neoliberal-ableism’.”

    If you click on the DOI link to the McKnight & Morgan article you will see why the use of the word “allegedly” is justified.

    While we’re on the subject of words, they explain (like any good author of such studies should do) and define the terms they use in the article, like neoliberal-ableism. There’s no need to hang scare-quotes (if that was your intention) around it, and it’s also not helpful to suggest that people need to be “inducted” into the “jargon” – as I mentioned, the authors define the more academic terms that they use.

    • Thanks John for making this comment. The intent of the chapter was to use the teaching of reading as an example of the issues related to standardisation and commercialisation in education.
      In South Australia in 2019 only 20% of students with a disability “passed” the PSC. As an example of standardisation of assessment I’m left wondering whether 80% of kids with a disability don’t have the skills of letter sound recognition or the screen doesn’t provide opportunity for these kids to demonstrate their ability to break the code in other ways?
      In 2018 only 14% of students with a disability passed the PSC. After 12 months of SSP teaching (which I presumed was then offered), I wonder how they fared in 2019 when they were re tested? Did the standardised teaching approach work for these students?
      Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

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