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The Myth of the Normal Curve


Edited By Curt Dudley-Marling and Alex Gurn

It is generally taken for granted that human behavior distributes along the lines of a bell-shaped, normal curve. This idea underpins much educational theory, research, and practice. There is, however, a considerable body of research demonstrating that the normal curve grossly misrepresents the human experience. Yet the acceptance of the normal curve continues to be used to pathologize children and adults with disabilities by positioning them as abnormal. Collectively, the contributors to this volume critique the ideology of the normal curve. Some explicitly challenge the assumptions that underpin the normal curve. Others indirectly critique notions of normality by examining the impact of normal curve thinking on educational policies and practices. Many contributors go beyond critiquing the normal curve to propose alternative ways to imagine human differences. All contributors agree that the hegemony of the normal curve has had a devastating effect on those presumed to live on the boundaries of normal.


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5 Situating Labeling within an Ideological Framework - Donaldo Macedo & Teresa Sordé Martí 53


As we ponder the challenge to understand the ideology inherent in the so-cial construction of labels, particularly the educational labeling designed to typecast students suffering from various forms of “disabilities,” we are reminded of a story told by an immigrant student, Arthur Lomba, from Cape Verde. Com- ing to the United States in the 1950s as a non-English-speaking student, Lomba worked hard to master English academic discourse to successfully navigate the curricular demands in a new language. One day, he was handed an identification form with four little boxes that required him to identify himself as (1) white, (2) black, (3) American Indian, or (4) Hispanic. At that time there was not an option to mark “other.” Since Arthur did not see himself correctly reflected in any of the categories provided on the form, he added a fifth box, which he labeled “human” and dutifully marked with an “X.” When he gave the form back, the teacher was perplexed and immediately requested that he identify himself racially. When Ar- thur said he did not know which box to mark, she insisted that he ask his parents and bring in his passport the next day. It was incomprehensible to Arthur’s teacher that he was not socialized to identify himself purely in terms of racial categories. In fact, Arthur’s choice of “human,” which should have triggered the teacher to question the racism inher- ent in the identification form, was subordinated to her need to follow bureau- cratic rules—rules...

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