In her latest blog, Dr Pam Jarvis, Reader in Childhood, Youth and Education at Leeds Trinity University, writes about why everyone should support inclusion.
When I teach content relating to working with children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) I always ensure that students are made aware of the concept of 'differently abled', in particular those children with high functioning Autism Syndrome Disorders, explaining the issues that arise when the considerable and frequently unconventional competencies of non-'neurotypical' pupils are ignored and sidelined. I use many different examples, for example, the achievements of American university academic Dr Temple Grandin and of Naoki Higashida who wrote the enchanting book The Reason I Jump, in which he comments 'from your point of view, the world of autism must look like a deeply mysterious place. So please, spare a little time to listen to what I have to say'.
Over the past week stories in the national press have drawn me to pay attention to a related, increasingly irascible debate; that of 'progressive eugenics', an issue that I had until recently thought dead and buried with the Nazi regime that my father and his generation defeated. Consider this comment from Toby Young, in an article entitled The Fall of the Meritocracy: 'I'm...interested in the potential of a technology that hasn't been invented yet: genetically engineered intelligence'. Mr Young was recently nominated by the Secretary of State for Education to sit on the advisory board to the new Office for Students, but the offer of this role was withdrawn when the existence of some highly offensive tweets and his attendance at a 'secret' Eugenics conference in London came to light. Young goes on to quote the psychologist Geoffrey Miller's prediction of a future process of conception:
Any given couple could potentially have several eggs fertilized in the lab with the dad's sperm and the mom's eggs. Then you can test multiple embryos and analyze which one's going to be the smartest.
In further exploring this issue, I found another quote, this time from Boris Johnson, one of the most senior members of the current British government, in an article written by Oxford Professor and equal opportunities advocate, Danny Dorling:
Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130. The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.'
As Dorling comments, 'having a high IQ is about scoring well in a series of weird, largely context-free tests of visual logic. It is not about understanding'. IQ tests also cannot examine dexterity, artistic ability, musicality or emotional intelligence, and they are not designed to elicit evidence of the types of unconventional intelligence exhibited by the neurodiverse, such as Temple Grandin and Naoki Higashida. IQ tests cannot explore the unique, holistic contribution that each human being brings to his or her family and community, regardless of any number allocated by a narrow, artificial assessment exercise.
It is clear that this government have increasingly focused upon the 'datafication' of state education. They are currently attempting to introduce a system of school and teacher 'accountability', which has given rise to systems of behaviour management in schools that appear designed to remove children whose results might suppress the collective results statistical profile. This has had the emergent result of non- neurotypical children being more likely to move quickly through a 'no excuses' disciplinary system, frequently resulting in permanent exclusion. A recent example of this process arose when a boy with Asperger's Syndrome was excluded from his school for being unable to maintain eye contact with staff; a behaviour which is emergent from the neurodiverse condition that he shares with Grandin and Higashida.
Although not all schools have such explicit behaviour policies, this is a pattern that is being repeated across the nation, with exclusions of autistic children rising by a third over the past year. This is clearly in opposition to legislation designed to support inclusion, such as the Equality Act 2010 and the Children and Families Act 2014. If our government are now signalling that they are willing to flirt with the concept of eugenics in a poorly understood attempt to 'raise standards', we are all in great danger.
As Kenny Fries asks in his article The first victims of the Nazis were disabled: 'What kind of society do we want to be? Those of us who live with disabilities are at the forefront of the larger discussion of what constitutes a valued life.' We are already feeling the first gusts of an icy wind blowing along the Westminster corridors of power. In the world famous words of Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
It is time for us all to speak out in support of inclusion, as loudly as we can.