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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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9. Humanizing “Special” Educational Practices



Walter. That is all I knew him as. He was, and is, Walter. Walter loved to read. He loved records. He was like a living encyclopedia. He could talk your ear off. He would laugh at his own jokes. If you listened to him, he was joyful and appreciative. Walter always went out on the town. He would put on huge black galoshes. He would leave for the day, rocking back and forth as he headed out to the bus stop on his way to a café, a museum, or any place in town that he wanted to explore. That was Walter. Independent and dependent. My whole life, I knew him and saw him as Walter. The world, though, I am pretty sure saw him differently. Walter had a disability. I don’t know what his label was, or if he was ever given one. He went to school in rural North Dakota in the 1950s. He wasn’t institutionalized and he wasn’t given a label because he graduated from school before the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA 1975 or Public Law (PL) 94–142), which later became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I never had to understand him through a label and frankly, neither did my family. He existed as Walter. And to me, Walter was “normal.”

To receive special education services in the United States a student must first and foremost be conferred with a label...

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