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date: 27 June 2022

Special Education and Gender in the United Stateslocked

Special Education and Gender in the United Stateslocked

  • Nickie CoomerNickie CoomerIndependent Scholar
  •  and Chelsea StinsonChelsea StinsonSyracuse University

Summary

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.

Subjects

  • Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities
  • Education, Gender, and Sexualities

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