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International Schools on the Edge of Possibility

By William Powell & Ochan Kusuma-Powell

The moral lens of history is clear. Unfortunately, our window on the present is often less so.
For example, it is relatively easy to perceive the moral repugnancy of the racial segregation that existed in the South of the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. And yet a hundred years ago there were many intelligent and otherwise compassionate people that accepted racial apartheid as the normal state of affairs. How could they have missed the inequity?
And so we ask ourselves, what inequities are we currently missing? What moral blind-spots will future generations identify and hold us accountable for? Stated more positively, what opportunities do we have to make the world a more humane and decent place?
We believe that international schools are poised on the edge of possibility. We have an opportunity to redefine our values about the inclusion of children with special learning needs.
Over the past decade international schools have become more tolerant of children who learn differently. Some international schools still maintain exclusive admissions policies, but increasingly we are seeing schools admitting children with mild to moderate learning disabilities. This is unquestionably a good thing. However, an attitude of tolerance is not enough. As educators and educational leaders we need to move beyond the myths and mind-sets that limit our will to serve.
A historical note: international education, as we know it today, did not exist before World War II. In the early part of the twentieth century, there were overseas national schools, mostly British, French, and American. However, the aftermath of the war saw an increasingly mobile business and diplomatic community, and with it the growth of international schools.
These were schools designed with a philosophy born out of the carnage and intolerance of the war. These were schools in which racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity was welcomed and appreciated. We believe it is time for these same schools to exhibit similar tolerance and appreciation for learning diversity. We see this as a logical, but long overdue, redefinition of international education.
How many of our schools would be comfortable with an admissions policy that excluded specific ethnic or religious groups? We suspect very few. However, a significant number of our international schools have admissions policies that either explicitly or implicitly state: “No dyslexics. No autistics. No Down syndrome children.” Such exclusion runs counter to the values of international education.
Our experience: we know from personal experience in several international schools that the education of handicapped and learning disabled children can serve to enrich the learning experiences of all members of the school community.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, it is our contention that the integration of special needs students serves to raise the organizational intelligence of the school: in terms of student and teacher achievement, emotional intelligence, and moral intelligence. It is a false dichotomy to think that college preparatory schools cannot serve learning challenged students. What is required is will and skill.
In order to realize the promise of international education we need school leaders and teachers with the will to serve children who learn differently. We need efficacious and energetic educators who consciously make the decision to teach all children—educators who believe firmly that children do not need to earn the right to belong. Educators who are willing to explode the comforting myths of impotency. (“There are more appropriate settings for these children.” “Where will the money come from?” “We can’t be all things to all people.”)
But passion is not enough. We also need educators with skill—teachers and administrators who understand how differentiated instruction can provide multiple access points to the curriculum for children who learn differently. We need teachers who are skillful observers of student learning and who can identify and cater for different intelligences and learning styles.
This is the mission of a non-profit consortium of international schools: the Next Frontier of Inclusion. We invite you to visit the website, become a member, and join in our regional conversations. International schools are an incredible success story. Our schools are growing at a rate of about eight percent per annum. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the recent economic crisis has had no significant affect on our enrollment.
International schools have achieved a position of respect and prominence, and as such are in a powerful position to provide examples of inclusive excellence. International schools, we believe, are truly poised on the edge of possibility.
Learn more at

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