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How Teaching Shapes Our Thinking About Disabilities

Stories from the Field


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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4. From Harmful to Helpful



“What is recalled to memory calls one to responsibility” (Derrida, 1989, xi)

I set the phone down. To my surprise, tears flowed down my cheeks. The emotions that overtook me came as a surprise. I had just completed an interview with Jennifer Smith Richards, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune who was working on a series of investigative reports about the use of physical restraint and seclusion with disabled students in Illinois public schools (Richards, Cohen, & Chavis, 2019; Richards, Cohen, Chavis, & Petrella, 2019). I was contacted as an expert source for the story because of my knowledge of the history of these professional practices, how they were carried over from state institutions, psychiatric hospitals, and prisons into the public schools as American special education programs expanded in the late 1970s. I was ostensibly a college professor who could provide authoritative academic information. But the phone call had revealed me as a different kind of source for the story. Beginning as a teacher’s aide in Virginia in 1984 and continuing in my seven years of teaching in North Carolina and Florida, I was a teacher who used physical restraint and so-called “time out” isolation rooms with children from age seven to eighteen. I wasn’t a detached scientific observer of these actions of violence. I was one of the perpetrators.

In my second telephone discussion with Jennifer, she became aware that our discussions had dredged up painful memories from my past. Remembering...

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