Early years education begins the process of preparing children for their adult lives through the inculcation of social norms. If children with a disability are to have a full role in the adult world, they also need to comply with their society’s social norms. This theoretical paper explores: the tensions between the recognition and valuing of difference and disability and the requirements of compliance with the social norms; how these tensions are manifested in early education systems; suggestions as to how these tensions can be addressed through preservice and in-service training.
The integration of children with disabilities into mainstream education focused on enabling the child to fit into the existing systems. Inclusive education focuses on changing the education systems so that they fit the children. So how far, and in what ways, should children with a disability be required to comply with the behaviour expected of all the other children and frameworks of conformity to social norms
The paper explores how practitioners of modern inclusive education theory can respond to the differences exhibited by young children who are significantly outside the norms for their age, in ways which respond to their differences but do not remove the role of early years education in beginning the teaching of compliance with the social norms
The main results refer to teachers’ uncertainty about reasonable exemption from the norms of age appropriate behaviour; how much latitude is helpful and how much damaging; what can, and should, teachers and other children tolerate; approaches for children whose behaviour is outside reasonable expectations.
Key words: Disability; social norms; expectations.
Early years education begins the process of preparing children for their adult lives through the inculcation of social norms. If children with a disability are to have a full role in the adult world, they also need to comply with their society’s social norms.
A social norm. according to McLeod 2008 , is the accepted behaviour that an individual is expected to conform to in a particular group, community, or culture. They are the unwritten usually unconscious, rules about how to behave. They vary between community and community, society and society, culture and culture. Social norms are most noticeable when they are not followed. Very young children learn the expected norms within their family and immediate community, but it is when they enter the education service that they begin to learn the wider social norms that they will be expected to observe as they grow up. Norms provide order in society to the extent that is difficult to see how human society could operate without social norms. Human beings need norms to guide and direct their behaviour, to provide order and predictability in social relationships and to make sense of and understanding of each other’s actions. Early years teachers are instrumental in teaching these norms, although in many cases they are not aware of this. Children learn the rules of being part of a group, of obeying instructions, following routines and showing respect, as well as a myriad of rues which are specific to their society or culture. The inculcation of young children into the social rules and social norms of society is one of the most important roles of early childhood education.
Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten
Aim of the Paper
The aim of this paper is to explore: the tensions between the recognition and valuing of difference and disability and the requirements for beginning the teaching of compliance with the social norms; how these tensions are manifested in early education systems; suggestions as to how these tensions can be addressed to achieve the best outcomes for all our children.
The research aimed to explore how the modern inclusive education theory in early age education that promotes the concepts of differentiated teaching and learning can respond to the difficulties which some children with disabilities experience in learning and adapting to social norms. Interviews were carried out with the teachers of four children whose disabilities mean that they experience such difficulties. Teachers were asked in semi-structured interviews to give their views on reasonable exemption from the norms of age appropriate behaviour; How much latitude is helpful for the child with a disability; what can, and should, teachers and other children tolerate, and what not; approaches for children whose behaviour is outside reasonable expectations.
The children were:
Jake, aged five years, three months. Jake has Down’s syndrome, severe epilepsy which is moderately well controlled by medication. He attends mainstream provision, where he is much smaller and very much less able than his classmates. He has a full-time support assistant. He finds it difficult to comply with general classroom instructions and his behaviour is more typical of a 2 -3-year-old. His teacher does not know how much she should make him comply with the social norms of the classroom (with the help of his support assistant) and how much he should just be allowed to behave differently,
Rachel aged six years and five months. Rachel has cerebral palsy, resulting in spastic hemiplegia so that the muscles on the right side of her body are in a constant state of contraction. This means she has an awkward gait and writes with her left hand. Rachel has above average intelligence but at home she is allowed to behave in any way that she chooses, is never corrected and so she often refuses to carry out activities in the classroom, interrupts the teacher and other children and becomes aggressive if she does not win in competitive games. Her teacher does not know how much she should make her comply with the social norms of the classroom and how many allowances she should make because of Rachel’s disability.
Edward is six years and one month old. He is hyperactive, runs everywhere, sometimes over furniture and is unwilling to comply with the teacher’s instructions to the class. He sometimes destroys other children’s work. He has a full-time support assistant. His teacher does not know how much she should make him comply with the social norms of the classroom (with the help of his support assistant) and how much he should be allowed to behave differently.
Bobby is six years, 11 months old. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. He is of average intellectual ability. Bobby dislikes any changes in routines; appears to lack empathy;
talks incessantly about dinosaurs (about whom he is may be very knowledgeable); stares at other children; and often avoids taking part in classroom activities. His teacher does not know how much she should make him comply with the social norms of the classroom and how much he should be allowed to behave differently.
The teachers interviewed were all uncertain as to how much they should acknowledge that the children are unlike the others in their class and therefore allow them to be different and not teach them to comply with the behaviour required of all the other children. All those interviewed erred on the side of making far more allowances than they would for other children and none had thought about the long-term impact of the behaviour of children with a disability on their later life opportunities.
Even when early years’ teachers are not explicitly aware that they have a major role in teaching social norms, they have an implicit understanding of this major element of their role and are concerned to ensure that all the children in their charge:
• How many allowances should be made for Rachel’s behaviour?
• Should Bobby be stopped from talking about dinosaurs?
• Should Bobby have to take part in activities with other children, even when he resists this?
The two support assistants also had to make decisions about how far they should make Jake and Edward do the things that the other children are required to do:
• Should Jake hang up his coat, even though it is difficult for him and takes longer?
• Should Jake queue up with the other children for lunch and carry his own lunch to the table?
• Should Edward be punished for destroying another child’s drawing or can he not help it?
Far more thought needs to be give in both pre-service and in-service training for early years teachers to the particular requirements for the teaching of social norms to children with disabilities, as the inclusive model of education becomes more and more accepted, particularly in early years education. Discussions should include: reasonable exemption from the norms of age appropriate behaviour, particularly for children like Jake, for whom some form of exemption from a range of social norms will always be necessary, throughout his life.; how much latitude is helpful for children such as Rachel, Edward and Bobby, who have the possibility of leading normal adult lives, if they are not handicapped by inappropriate behaviour; what can, and should, teachers and other children tolerate, and what not; and what approaches should be taken with for children whose behaviour is outside reasonable expectations, so that they can learn to comply with the social norms that will enable them to live happier and more successful lives.
Robert Fulghum. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
McLeod S. Social Roles. Simply Psychology. 2008