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How Teaching Shapes Our Thinking About Disabilities

Stories from the Field

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Edited By David J. Connor and Beth A. Ferri

This book purposefully connects practice to research, and vice versa, through the use of deeply personal stories in the form of autoethnographic memoirs. In this collection, twenty contributors share selected tales of teaching students with dis/abilities in K-12 settings across the USA, including tentative triumphs, frustrating failures, and a deep desire to understand the dynamics of teaching and learning. The authors also share an early awareness of significant dissonance between academic knowledge taught to them in teacher education programs and their own experiential knowledge in schools. Coming to question established practices within the field of special education in relation to the children they taught, each author grew increasingly critical of deficit-models of disability that emphasized commonplace practices of physical and social exclusion, dysfunction and disorders, repetitive remediation and punitive punishments. The authors describe how their interactions with children and youth, parents, and administrators, in the context of their classrooms and schools, influenced a shift away from the limiting discourse of special education and toward become critical special educators and/or engage with disability studies as a way to reclaim, reframe, and reimagine disability as a natural part of human diversity. Furthermore, the authors document how these early experiences in the everydayness of schooling helped ground them as teachers and later, teacher educators, who galvanized their research trajectories around studying issues of access and equality throughout educational structures and systems, while developing new theoretical models within Disability Studies in Education, aimed to impact practices and policies.
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3. Snapshots of School

Extract

BETH A. FERRI

There are countless moments in my own educational trajectory that I could point to, which led me in one way or another to finding and choosing Disability Studies in Education (DSE) as my academic home. But, three memories in particular come into focus, like old snapshots falling out of a photobook each time I open its pages. It is these snapshots that I find myself returning to when asked, “How did you come to do the work that you do?” Each story represents a distinct moment or phase of my life, yet they all share a common backdrop of schooling. Together, they tell the story of an emerging sense of the politics of disability and a growing appreciation of disability identity and culture.

In the first of these memories, I’m a high school student riding the bus with a young woman who seems about my age. Sitting alone, her hair forms a curtain around her face as she gazes out the window of the bus. I don’t exactly know why I notice her, but over time I do. It’s not her I notice exactly—she looks like any other teenager at the time. In other words, she was unremarkable in her similarity to any other kid on that bus. But, what I do notice about her is that upon arriving to our large urban high school, she never enters the building. Instead, she gets out of one bus and into another. I wonder...

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