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The Myth of the Normal Curve

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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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11 Labeling and Treating Linguistic Minority Students with Disabilities as Deficient and Outside the Normal Curve: A Pedagogy of Exclusion - Felicity A. Crawford & Lilia I. Bartolomé 151

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“This population, this population,” the new euphemism for inferior, minority, ignorant, illegal immigrant, you pick whichever you want. “This population”—I hear it all the time . . . I am so tired of it. They might as well say “spic” because that’s what they mean. “This population” has roaches; “this population” does not speak to their children; “this population” doesn’t care about their children; “this population” is neglected; “this population” can’t read; “this population” does not honor students; “this population” is low, low, low. This list goes on . . . and writing this exhausts me. —Reflections of a Latina special educator in a predominantly Spanish- speaking urban elementary school in the Northeast. December 5, 2007 In our land of promised equal opportunity, the quality of schooling provid-ed to the fastest-growing segment of our population—linguistic minority students in high-poverty school districts—is as problematic as schooling for students identified as having disabilities. For instance, in 2008, a mere 58% of Latino high school students graduated within four years (Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, 2008)—a percentage not much higher than the 52% graduation rate for students with disabilities reported in 2002–03 (National Cen- ter on Learning Disabilities, 2008). Jim Cummins (2003) noted that, “school failure of subordinated marginalized students is attributed to alleged intrinsic characteristics of the group itself (e.g., genetic inferiority, parental apathy, bilin- ELEVEN Labeling and Treating Linguistic Minority Students with Disabilities as Deficient and Outside the Normal Curve: A Pedagogy of Exclusion Felicity A. Crawford & Lilia...

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