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Dismantling the Disabling Environments of Education

Creating New Cultures and Contexts for Accommodating Difference


Edited By Peter Smagorinsky, Joseph Tobin and Kyunghwa Lee

Dismantling the Disabling Environments of Education: Creating New Cultures and Contexts for Accommodating Difference challenges assumptions that view people of difference to be "abnormal," that isolate attention to their difference solely in the individual, that treat areas of difference as matters of deficiency, and that separate youth of difference from the mainstream and treat them as pathologized. As outsiders to mainstream special education, the authors of this collection take a more social and cultural perspective that views the surrounding social environment as at least as problematic as any point of difference in any individual. Most of the scholars contributing to this volume work with preservice and inservice teachers and grapple with issues of curriculum and pedagogy. One of the primary audiences we hope to reach with this book is our colleagues and practitioners who have not made special education or disability studies the focus of their careers, but who, like we, are determined to engage with the full range of people who attend schools. Dismantling the Disabling Environments of Education: Creating New Cultures and Contexts for Accommodating Difference can be a valuable text for undergraduate and graduate courses in teacher education, as it addresses key issues of inclusion, diversity, equity, and differentiated approaches to educating the full range of students.

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Chapter Nine: Learning from Deaf Education (Jennifer Hensley / Patrick Graham / Joseph Tobin)


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Learning from Deaf Education


For most deaf children, early education begins either with them being mainstreamed in general preschool classrooms where they may be given extra-services (speech therapy, an aide), or in an oral methods program for deaf children designed to transition them, as soon as possible, into mainstreamed, hearing-based elementary classrooms. A fortunate minority of deaf children get the opportunity to attend a preschool based on Deaf culture principles, where the primary medium of communication is ASL or another national sign language.

Educators working in these culturally and linguistically Deaf early childhood settings over time have developed pedagogical approaches and spatial arrangements that support deaf children’s social, cognitive, and academic development. These Deaf spaces have evolved outside of and, therefore, to some extent free from the taken-for-grantedness of mainstream (audist) educational practices. This development has led to what a World Federation for the Deaf position statement rightly refers to as “the diversity [that] deaf culture adds to our world.” In this paper we draw on a study our research team conducted in signing preschool classrooms in France, Japan, and the U.S. to describe characteristically Deaf early childhood educational approaches and to argue that these approaches can add to our world by informing educational practice in hearing settings.

There has been a history (which we see as on the whole unfortunate) of practices developed in special...

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