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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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15. Searching for Competence: (T)reading the Spaces between Ways of Knowing



“A movement … A fight for freedom …. A statement of faith.” Excerpted from its own homepage, these words describe the school where I, strangely enough, came to first encounter both special education and disability rights. My career as a special educator began in Chennai, India, at a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that actively espoused a rights model on disability matters over the widely prevalent charity-based residential model at that time. Like many start-up NGO’s that had to first prove they were functional units (i.e. did not need government assistance) before they could apply to the state for assistance, my first school was situated within a garage in the home of a child with significant multiple disabilities who would become my first student. His mother, who started the NGO, was my first employer and mentor in disability rights, family empowerment, and child-centered supports.1 That garage became the hub of therapeutic and educational services, delivered on site and in homes to scores of children and their families from both urban and rural areas who returned each day, each week, to understand what disability could mean for themselves their children.

My beginnings as a special educator, then, were already soaked in the activities of inclusion—drawing families into processes of educational decision-making, making services available to children from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, serving multiple forms of disabilities, and simultaneously building a community amongst activist educators in a culturally conservative context. My recollections of the journey I have taken...

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