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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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10 A Dialogue We’ve Yet to Have: Race and Disability Studies - Beth Ferri 139


Johnnella Butler’s (1989) call for scholars to more deeply engage in difficult yet necessary dialogues around race, gender, sexuality, and class is also relevant to the ways that scholars have yet to fully account for the overlapping politics of disability and race. As Erevelles, Kanga, and Middleton (2006) write, scholars in “critical race theory and disability studies have rarely explored the critical connec- tions between these two historically disenfranchised groups within educational contexts” (p. 77). Given the longstanding problem of overrepresentation of stu- dents of color in special education (Blanchett, 2006; Losen & Orfield, 2002; Ferri & Connor, 2006; Harry & Klingner, 2006), it has become increasingly difficult to ignore these connections. Could it be that, “educators and researchers believe that if they do not name these issues, they will go away” (Blanchett, 2008, p. xii)? A quick, yet disheartening review of Dissertation Abstracts does not bode well for the field. Of the ninety-nine dissertations published in the past five years that include “disability studies” in the title, abstract, or as a key term, only twenty-four include analyses of race or ethnicity, and of those only five are in the field of education. It seems clear that unless we intervene quickly we will likely produce another generation of disability studies scholars willfully ignorant of issues of race. A similar lack of engagement with disability studies is evident in scholar- ship focused on racial inequity. It is into this absence that I write—hopeful that this chapter serves as an invitation...

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