Disability Studies Quarterly
Winter 2006, Volume 26, No. 1
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Osgood, Robert L. The History of Inclusion in the United States. Washington: Gallaudet University Press, 2005. 226 pgs. 11 photographs. Hardbound 1-56368-318-0. $55.00

Reviewed by Theodore W. Eversole, Glen Park School, Plymouth, England

Professor Robert L. Osgood's History of Inclusion in the United States provides a valuable survey of an idea desperately in need of better understanding, dissection, and contextual explanation. As he states: "this book constitutes an attempt to understand more thoroughly and accurately what inclusion is, how it came to be, and where it might go" (p. 2). Osgood seeks to explain the notion of inclusion in education and to detail its evolution over time to become the operating principle driving debate inside the special needs community, as well as inside the educational and governmental establishments at local, state, and federal levels. This book clearly benefits from the author's previous research and writings on key issues in special needs history, and this makes him a sympathetic but nevertheless objective commentator. This attribute is essential, for inclusion stirs passions and conflicts beyond academic debate, and as such, a cool hand is needed if the various arguments, regardless of side, are to be balanced and understood by a general audience.

The reader should be aware that this book is not a "comprehensive history of American special education" (p. 14); nevertheless it does outline, over eight chapters, the progress and developmental milestones of the drive towards inclusion. Osgood's organizational delivery is effective although, as can be expected, his concentration clearly follows what, in historical terms, is the recent past. There is a short chapter on Special Education to 1930, after which follow: 1930-1960: Special Education Comes of Age, 1960-1968: Challenging Traditions in Special Education, 1968-1975: Mainstreaming as the Alternative to Segregation, 1977-1985: Refining the Concept of Integration, 1985-1992: Integration, Mainstreaming and the Regular Education Initiative, Resistance to Integration: Giftedness and Deafness, and finally, 1992-2004: The Promise, Limits, and Irony of Inclusion.

It is well understood that the terminology and definitions used in special education and disability studies have over time taken new forms, meanings and emphasis. However Osgood attempts to solve this explanatory dilemma by concentrating on certain issues, which he lists as: Efficacy, Efficiency and Economy, Territory, Community, Legality, Power and Identity, and Axiology. These issues and their exploration frame how this complex and difficult subject matter, that lacks consensus, can be understood. As he declares: "My intention is to present a balanced authentic picture of how debate over the integration of students with disabilities in regular classrooms has proceeded over time" (p. 15). Robert Osgood has achieved this objective with some considerable success.

As discussion turned into legislation, most notably PL 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Act of 1975, The Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act 1990, and, most recently, the No Child Left Behind Act 2001, the legislative drive spelled out opportunities as well as vagaries in interpreting and plotting the necessary advances towards greater disabled integration within education and within society at large. With thirteen categories of disability recognized by federal statute, and with a wide variety of entitlements, the separation-integration argument leading to total inclusion was complicated for all parties or advocates in the debate. This situation was made more difficult by varying degrees of gray where many partially agree or disagree with current and past approaches to the phenomenon. Not only was an appropriate or least-restrictive learning environment for disabled students hard to define educationally, but the concept of inclusion itself has grown exceedingly complicated with many variants such as uncompromising inclusion, progressive inclusion, ideological inclusion, and full inclusion (p. 183).

Osgood explores the different delivery systems as and when they developed such as mainstreaming, the Regular Education Initiative, Adaptive Learning Environments Models, normalization, and deinstitutionalization, all in their different ways, working towards the fully integrated inclusive ideal. However not every party to this process embraces this ideal, or accepts accompanying research models and data. At a time when schools are facing rising costs and achievement expectations, inclusion is a challenging practice to follow. The objections to aspects of the inclusion concept (as outlined in chapter seven) by the Deaf and gifted are worth noting. For some in the special needs community, such as the Deaf and gifted, separation continues to have attractive educational, cultural and social properties.

Inclusion faces many challenges–emotional, financial, legal, moral, and those of the special interests of the participants–and this leads Osgood to conclude: "inclusion thus becomes more of an ideal than an idea, one to which schools should continually aspire but one that remains unobtainable in the foreseeable future." (p. 200)

Robert Osgood is a positive advocate of the inclusion process and a believer in its general progress as an idea. However the idea is not universally accepted as the correct one in all its dimensions. Recently, in June 2005, Baroness Mary Warnock, the past architect of England and Wales' special education policy and a previous devotee of educational inclusion, announced that the policy of social inclusion imposed upon schools has largely been a failure and she called for a rethinking of the entire concept. Pressure to include caused "confusion of which children are the casualties." Here, although the ideal was in the right place, the consequence of moving children out of special schools has left a "disastrous legacy." Warnock now posits that separation in special schools provided a better response to children's needs than a mainstreaming approach, which has failed, in different degrees, all parties in the social equation. For advocates of social inclusion policy, Warnock's reaction reveals a major change in the official commitment to the inclusion ideal. If this shift is translated into a return to separation models as best practice, this will mark a clear departure from the inclusion norm which has dominated thinking for the past fifteen years, and as such, Osgood's voice won't be the last word in the inclusion story; it remains an argument that keeps on giving.