Supporters of inclusion have condemned populist Australian Senator Pauline Hanson after a speech in which she suggested that children with disabilities and autism should be removed from mainstream classrooms.
Senator Hanson, who leads the country’s One Nation party, was speaking during the Second Reading (21 June) of the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017.
On the core issue of educational funding she criticised school standards, arguing that it wasn’t the level of funding that was responsible for the decline. Among the reasons she gave were that children who want to get on were being held back by their disabled and autistic peers:
I hear so many times from parents and teachers whose time is taken up with children—whether they have a disability or whether they are autistic—who are taking up the teacher’s time in the classroom. These kids have a right to an education, by all means, but, if there are a number of them, these children should go into a special classroom and be looked after and given that special attention.
Because most of the time the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who is straining at the bit and wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education. That child is held back by those others, because the teachers spend time with them.
Critics took to social media to immediately condemn Senator Hanson’s remarks.
Autism Awareness Australia said:
Pauline Hanson’s speech in Parliament today was nothing short of completely appalling. This woman is truly deplorable and her archaic and discriminatory rhetoric should be condemned by both sides of politics. How is it possible this woman was elected to the Australian Parliament?
The response, which appears on its Facebook page, has garnered over 500 comments, including some supportive of Senator Hanson’s remarks.
Educational experts — including Linda J. Graham, Associate Professor in Education, Queensland University of Technology and Kate de Bruin, Researcher in Inclusive Education, Monash University — have also criticised Senator Hanson.
In a joint article the academics write:
Hanson claimed that students with disability have a negative impact on their peers. Yet international research shows otherwise. Some research suggests students with disability have no impact on the learning of other students — whether they are present or not.
Other research shows that students appear to benefit from having disabled peers. They develop greater appreciation for human diversity and capacity for positive relationships.
Hanson also claimed that students with disabilities were better served in separate classrooms or schools. Evidence shows the converse is true. Decades of research has concluded that students with disabilities who learn in inclusive classrooms make far greater progress.
Senator Hanson also came under fire from opposition politicians.
Bill Shorten, Leader of the Australian Labor Party, tweeted (@billshortenmp):
Heartbreaking and upsetting for parents of children with autism to hear @PaulineHansonOz say their kids don’t deserve the same opportunity.
Backbench Labor MP Emma Husar, who has a 10-year-old son who has autism, told reporters outside parliament she was disappointed that in 2017 anyone could make such ‘ill-informed comments’.
She added that when her son Mitch was diagnosed with autism at 18 months of age, ‘I was told that he’d never speak, that I should never expect that Mitch could play in a sports team with his age-matched peers, or that he could be included in a mainstream class, but he is and he does very, very well.’
She described Senator Hanson’s remarks as typically divisive and said she should apologise ‘to every single autistic child in this country, every one of the parents who are like me, because we’ve got better things to do than defend our kids. She owes an apology to the 164,000 Australians who have autism spectrum disorder, the children and the adults who have been told for a long time that they don’t belong.’
But Senator Hanson is refusing to apologise and has accused her Labor and Green opponents of ‘political point-scoring’. She added that it was not her intention to upset parents but to speak openly and honestly about the issues raised.
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