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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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16 Conclusion: Re/visioning the Ideological Imagination in (Special) Education - Alex Gurn 241


Introduction This book project began not as an edited book but as an article submission to an academic journal, one that was followed by a resounding rejection letter or more aptly put: an objection letter. The letter cited flaws not so much in the construction of a principled argument about the normal curve but in the na- ture of the principles underlying the argument, which in the readers’ estimation, amounted to an attack on the tradition of science and, more specifically, “positiv- ism.” Interestingly, the original article, nearly identical to our Chapter 2, operated in certain ways in keeping with the legacy of positive science, visible in our at- tempt to construct an overt and discernible research logic about the problem (i.e., explicating a researchable problem, making an assertion or hypothesis, presenting contrasting evidence about the assertion, and discussing these findings in the context of special education research and practice). Even more bewildering, one reader’s remarks intimated that s/he was deeply offended by our words, feeling personally attacked. After the rejection, we chose not to resubmit the article to another journal and, instead, with the encouragement of Scot Danforth, one of the co-editors of the series in which this book appears, proposed an edited text in which we would invite a group of researchers and educators to interrogate the ideological foundations of the normal curve, including what it means to be con- strued as outside the boundaries of “normal.” SIXTEEN Conclusion: Re/visioning the Ideological Imagination in (Special) Education Alex...

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