In Widening the Circle, Mara Sapon-Shevin, a professor of education at Syracuse University, makes a compelling case that inclusion helps everyone in a school. And by “inclusion,” she seems to mean making room for all possible differences—not just diversity of race, physical ability, and other apparent distinctions, but the “multiple identities” of each student.
The author makes clear that all students learn differently, that they can learn from each other, and that we can all gain from being around and interacting with individuals who are “different” from ourselves. This book is well-researched, well-argued, and well-written, with a passionate voice that supplements its views with personal anecdotes that make the book a compelling and enjoyable read.
A chapter called “What’s Wrong with What We’re Doing Now?” illustrates how administrators and others within schools resist change. Breaking common objections to inclusivity down into subsections, Sapon-Shevin tackles such perennials as, “But I thought special education was a good idea,” and, “But we already have inclusion—we call it ‘mainstreaming.’”
The only drawback to this book is its philosophical stance: How far can Sapon-Shevin’s metaphorical circle be widened? If we take the author’s view to its ultimate end, the book collapses on itself. Can we include people who do not think schools should be inclusive? What should we do if they try to exclude others from the circle? The author, I’d wager, would respond that such questions—and the dialogue they spark—are as essential to successful schools as they are to a democratic society.
That’s a dialogue worth listening to.
David Lee Carlson taught secondary English before becoming an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the English and curriculum and teaching departments of Hunter College at the City University of New York.
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Widening the Circle: The Power of Inclusive Classrooms