Stories from the Field
Edited By David J. Connor and Beth A. Ferri
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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