Mainstreaming, Inclusion, Tolerance, Acceptance – Oh My! Unsnarling Conflated Terminology – SDP #19

Listen to this episode at

[podcast] “The Safety Doc” untangles the conflated terms mainstreaming and inclusion as well as the seemingly synonymous words tolerance and inclusion.  A clear-cut definition of each designation postures the listener to grapple with the practices of debate, protests, and the non-aggression principle – all of which are powerful contributors to a society that is safe and orderly for its citizens.  Dr. Perrodin’s discussion centers the public school context and examples are situated to that context and situation.


Think of a global positioning device worn by each child (just imagine it).  In this universe, one can physically pinpoint the location of the student.  If the child is located in the “regular education” classroom / specials (art, music PE), lunch, recess then that child is MAINSTREAMED.  Mainstreaming does not mean that the child is being included in the classroom curriculum and to claim PASSIVE benefit is an incredible stretch.  This is often justified as “exposure” to peers without disabilities.  If that is what’s happening, then refer to it as what it is – mainstreaming.  If Mainstreaming is passive and implied, then INCLUSION is active and explicit.  For example, when a child is being included in a regular education setting, he or she is actively engaged in educational instruction and activities and the teacher holds an expectation of academic rigor.  Exceptions exist.  Dr. Perrodin straddles the line of mainstreaming and inclusion as he describes a girl with an anxiety disorder that “Skyped” into a regular education classroom, but for the most part, there’s not much gray between mainstream and inclusion.


Many schools tout a mantra of “We are full inclusion for students with disabilities.” That’s simply not accurate – and if it is accurate, then it’s out of compliance with the intent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  I think what school actually mean is that when they discuss placement of a student with a disability, which is done by an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team, the school looks first at having the student served in the regular education setting and exhausts accommodations, modifications and interventions before moving to consider a range of options to serve the child in what is legally known as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  The LRE is the placement that best meets the educational needs of the child and the LRE will not always be the regular education setting – just as I noted in my example of the girl with the severe anxiety disorder.  There’s nothing “wrong” with an LRE that is not full inclusion.  Again, full inclusion is the starting point of a placement discussion and LRE is the ending point of the discussion.


Billions of years from now, the Andromeda Galaxy will smash into the Milky Way Galaxy.  That’s bad news for Earth.  Sorry.  In a metaphorical sense, Federal education policies are rocketing toward a similar collision that will determine if the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (Mainstreaming for All) overpowers the incumbent Individuals with Education Act (IDEA).  You can’t have one law implicit that every student attends college or university and another that focuses on transitioning the student to post-secondary supports and services that might not include a gown and tassel.   Something will give.  If ESSA overpowers IDEA, then you’ll see students focusing less on safely transitioning to life and school.  ESSA can argue from a position of rigor for all, but it places students with special needs in a perilous position of being tracked to an academic path that appeases legislators and not educators.


Simply put, tolerance is adherence to the Non-Aggression Principle.  However, tolerance is a basement-level threshold.  We are better than tolerance – a term that implies that one has to actively suppress some level of discrimination or rage.  Teach Tolerance – really?


This is a step, well, actually a flight of stairs above, mere tolerance.  It’s a safer distance away from the tinderbox.  Acceptance is active.  It is seeking to understand another position.  The great philosopher Aristotle countered clubs and stones with the art of rhetoric, persuasion and reasoning – in short, Aristotle created the framework for debate.  And remember, to be informed of another’s position doesn’t mandate that you must befriend the other person (or group).  Practice acceptance and you will be informed about existing information as well as able to consider newly-presented information that might (or might not) alter your beliefs.


David will respond to discussion thread comments or questions & also to emails.  The Safety Doc Podcast is hosted & produced by David Perrodin, PhD.


Opinions are those of the host and guests and do not reflect positions of The 405 Media or supporters of “The Safety Doc Podcast”.  The show is curse free and adheres to nondiscrimination principles while seeking to bring forward productive discourse and debate on topics relevant to personal or institutional safety.