Douglas Biklen: “Begin by presuming competence”

Presuming competence is nothing less than a hippocratic oath for educators. Douglas BiklenExcerpt from interview with Dean Douglas Biklen, winner of the UNESCO/Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Prize to promote Quality Education for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities.

Douglas BiklenCan you explain the concept of “presuming competence” and how it relates to inclusive education?

When Anne Sullivan first worked with Helen Keller, she approached her with the presumption that she was competent, that Helen’s problem emanated from her not having an effective means of communication.   Even before Anne began to work with Helen, there was evidence of her desire to communicate—she used pantomime to show her interest in making ice cream or wanting toast with butter.  But it was Anne’s introduction of spelling and words that proved liberating for Helen.

The principle of “presuming competence,” is simply to act as Anne Sullivan did.  Assume that a child has intellectual ability, provide opportunities to be exposed to learning, assume the child wants to learn and assert him or herself in the world. To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world.  Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators. It is a framework that says, approach each child as wanting to be fully included, wanting acceptance and appreciation, wanting to learn, wanting to be heard, wanting to contribute.  By presuming competence, educators place the burden on themselves to come up with ever more creative, innovative ways for individuals to learn.  The question is no longer who can be included or who can learn, but how can we achieve inclusive education.  We begin by presuming competence.

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Ollibean is a dynamic community of parents, families and advocates in the disability community working together for a more socially just, accessible and inclusive world.

10 Comments

  1. […] some patterns in how these different kinds of neruo-atypicality are addressed. People typically presume my competence (maybe because I’m able to hide my differences), but plenty of other people are underestimated […]

  2. […] Douglas Biklen: “Begin by presuming competence” […]

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