Dr. Gordon Porter was one of the members of NB Premier David Alward's post election transition team of special advisers. Unfortunately for many NB students with severe autism deficits he has continued to act as a special adviser to both Premier Alward and Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Jody Carr. Gordon Porter's past record consists of promoting his own extreme inclusion agenda which dictates that all children with special needs, including children severely affected by autism disorders and developmental delays, must be educated in the mainstream classroom. A recent comment by professor and education consultant Dr. Paul W. Bennett questions Dr. Porter's "full" inclusion philosophy and highlights a recent public statement by Dr. Porter that does not bode well for some special needs children in NB schools, including those, like my son, who are severely affected by autism and developmental delays.
Since the last provincial election Dr. Porter has been conducting yet another review, the third such review in the past 10 years, of inclusion policies in New Brunswick schools. The first was conducted by Wayne MacKay. During that process I attended as an autism representative with fellow autism parent Dawn Bowie, a registered nurse. Dr. Porter who participated in a discussion group with Dawn and me was visibly unhappy with our attempts to speak specifically about the needs of autistic children, the needs of some autistic students for evidence based learning methods and quieter learning environments outside the mainstream classroom. He admonished us for our comments declaring that "you people" should be thankful for what you have.
The second inclusion review was a high profile Ministerial Review led by the Ministers of Education, Health and Social Development. It included broad consultation of community groups, unions and government officials and resulted in a new definition of inclusive education for New Brunswick schools that recognizes the best interests of the student and evidence based practices as guiding principles in New Brunswick schools:
An evolving and systemic model of inclusive education where all children reach their full learning potential and decisions are based on the individual needs of the student and founded on evidence.
III. Overarching Principles
The provision of inclusive public education is based on three complementary principles:
(1) public education is universal - the provincial curriculum is provided equitably to all students and
this is done in an inclusive, common learning environment shared among age-appropriate,
(2) public education is individualized - the success of each student depends on the degree to
which education is based on the student’s best interests and responds to his or her strengths
and needs; and
Recognizing that every student can learn, the personnel of the New Brunswick public education system will provide a quality inclusive education to each student ensuring that:
1. all actions pertaining to a student are guided by the best interest of the
student as determined through competent examination of the available
2. all students are respected as individuals. Their strengths, abilities and
diverse learning needs are recognized as their foundation for learning and
their learning challenges are identified, understood and accommodated;
3. all students have the right to learn in a positive learning environment;"
The evidence based practices principles established in the 2009 inclusive education policy was opposed strenuously, during the second inclusion review, by the representative of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living, a group tied very closely to Dr. Porter.
The third inclusion review led by Dr. Porter is likely to see an unraveling of the principles of evidence based accommodation of individual student needs. I attended, after requesting the opportunity to do so, a discussion group held at the education building on King Street in Fredericton, during the third review directed by a retired education official with close ties to the NBACL. I arrived before other participants and had a pleasant chat with the director. Once the discussion started though the director did not want to let me contribute to the round table discussion. She stated twice, in denying me the opportunity to speak, that we would like to give others the opportunity to speak. I was puzzled because I had not addressed the discussion at all when she began muzzling me. Finally I asked her if she would prefer that I leave the discussion since she apparently did not want to hear what I had to say. She did then allow me to speak but it was clear to me that my input was not welcome.
In his comment “Full Inclusion” in Public Schools: Is It Best for all Special Needs Kids? Dr. Paul W. Bennett reviews Dr. Porter's "full" inclusion model, some of the history of the perpetual campaign by Dr. Porter and Professor Wayne MacKay to impose their extreme version of inclusion on New Brunswick schools and their close connections to the current New Brunswick government. He summarizes a recent commentary by Dr. Porter on the subject of inclusion in our schools, and asks serious questions about Porter's apparent bias as the co-director of the current New Brunswick inclusion review.
In the commentary Are We Star Gazing? Can Canadian Schools Really be Equitable and Inclusive ? Dr. Porter displays no knowledge or understanding whatsoever of the needs of autistic children in the school system. The ego that landed 30 years ago and imposed extreme inclusion on all NB students including those, like my son, with severe autistic and developmental challenges, goes into a full scale attack against the provision of expert, evidence based approaches to the education of children with severe challenges: "we need to repudiate the notion that “special” or “expert” is better when the result is a program that is “segregation” and “exclusion”"
Gordon Porter provides no references to studies or evidence of any kind to back up the opinions he expresses in his commentary. My son was removed from one of Dr. Porter's "inclusive" classrooms here in New Brunswick at our request because he was biting his hands every day in the classroom where he was overwhelmed by the sensory challenges and by the fact that he was not functioning on the same level of intellect and understanding as his chronological peers. He was removed with the cooperation and concern of the local educators who could actually see what Gordon Porter's inclusion, what his egotistical insistence that all children prosper in the mainstream classroom was doing to my son. Gordon Porter's inclusion was hurting my son. Once removed from the classroom to a quieter area the biting ceased.
Now in high school Conor starts his days with other challenged children in a resource center, he goes to public areas of the school and to the swimming pool at the local middle school he once attended. He also recently attended, with other challenged students from the school's resource center, a play put on at the Playhouse by a group of Leo Hayes High School students. My son has been accommodated under a flexible model of inclusion which sees him visit common areas and socialize within his abilities while receiving the evidence based instruction he needs in quieter areas of the school. With flexible inclusion and the evidence based instruction Gordon Porter opposes my son absolutely loves school. It is Gordon Porter's extreme inclusion model that has in the past, and once again, poses a serious threat to his real inclusion in a positive educational experience.
You may or may not be a star gazer Gordon Porter but you are fundamentally ignorant about what my son, and many others with similar challenges, need in order to prosper and enjoy their education experience.
Dr. Porter, if you, or any of your friends in the NBACL or in the Alward government, are reading this blog I challenge you to debate me openly and publicly on the merits of the extreme inclusion model that caused harm to my son and which you are now in the process of imposing once again on him and children with similar challenges.
I won't hold my breath waiting for you to accept my challenge.