Just what does inclusion mean?
The word ‘inclusion’ means many things to many people and is a staple of educational discourse and public policy. Chiefly used in the context of including children of all different abilities, backgrounds and behaviours in school life, it also espouses a desire to bring together cultures, languages and historical traditions within communities.
It’s difficult to define in a pithy phrase.
But I’ll give it a go with the help of one of the UK’s most well-known comedians and personalities.
Last weekend, I heard Eddie Izzard giving John Pienaar a real run for his money on ‘Pienaar’s Politics’, largely because he didn’t respond to any question in the conventional way (nor did he use the terms ‘so’, ‘absolutely’ and ‘literally’ which makes him unique amongst interviewees).
I love listening to Mr Izzard. Not just because he is unconventional (I love listening to lots of conventional people too) but because he has got three things SO right about inclusion, three things he has repeated in his rambling style each time I’ve heard him in the media. I think each point helps to define ‘inclusion’ for me, and its wider importance in education.
- He is a passionate advocate of European solidarity. Not simply the European Union, but a more heartfelt unity of nations. Listening to him talk about his affiliation to Europe is like listening to a devout supporter of Sunderland – it’s about heart, not head. My impression is that his chief argument for staying together is the desire for oneness or fraternity; it’s a deep human emotion, not one born out of red lines, regulatory alignment or trade surpluses. So what if we lose a few million each year to pay the wages of unelected paper-shufflers; at least we ain’t fighting each other.
- He revels in the delight of learning other people’s languages. I can’t quite believe he does his shows in French, Spanish and German. Even just to attempt this is insanely brave. In doing so, Mr Izzard is bringing the inanimate concept of ‘inclusion’ to life – it helps that he’s funny of course, but in doing so he is defining what Lawrence of Arabia called ‘the importance of cultural credibility.’ I’ve tried to make this point before (see blog entitles ‘Mind Your Language’). Learning about a language, or its sister, a different culture, is not simply about passing an exam – it opens up a world of joy, depth and fascination. It’s just worth it for its own sake.
- I hope I’ve got this right but I think Eddie is transgender. He’s certainly transvestite. He has been for many years. When he talks of his experiences of ‘being different’, it’s refreshing to hear such common sense. Without wanting to misrepresent him here, he appears to advocate an understated approach to understanding gender or sexual difference. Throughout his life, he has just got on with being who he is and has just allowed people to get used to him. No histrionics, just common sense. If we believe in a true culture of integration, we then instinctively see ‘difference’ as being normal. This is exactly the correct approach to diversity, equality and inclusion. And us Brits are very good at it.
Inclusion is not simply updating policies and procedures to allow equal access for those who are ‘different’. It is rooted in the kinship and togetherness exemplified in the first point, in the curiosity and communication shown in the second, and in the tolerance and common sense found in point three.
Schools that can demonstrate these qualities through their work are usually doing a wonderful job for their communities.
So not a definition of inclusion, for sure, but with the help of Eddie Izzard, a personal reflection on an increasingly important theme.