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Special Education and Gender in the United States  

Nickie Coomer and Chelsea Stinson

Historically, Western hegemonic order has been established through cultivating and legitimating social categories of difference. Schools, among other institutions, reinforce difference through marking ability, race, and gender to signify which bodies are productive, deficient, or dangerous and therefore in need of control. This process of differentiation and control is evident in the social, political, and education contexts of disabled youth whose race, gender, and sexuality are read, controlled, and resisted through policy and pedagogy. Through the processes of hypervisiblity, pathologization, and underserving of Black girls in schools, and especially within special education, this animates the nexus of gender, race, and disability. Parallels are drawn to paradigms of the female body and femininity, where difference is constructed as inferior to the normative male body. Similarly, special education policy, practice, and literature conceptualize disability as subtractive difference, wherein what is considered a “deficit” relies on a subtractive interpretation of a normative body or a normative way of being. In this regard, disability, gender—and, crucially, race—are often thought of as a negative departure from a normalized embodiment. In special education, such normalized, essentialist approaches to gender, race, and disability contribute to the disproportionate overidentification of some social identities and the underidentification of others, most often along raced and gendered lines. Importantly, disabling processes are institutionalized in education through the mechanism of special education, which not only serves as an instructional and academic response to a student’s disability but also acts as an institutional process that determines a student as disabled. The determination of a student having a disability is mediated through law, policy, and interpersonal interaction between school professionals and parents and caregivers. Disproportionate identification has been the focus of research, and studies show that overidentification occurs most often in disability categories that are considered “subjective”: for instance, specific learning disabilities and emotional disturbances. Such identification has an impact on students’ learning; opportunities to interact with their peers in general education settings; access to high quality, challenging curriculum; and opportunities to engage critical thinking in educational activities that go beyond direct instruction. Disabling processes in schools related to the intersection of disability, gender, and race, in particular, are mediated by the local, cultural interactions of school personnel and are evident in the ways in which Black girls, in particular, are disabled in school.

Article

Inclusive and Special Education Services in Rural Settings  

Jayanthi Narayan and Nibedita Patnaik

Education is a fundamental right of all children, including those with special educational needs. Efforts to achieve education for all has resulted in the focused attention of governments around the world, thereby improving the quality of education in schools and leading to dignified social status for students previously marginalized and/or denied admission to schools. This worldwide movement following various international conventions and mandates has resulted in local efforts to reach rural remote areas, with education provided by the government in most countries. Though there has been significant progress in reaching children, it has not been uniform. There are still many barriers for children in rural and tribal areas or in remote parts of the country that prevent them from receiving equitable education. The essence of inclusive education is to build the capacity to reach out to all children, thereby promoting equity. In the 1990s, special needs education was a focus, and integrating it into the overall educational system led to reforms in mainstream schools which resulted in inclusive education that addressed the diverse learning needs of children. How successful have we been in these efforts particularly in the remote and rural areas? There are various models and practices for special and inclusive education in rural and remote areas, but reaching children with special educational needs in such areas is still a challenge. Though there are schools in these areas, not all are sufficiently equipped to address the education of children with special needs. Furthermore, teachers working in rural areas in many countries are not adequately trained to teach those with special needs, nor are there the technological support systems that we find available in urban areas. Yet, interestingly, in some rural/tribal communities, the teachers are naturally at ease with children with diverse needs. The schools in such areas tend to have heterogeneous classes with one teacher providing instruction to combined groups at different grade levels. Evidence shows that rural teachers are less resistant to including children with special needs compared to urban teachers. Because of their homogeneous lifestyle, community supports in rural areas offer another supportive factor toward smooth inclusion. Though primary education is ensured in most rural and remote areas, children have to travel long distances to semi-urban/urban areas for secondary and higher education; such travel is further complicated when the child has a disability. In many rural areas, children with special needs tend to learn the traditional job skills naturally associated with that area, though such skills are not always blended into the school curriculum. Preparing teachers to provide education in rural areas with the latest technological developments and a focus on vocation is bound to make that education more meaningful and naturally inclusive.

Article

Disability Studies, Crip Theory, and Education  

Rachel Hanebutt and Carlyn Mueller

Disability studies and crip theory emerged out of a need to reimagine, and directly challenge, dominant deficit perspectives of disability in many different contexts. Instead of framing disability as a problem of individual bodies, where the solution to difference is found in often deeply harmful rehabilitation and intervention, disability studies and crip theory allow for a more critical and expansive look at disability as an aspect of identity and culture that holds inherent value. While disability studies and crip theory have been used in academic and activist spaces, the impacts of a more critical and expansive framing of disability have incredibly important impacts on, and reciprocal relationships with, the theory and practice of education. Disability studies and crip theory both work to simultaneously critique and change dominant perspectives of disability in school settings, as it does in academic theory spaces; it challenges teachers, schools, and curriculum to ask questions of the benefits of using deficit perspectives, and what is lost when disability is seen only as a problem to be fixed. In this way, these two fields of inquiry and practice continue to shape, challenge, and push each other toward a more just sense of disability for all.

Article

Developing Inclusive Schools in South Africa  

Petra Engelbrecht

In South Africa, new legislation and policies on inclusive education in the post-apartheid era since 1994 have placed a strong emphasis on equity, equality, and human rights, as defined in the South African Constitution. As a result, a White Paper on building an inclusive education and training system was published in 2001. It acknowledges the failure of the education system to respond to the barriers to learning and development experienced by a substantial number of learners, including diverse learning needs caused by, for example, language, socioeconomic, or gender issues as well as disabilities. This policy document describes inclusive education as being based on the ideals of equity and equality and as a result recognizing and respecting learner and learning diversity within mainstream schools. As stated in the policy, in practice this means identifying and removing barriers in the education system to ensure that the full range of diverse learning needs are met in mainstream classrooms as well as providing support to learners and teachers in addressing barriers to learning and development. Research studies on the implementation of inclusive education in South Africa, however, are finding that despite the development of a wide range of implementation guidelines since 2007, complex interrelated issues continue to complicate the development of successful inclusive schools. These issues include a continued divergence of views of inclusive education with a continuing strong belief in special education and separate educational settings by most teachers, therefore leading to a resultant lack of clarity regarding the implementation of inclusive education at the level of local practice in schools and classrooms. These differences in the understanding of inclusive education and its enactment in diverse school contexts also bring the question of power and agency into South African debates about inclusive education: who should decide which version of inclusive education should be the goal of the development of inclusive education in a specific school district or a specific school. Furthermore, contextual issues including the lack of financial and human resources, for example effectively trained teachers, effectively functioning district educational support teams for schools in specific school districts, lack of textbooks, and overcrowded classrooms, play a dominant role in the development of effective inclusive schools.