By CLA’s High School Intern Leah Weiser
The other day, I came across an article about inclusivity, written in 1998. It really made me think about not only how far we’ve come in terms of inclusivity, but also how far we have to go. I learned about 5 children who struggled with acceptance and inclusivity in school. I was personally disappointed in learning about a young boy named Eddie, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Eddie wrote an excellent book report for his sixth-grade English class and when he turned it in, the teacher ripped up the book report and gave him an F. The teacher said: “no one with ADHD could possibly have written such a good essay without plagiarism.”
Another student, Laura who suffers from a rare medical disease said ”Kids are always staring at me and asking me why I need a water bottle with me, and why I need eye drops.” The 5 kids in this article were teased and bullied for things that were out of their control. A social worker named Joanne Ditchik-Stutz, wanting to eliminate this type of exclusive behavior amongst teachers and students, developed a program called TACK (Tolerance, Acceptance, Caring and Kindness) informing middle school students about the power of inclusion and acceptance.
A part of this program included different phases. The first phase, professionals helped to lead the children in different activities. These activities placed students in different situations where they had to write using their opposite hand and with only two fingers or attempt to read an article written with a reading aid for the visually impaired. The final phase of this program, the children were instructed to only speak to fellow classmates who shared the same skin color. These activities were designed to specifically exclude certain students every phase in order to “put them into the shoes” of other students who have disabilities or a mental illness. It’s these activities that help us learn about and practice acceptance.
This specific article reminded me of my own school and its effort to provide a more inclusive and accepting environment for all. At my high school, we have designated weeks where we celebrate different cultures and all different types of people. For example, we have a week designated to the LGBTQ community where we participate in the “day of silence.” We also participate in a Hope Conference where we learn from different people about their struggle with feeling included in their lifetime. As a high school student, my only exposure to the negative effects of exclusion and the positive effects of inclusion have been from High School. I have amazing parents and teachers who have taught me that judging someone who is different is wrong. But then I think of the thousands of young adults who have not been raised to be accepting or how to be actively inclusive. I truly believe that every single person if raised or influenced the “right way” can be kind to all people and can learn to accept all kind of people in every aspect of life.
And it can’t just stop at tolerance, I believe that people who are the majority or in a position of power should be more aware of how to actively include others. Whether it’s at school or on a team or in a workforce, I believe that the best work can be achieved when a group of people from all different backgrounds put their heads together to create something amazing.