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How Teaching Shapes Our Thinking About Disabilities

Stories from the Field


Edited By David J. Connor and Beth A. Ferri

This book purposefully connects practice to research, and vice versa, through the use of deeply personal stories in the form of autoethnographic memoirs. In this collection, twenty contributors share selected tales of teaching students with dis/abilities in K-12 settings across the USA, including tentative triumphs, frustrating failures, and a deep desire to understand the dynamics of teaching and learning. The authors also share an early awareness of significant dissonance between academic knowledge taught to them in teacher education programs and their own experiential knowledge in schools. Coming to question established practices within the field of special education in relation to the children they taught, each author grew increasingly critical of deficit-models of disability that emphasized commonplace practices of physical and social exclusion, dysfunction and disorders, repetitive remediation and punitive punishments. The authors describe how their interactions with children and youth, parents, and administrators, in the context of their classrooms and schools, influenced a shift away from the limiting discourse of special education and toward become critical special educators and/or engage with disability studies as a way to reclaim, reframe, and reimagine disability as a natural part of human diversity. Furthermore, the authors document how these early experiences in the everydayness of schooling helped ground them as teachers and later, teacher educators, who galvanized their research trajectories around studying issues of access and equality throughout educational structures and systems, while developing new theoretical models within Disability Studies in Education, aimed to impact practices and policies.

“Fundamental to Disability Studies is the acknowledgement that all students—including those who have acquired labels—are competent, interesting people deserving of respect that includes access to rich, challenging curricula. The contributors to this text share their narratives of how they came to reject dominant assumptions of children assigned to special education as deficient, abnormal people in need of fixing. This book speaks to any educator who confronts human differences in their teaching or scholarship—meaning, all of us.”—Curt Dudley-Marling, Professor Emeritus, Lynch School of Education, Boston College

“This book is essential reading for accomplished as well as aspiring educators. Its power lies in twenty portraits of the personal and professional transformation that occurs when educators grapple with the dissonance between their own experience and the academic knowledge perpetuated by the field of special education. The authenticity of these stories prompts us to embrace our own moments of cognitive dissonance and courageously defy taken-for-granted or deeply indoctrinated precepts as we celebrate our own transformation.”—Beth Harry, Professor Emeritus, School of Education, University of Miami