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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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12 Sex Education and Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities: Crisis Response, Sexual Diversity, and Pleasure - Michael Gill 171


In this chapter, sex education for individuals with intellectual disabilities in the United States is explored; historical changes, contents, and overall messages about appropriate sexuality are discussed.1 Generally, battles around providing comprehensive sex education for school-age children and adolescents illustrate ideological divisions in the U.S. stemming from different viewpoints regarding appropriate (read: normal) expressions of sexuality. The Christian Right, com- prised of conservative Catholics and Christian evangelicals, has rallied against comprehensive sex education in their rise to political power in the U.S. over the last 40 years (Irvine, 2002, p. 3). In contrast, since the 1960s the Sex Informa- tion and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) has argued for more comprehensive sex education including a discussion of sex as pleasurable and not merely reproductive (Irvine, 2002, pp. 17–34). This chapter takes up the histori- cal debate about sex education as the background to discuss sex education for people with intellectual disabilities. While at times the content of sex education for individuals with intellectual disabilities can look quite different than educa- tion aimed at a non-disabled cohort, a comparison between sex educations for both populations of individuals allows for a nuanced understanding of sexuality for people with intellectual disabilities. Abstinence-only education has become the most widely used approach for non-disabled and disabled students in class- rooms across the U.S. (Fields, 2008; Irvine, 2002; Tepper, 2000). Sex education that meaningfully incorporates a discussion of homosexuality and bisexuality is TWELVE Sex Education and Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities: Crisis Response,...

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