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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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14 Living on the Edge of the Normal Curve: “It’s Like a Smack in the Head” - Bernadette Macartney 205


Introduction The construction and privileging of the “norm” through medical and (special) education knowledge and practices deny children with disabilities access to many life opportunities that “normal” children and families receive as a matter of routine. Normalising discourses, and the disciplinary mechanisms such as sur- veillance, diagnosis, and the sorting of people into the categories of normal/not normal in education and society limit the opportunities of children with dis- abilities and their families to contribute, participate, learn, achieve, and feel good about themselves. This chapter presents and explores the processes and effects of being labeled as disabled —and therefore “not normal”—on the experiences, opportunities and lives of two young children, Maggie-Rose and Clare, and their families living in Aotearoa, New Zealand. In response to this case study, I suggest that we must consciously identify, challenge and reject, in all forms, a worldview of “disability,” “difference,” and “diversity” as deviations from “the norm.” As an emancipatory alternative to normalising deficit discourses I advocate a socio- cultural and rights orientation to education and diversity. Narrative and the Importance of Context One of the hallmarks of a medicalised, normalising discourse of disability is its commitment to decontextualising and minimising the importance and value of FOURTEEN Living on the Edge of the Normal Curve: “It’s Like a Smack in the Head” Bernadette Macartney 206 Bernadette Macartney the identities, relationships and experiences of children with disabilities and their families. Identity and experience are treated as irrelevant through an expert dis- course that assumes...

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