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The conflict within: Resistance to inclusion and other paradoxes in special education



In the 30 years since the passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL. 94–142) in 1975 (subsequently the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) special education in the USA as an institutionalized practice has become solidified. Over the years, however, the practice of segregating students because of disability has come under increased scrutiny. Beginning in the late 1980s, an increasing number of parents advocated that their children with disabilities be put in mainstream general education classes. Emotionally charged debates over the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms ensued. In this paper we look at the public debates over inclusion and expose some of the paradoxes within special education that serve to hinder the integration of individuals with disabilities into general classes and, by extension, society at large.
Disability & Society
Vol. 22, No. 1, January 2007, pp. 63–77
ISSN 0968-7599 (print)/ISSN 1360-0508 (online)/07/010063–15
© 2007 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09687590601056717
The conflict within: resistance to
inclusion and other paradoxes in
special education
David J. Connor
* and Beth A. Ferri
Hunter College, City University of New York, USA;
Syracuse University, USA
Taylor and Francis LtdCDSO_A_205575.sgm10.1080/09687590601056717Disability and Society0968-7599 (print)/1360-0508 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis221000000January 2007Associate Professor
In the 30 years since the passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL. 94-142)
in 1975 (subsequently the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) special education in the USA
as an institutionalized practice has become solidified. Over the years, however, the practice of segre-
gating students because of disability has come under increased scrutiny. Beginning in the late 1980s,
an increasing number of parents advocated that their children with disabilities be put in mainstream
general education classes. Emotionally charged debates over the inclusion of students with disabil-
ities in general education classrooms ensued. In this paper we look at the public debates over inclu-
sion and expose some of the paradoxes within special education that serve to hinder the integration
of individuals with disabilities into general classes and, by extension, society at large.
Greatly influenced by the disability rights movement (Shapiro, 1993), efforts by US
parents of children with disabilities and their allies led to the passing of the Education
of All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) in 1975, which mandated a ‘free and
appropriate education for all handicapped children’. Before 1975 an estimated
4,000,000 children with disabilities in the USA did not receive necessary supports in
school, with another 1,000,000 received no schooling whatsoever (Friend, 2005).
Once P.L. 94-142 (now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA)
opened school doors for students with disabilities, clinical teams evaluated, labeled
and determined, with parental input, the educational placement for each student.
The law mandated that placements, selected from a continuum of options, be
provided in the ‘least restrictive environment’ (LRE). Soon after the implementation
of P.L. 94-142 professional debates ensued as to what constituted the least restrictive
*Corresponding author. Department of Special Education (RM 917HW), Hunter College, City
University of New York, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA. Email: dconnor@hunt-
64 D. J. Connor and B. A. Ferri
placement. Some questioned whether segregated placements led to either academic
or social gains beyond what would be achieved without special education (Semmel
et al., 1979). Others doubted that the academic needs of disabled students warranted
a wholly separate system (Stainback & Stainback, 1984). For many disability rights
activists the LRE was simply a loophole that enabled educational institutions to
continue to segregate people with disabilities (Taylor, 1988; Linton, 1998; Russell,
1998), concluding that segregated placements were overly restrictive and contra-
dicted the underlying intent of IDEA (Reynolds, 1989).
Despite mounting criticism, the majority of students with disabilities continued to
be taught in segregated settings. As a result, special education became an increasingly
separate institution, with its own practices, regulations, certifications and staff.
Furthermore, the research base of special education maintained a distinctly separatist
stance in relation to other fields of study (Brantlinger, 1997). Grounded in the medi-
cal model, special education was characterized as contributing to the longstanding
oppression experienced by disabled people (Oliver, 1996). Thus, despite seeing itself
as a service to students with disabilities, special education was increasingly positioned
as an oppressive force. Aligning with clinical approaches, much of the field either
ignored or defined itself in opposition to the evolving social model understandings of
disability advocated by disabled people themselves (Gallagher et al., 2004).
The issue of inclusion, while a seemingly simple concept, remains highly conten-
tious. To traditional special educators inclusion constitutes a dismantling of all that
is good about existing services for children with disabilities (Diamond, 1995; Kauffman
& Hallahan, 1995). To others, inclusion is not simply a service placement, but ‘a way
of life, a way of living together, based on a belief that each individual is valued’ and
belongs (Villa & Thousand, 1995, p. 11). In this respect inclusion is a philosophy that
challenges ableism. As Gerrard (1994) explained, inclusive education is ‘an issue of
social justice in which separate education and special education students is not only
unequal, but detrimental to the development of all students’ (p. 58).
The concept of inclusion has fundamentally changed the foundations of special
education. Indeed, the very apparatus of what legitimates special education as a field
has been called into question, including: the growth of disability categories and their
reification; the separate education and certification of teachers; academic journals
devoted to specializations; the burgeoning industry of professionals to serve the disabled
(therapists, counsellors, evaluators, school psychologists, etc.); separate schools; segre-
gated programs within existing schools; different funding sources, etc. Supporters of
inclusion have held a mirror to special education and asked ‘What is so special?’ Used
as a euphemism, ‘special’ serves as a gauze curtain behind which the word ‘disabled’
resides—perhaps too painful to be confronted as is. Sadly, more often than not ‘special’
(i.e. disability) becomes synonymous with exclusion, segregation and marginalization.
It is no surprise that inclusion has illuminated a growing divide within the field of
special education (Friend, 2005). In one commentary a prominent scholar wrote that
inclusion was ‘virtually meaningless, a catchword used to give a patina of legitimacy
to whatever program people are trying to sell or defend’ (Kauffman, 1999, p. 246).
While a harsh critique of inclusion, Kauffman inadvertently called attention to how
Paradoxes in special education 65
the term has been used in many ways by many people, including being colonized
by special educators who depoliticize its intentions, transforming inclusion into a
benign, well intentioned, pie in the sky fad. However, this cooption serves to highlight
ways in which the field of special education does not recognize the politics of disabil-
ity, so central to disability studies. This wilful ignorance is painfully evident in the
overwhelming majority of foundational texts in the field of special education, which
do not mention disability studies or disability rights (Brantlinger, 2006).
Public discourse on inclusion
In this article we explore resistance to the inclusion of students with disabilities into
mainstream classes over the last three decades and the solidification of special educa-
tion as an institutionalized practice. Rather than focus on professional literature (jour-
nals and textbooks) we concentrate instead on the public discourse about inclusion
in the editorial pages of several major newspapers. We specifically attend to opinions
about the merits (and demerits) of special education. Although we both identify as
disability studies scholars who remain critical of special education, here we are inter-
ested in what can be learned from attending to the ambiguity and paradox of a more
complicated view of special education. By asking ‘What can we learn from the tangle
of parental opinions regarding inclusion?’ we contemplate ways in which special
education has been both a service and disservice to students with disabilities. We
begin by looking at parental support for inclusion before looking at special education
first as a service and then as a disservice. This is followed with our analysis of the
editorial coverage of inclusion and a discussion of several inherent paradoxes within
special education that serve to hinder the integration of individuals with disabilities
into general classes and, by extension, society at large.
Data sources
To explore public discourses on inclusion we examined several major newspapers
from 1987 to 2002. During this time there was increased debate over the inclusion of
special education students in ‘regular’ classrooms, particularly after the reauthoriza-
tions of IDEA, including the 1990 and 1997 reauthorizations. We collected editorial
pages from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Atlanta Journal and
Constitution, as well as a sampling of other papers, including publications from the
UK, which was experiencing a parallel growth of inclusion. Altogether, we collected
approximately 250 editorials, ‘opposing viewpoints’ pieces and letters to the editor.
To begin placing these texts in their historical context we first look at the growth of
parental support for the inclusion movement.
Support for inclusion by parents
Convinced of the benefits of inclusion, many parents began to view placement in
general education as an entitlement. As Kathleen Boundy, an attorney with the
66 D. J. Connor and B. A. Ferri
Cambridge, Massachusetts based Center for Law and Education, said, ‘Instead of
proving that you have the right to be in you start with the right to be in’ (Wilgoren &
Pae, 1994, p. B1). In a letter to the editor Ruppmann (1991) directly challenged hith-
erto taken for granted assumptions about the benefits of special education place-
ments, writing:
The jury is not out on the question, ‘Do children and adults with mental retardation and
physical disabilities benefit from being placed together in segregated facilities outside their
communities?’ The answer is ‘No, they do not’. Overwhelming evidence shows that people
with severe disabilities do not thrive in isolated programs and settings. They achieve less,
and more important, they suffer from the loneliness and lack of choice imposed upon them
… . (p. A16)
A mother wrote that she once believed her child had a limited future, but because he
was included her son was now ‘a self-sufficient young man who is not going to need
a group home or supported work environment’ (DeFord, 1998, p. W08). Another
parent wrote that her child was:
now in his neighborhood school with his sisters, taking music, art and gym class with
his friends and neighbors. He may not be as intellectually capable as others in his grade,
but he has greatly improved his self-esteem and his desire to go to school. (Maushard,
1994, p. 1B)
Others report benefits to non-disabled children. An art teacher said ‘My own children
… [are] much more aware of handicapped people as just kids; they’re not as fearful.
I think as adults we’re accustomed to backing off. … This is a big advantage for every-
body’ (Applegate & Lu, 1998, p. A1). Conversely, some parents worry about a loss
of hard won services for their children. In the next section we look at some of the
reasons such parents seek to retain special education as an exclusive system.
Special education as a service
Although it is easy to see how special education has been problematic, it is undeniable
that the passing of P.L. 94-142 (IDEA) resulted in many benefits for students with
disabilities. The IDEA was designed to expand access and educational rights for
students with disabilities and it largely achieved its goal of ensuring greater access to
schooling and increased provision of services. Yet, an inherent paradox in special
education legislation and policy is the dual desire to ensure access to specialized
services and individualized education, while guaranteeing greater access to the least
restrictive educational setting.
Those writing in support of preserving special education remind readers of how far
society has progressed in educating children with disabilities. For example, Joan
Goodman (1992) wrote ‘As recently as the mid-1960s pediatricians still advocated
institutionalization and sterilization for the child with Down Syndrome’ (p. A15).
Not so distant history serves as a reminder of the severe conditions that existed for
children with disabilities, and perhaps accounts for the sense of gratitude expressed
by some parents for at least ‘getting in the door’. Lewin (1997), for example,
Paradoxes in special education 67
recounted the experience of Judy Heumann, former Assistant Secretary for the Office
of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services: ‘When I was a kid in Brooklyn and
my mother wheeled me over to the neighborhood school for kindergarten, they said
I couldn’t come there, I was a fire hazard. I was sent away to another school’ (p. 1).
Such accounts remind us that special education developed largely in response to
barriers in the general education system.
Funding is another concern of parents. As defined under federal law, special educa-
tion ensures ‘specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique
needs of a child with a disability’ (20 U.S.C. sect. 1401 [25]), including supplemen-
tary aids and services in the form of personnel and/or equipment. Advocates worry
that inclusion will siphon off needed funding away from students who most need it.
Some parents seek a middle ground, reserving the right to have their child placed
in a segregated special education environment as a preparation for future main-
streaming. One parent wrote:
After one year in a self-contained special education classroom, our son has improved
dramatically. His ability to socialize and forge friendships has developed into new and
rewarding relationships. Unable to hold a conversation just one year ago, he now ventures
forth haltingly with a new found confidence. His once-robust personality has reappeared.
(Kastens, 1995, p. A15)
It is interesting to note that the parent adds the caveat, ‘He will soon attain all of the
tools necessary for mainstream education’ (p. A15), indicating that general education
is still the ultimate goal. For some parents, however, the mainstream setting is not the
goal. In fact, this same mother contended ‘[inclusion] tosses the disabled child into
an environment in which the child cannot possibly develop, and in fact, may regress,
while simultaneously depriving the remainder of the class of critical instructional
time’ (p. A15). Thus, the worry is that children will lose ground in a general educa-
tion setting or they may come to be seen as a burden. Another mother recalled the
unfavourable experiences of her daughter, who ‘even now, after 20 years … expresses
painful memories of those experiences in a normal classroom’. She added that placing
a daughter in general education is ‘a cruel thing to do to … any handicapped person’
(Hunter, 1995, p. 7), revealing her view that exclusion amounts to a form of protec-
tion from a merciless world. Thus, special education is sometimes characterized as an
entry point to general education, a way of getting one’s foot in the door, or as a safe
haven from an unwelcoming general education system.
Special education as a disservice
Special education has had its detractors as well. Despite its rhetoric about least
restrictive environment, disabled students have very limited access to general educa-
tion. There are also gross disparities in the representation of race, ethnicity, class and
gender in certain special education categories. Many have also questioned the
unprecedented growth in the numbers of students labeled with ‘soft’ or subjective
disability categorizations and an over-reliance on testing. Others disparage the
68 D. J. Connor and B. A. Ferri
unprecedented growth in a special education ‘industry’, as well as the poor academic
results of students who are taught in special education.
For many students with disabilities gaining entry into general education classes has
been a long, hard and litigious road. In a landmark case, Hartmann v. Loudoun County
Board of Education (1997), parents were denied the right to have their autistic son placed
in a general education classroom. The ruling asserted that the mainstreaming provision
of IDEA is not considered a mandate, but rather a flexible directive. In addition, the
court claimed that mainstreaming was not required when (a) a student with a disability
would not receive benefit from such a placement, (b) marginal benefits would be signif-
icantly outweighed by benefits that could be obtained in a separate setting and (c) the
student is an ongoing disruptive force. Roxanna Hartmann, the child’s mother, stated
‘We want Mark to be a member of our society. … Mark has gained many skills in the
last three years, skills that would be lost if he is put in a class with four other autistic
children, as school officials have recommended’ (Wilgoren, 1994, p. B3). After the
ruling was made public some predicted that the ruling would ‘lead other school districts
to scale back programs to “mainstream” disabled children’ (Benning, 1997, p. D01).
Mark’s parents eventually placed their son in a private school at their own expense.
In another court ruling a judge claimed a teenager seeking to enroll in his neighbor-
hood school would be ‘isolated socially and academically’ and therefore a segregated
school constituted the least restrictive placement (Transfer of disabled student
rejected, 1988, p. B6). These examples indicate that despite parental advocacy,
students are often not welcome in general education classes. It is common to hear
teachers claim that they are not ready and/or unwilling to accept students with disabil-
ities into their classes. For example:
In a 1994 national survey by the American federation of teachers, the country’s second-
largest teachers union, only 11 percent of teachers said they were trained adequately. And
overwhelmingly, teachers believed inclusion is not appropriate for every child—particularly
those with severe and disruptive behavior problems. (Evans, 1996, p. 04H)
One teacher commented, ‘some times the learning-challenged students are the least
mature and the “biggest bullies” in the classroom. Teachers can’t be watching them
every minute of the day’ (Miller, 2002, p.16). Expressing resistance to inclusion,
(admittedly overextended) educators fear that disabled children would be disorderly
or disruptive.
Over-representation of race, class and gender
Historically, special education has been over-represented by certain groups, includ-
ing students of color, children from ethnic minorities, working class and poor chil-
dren and boys. Furthermore, when these markers of identity occur simultaneously
there is an increased likelihood that such children will be given a label of disability.
Recent research indicates significant disparities between special education referral
Paradoxes in special education 69
and placement rates for European Americans and Asian Americans compared with
African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans (Losen & Orfield, 2002). African
American students remain three times as likely to be labeled mentally retarded
as European Americans, twice as likely to be labeled emotionally disturbed
(ED), and almost one and a half times as likely to be labeled learning disabled (LD)
(Parrish, 2002, pp. 22–23). In fact, African American students remain the most over-
represented of all racial groups in nine of thirteen disability categories, a fact that
contributes to the restrictiveness of their school placement (Fierros & Conroy, 2002;
National Association of Black School Educators, 2002). The editorial pages occa-
sionally draw attention to the issue of racial isolation resulting from segregation based
on disability. One editor remarked:
The isolation is most frequent from Black and Latino children. These students are
frequently omitted from citywide tests, making it impossible to determine if they are being
educated at all. More drop out than graduate. … The current system holds no one truly
responsible for these failings. (Remaking special education, 1998, p. A28)
Research also documents the over-representation of males in categories such as LD
and ED (Carrier, 1986). In its hyperfocus on medical model understandings of
disability special education legislation has failed to adequately directly address issues
of poverty that impact on a disproportionate number of students who become labeled
disabled (Donovan & Cross, 2002).
Differential placement and outcomes by race, class and gender is an entrenched
and enduring problem. In a recent report on special education Saulny (2005) docu-
mented significant differences in graduation rates by race and gender. The report
found that students in special education who are white or Asian are twice as likely to
graduate as those who are black and Hispanic. The report also found that girls are
more likely to graduate than boys.
Since the early 1970s the US Office of Civil Rights has reported the persistence of
over-representation of minority children in categories requiring specialized clinical
judgement (Losen & Orfield, 2002, p. xv). As Hernandez (1999) stated:
most special education students … are classified as ‘learning disabled’ or ‘emotionally
handicapped’. Education experts contend that such labels are often loosely applied, partic-
ularly in cases in which teachers want to rid themselves of disruptive students. (p. B1)
Thus, special education literally becomes a way to ‘keep the peace’ by removing
students who might disrupt the status quo of the general education classroom.
The confining nature of special education
One editor illustrated the powers schools have to ‘condemn … [students] to special
education classes where they remain for the rest of their school careers (Remaking
special education, 1998, p. A28) (emphasis added). Systematic bias in the assessment
of students has been well documented (Artiles & Trent, 1994; National Alliance of
Black School Educators, 2002). Education is dominated by an obsession for testing
student ability (Giordano, 2005), but this is most pronounced in special education.
70 D. J. Connor and B. A. Ferri
Moreover, many school psychologists and clinicians continue to uphold outdated
beliefs about mental ability and continue to focus on the use of intelligence tests to
defend classifications and placements.
Although general education is often described as ignoring the needs of students with
disabilities, special education is also described as a bureaucratic labyrinth in which
students are neglected and fall through the cracks. Reports from segregated facilities
are particularly shocking. Ramirez and Patrick (1999), for example, wrote about a 9-
year-old boy named Freddy Ramirez, a wheelchair user who was ‘frequently … forced
to use the school’s toilet in a degrading manner. He had to lower himself to the floor
and crawl across the bathroom floor to the commode’ (p. A24). Such institutional
neglect of people with disabilities reinforces the danger of practices that position
people out of sight, out of mind (Shapiro, 1993). This fear led two parents to write
that they would never put their child back into special education because ‘It would be
like putting him back to sleep. … Like “OK, you’ve seen what real life is like, now go
back”’ (Evans, 1996, p. 04H). The notion of general education being ‘real life’ and
special education as ‘outside of real life’ is echoed in the following letter:
She was condemned to spend her adolescent and teen years growing up riding ‘special buses’
to faraway ‘special schools’ … . She was cut off by long bus rides from the playtime she had
enjoyed with neighboring children. And, with diminished self-esteem produced by the stigma
of separation, her socialization skills, despite much love and support, were permanently
damaged. … With a lifetime of regret as a platform for advice, I urge other parents to not
allow their children who may be showing slow learning tendencies to be shunted out of the
mainstream system and into the isolation that is ‘special education’. (Dickes, 2001, p. A10)
Other parents decry the low expectations associated with special education. One
parent, speaking of her son’s placement, wrote ‘My fear is that he’ll just give up and not
complete school. … Special education has affected his ability to even try’ (Richardson,
1994, p. A1). Another explained that although ‘The first year … [of inclusion] was
miserable … he has learned to read and write, which his special education teachers said
he never would do’ (Evans, 1996, p. 04H). Several stories focused on parents who ‘fear
that the special education classes, with their lower expectations, will fail to bring out
[their child’s] abilities’ (Goodman, 1996, p. 44). Finally, one mother drew attention
to the deficit model in special education, telling other parents ‘Don’t believe all the
things that you are told your child cannot accomplish … find out what they can accom-
plish’ (Matthews, 2002, p. A09).
Poor results of special education
Historically special education has yielded very poor academic results (Skrtic, 1991).
Because students with disabilities have been exempt from required statewide exami-
nations (Lipsky & Gartner, 1997) they are positioned as literally unworthy of count-
ing. One New York Times editorial noted that ‘The percentage of special education
students who graduated with Regents diplomas
increased to 8 percent in 2000, up
from 6.1 percent in 1999’, commenting ‘These gains are modest but suggest that at
least some disabled students could have been mainstreamed all along’ (Progress in
special education, 2001, p. A22).
Paradoxes in special education 71
In a letter, the president of the American Association of People with Disabilities
calls attention to disparities in outcomes for students in and out of special education.
He writes that:
Data from the [US] Department of Education show that national graduation rates for
students who receive special education have stagnated at 27 percent for the last three years,
while rates are 75 percent for students who do not rely on special education. (Imparato,
2001, p. 14)
The message is clear, reliance on special education disadvantages students with
disabilities. In a recent report Advocates for Children noted that only ‘12.3 percent
[of New York City students in special education] graduated with Regents or local
diplomas. … In addition, 12 percent received an alternative certificate, an Individu-
alized Education Diploma’ (Saulny, 2005, p. B5). These statistics confirm those cited
by Imparato and point out limitations imposed on students who do not meet stan-
dardized graduation requirements.
Engaging paradoxes in special education
Although we expected to see differing viewpoints in the editorial pages we collected,
we were struck by the oppositional views on inclusion, particularly by parents. We
define a paradox as two contradictory elements that coexist. Paradoxes defy easy reso-
lution as each side contains elements that exist precisely because they are defined
against another. The following are some of these paradoxes we uncovered, along with
some questions they raise.
Once in, where’s best?
Schleifer (1997), founder of Exceptional Parent, described how historically parents
struggled just to get children with disabilities in any school program. He wrote ‘Not
only were many of their efforts thwarted, but school personnel and other “experts”
commonly told them that their “unrealistic” expectations were putting their children in
jeopardy’ (p. 2). Parental knowledge has neither been valued nor heeded, despite legis-
lation that supports their input (Valle & Aponte, 2002). Parents may differ considerably
on the issue of placement: ‘Those who want their children in regular classrooms all day
long may accept no less than full inclusion. Those who feel their children need the secu-
rity of a separate classroom out of the mainstream, may be no less insistent’ (Special
focus on special kids, 1996, p. 06B). In essence, if parental or personal input is
respected we might expect that two students with the same learning profile and disabil-
ity classification would be placed in entirely different programs. Of course, ‘choice’
assumes that each option presented to parents and students is equally compelling and
Included in what?
General education classes are not always perceived as adequately prepared to meet
the needs of diverse learners. The ‘readiness’ of teachers in particular is often claimed
72 D. J. Connor and B. A. Ferri
to be lacking. As one member of the public noted, ‘It is absurd to plan inclusion of
students with significant disabilities in overcrowded classrooms where the teacher has
received no more than a crash course in special education’ (Puddington, 1998, p.16).
Although we most often talk about isolation in special education, alienation can occur
for disabled students in general education settings. One parent recounted the experi-
ence of her 8-year-old son with autism: ‘Some children tell him he is different, weird,
and he doesn’t know how to handle it. … He has no friends at school. He is devas-
tated about that’ (Moore & Hayasaki, 2002, p. 1). In a letter to the editor a wheelchair
user with cerebral palsy who had been included in 1970s recalled: ‘I was not greatly
accepted socially by my peers’ (Perricone, 1994, p. 81). One teacher, cynical of inclu-
sion, revealed: ‘Many of us see this as sharing the air in a building, but not really
having anything to do with the educational value for special education children. This
is not an education plan but a space plan’ (Saslow, 1999, p. 3). Thus, simply allowing
students to be present and visible is not the same as promoting interaction or integra-
tion. Anything short of full and meaningful participation, which will require funda-
mental changes in general education, violates the principles of inclusion.
Inclusion as oppression
In The illusion of full inclusion Kaufmann and Hallahan (1995) featured essays by
scholars who support maintaining separate educational facilities for children who are
blind and deaf, conveying the need for certain groups to be taught separately. Such
sentiments were supported in a newspaper article written by a sign language inter-
preter for a deaf girl in a Grade 11 inclusive classroom. In the article Cohen (1994)
described how the student was not included fully in academic or social activities and,
as a result, became overly dependent. Cohen believed that the student would benefit
from a school for the deaf ‘where all the students can converse with each other, all the
information is presented visually, teachers sign and deaf adults serve as role models
…’ (p. 11A). In addition, increased activities such as participation in student govern-
ment, acting in school plays and access to the deaf community would also be possible.
Cohen did not believe that her role as a sign language interpreter benefited this partic-
ular student, and concluded by stating: ‘To many Deaf people … [inclusion] is at best
maddeningly naïve; at worst, chauvinistic. The history of Deaf people is one of
mandated assimilation: we can make you more like hearing people, we can make you
more normal’ (p. 11A). Cohen’s observations raise questions such as: does inclusion
serve students with some disability, but not others?; are segregated or exclusive spaces
important in fostering community among disabled youth?
Inclusion as cost cutting
The cost of special education is enormous, with segregated placements costing as much
as three times that spent on non-disabled students (Lipsky & Gartner, 1997). Given
such poor results, funds may better be deployed elsewhere, such as in inclusive settings.
Inclusion has been viewed as a cost-cutting device, not motivated by humanistic
Paradoxes in special education 73
reform, but rather a means to bureaucratic fiscal prudence. Contrary to cost-cutting
theories, inclusion may prove even more costly than segregated education, depending
on how thoroughly and responsibly it is implemented (Villa & Thousand, 1995).
However, the inflexibility of funding sources sometimes impinges upon how inclusion
is put into practice. For example, providing and mobilizing staff on an as needed basis
does not provide the job stability and security sought by many professionals.
Inclusion as a civil right
Implementation of inclusion varies enormously. Pat Jones, parent and advocate for
disabled children, explained: ‘Inclusion is a sense of belonging’ (Librach, 1992, p. 1).
How does inclusion as a ‘sense of belonging’ compare with inclusion as a civil right?
While proponents of inclusion see it is a matter of social justice and civil rights
(Gerrard, 1994), courts have not always supported this stance and acted to ‘protect’
non-disabled students from ‘disruptive’ students (Hartmann v. Loudon County Board
of Education, 1997). One parent wrote ‘I feel strongly that my children in regular
classrooms have a civil right to learn without having their paths to progress disrupted
and diverted by the demands of a disabled child’ (Kastens, 1995, p. A15). How do
we weigh what are perceived to be competing civil rights?
Accountability and the No Child Left Behind Act
The intention of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) (PL. 107-110) is to
improve the academic achievement of all students. Students with disabilities are no
longer exempt from high stakes achievement tests. In such a high stakes testing envi-
ronment disabled children are more likely to be perceived as problems. A letter from
a teacher confirmed this phenomenon. She wrote ‘We have seen such children
become “unwanted” because they affect the league tables in a negative direction and
we have evidence of schools refusing to take such children before national tests’
(Chambers, 2000, p. 6). Others have echoed Chambers’ concern that the relentless
preoccupation with high stakes testing will—as it has done in the past—serve to justify
the exclusion of children with disabilities, a form of educational triage (Meier &
Wood, 2004). That government desired standardization of all students is a frighten-
ing notion, serving only to further reinforce socially constructed notions of
(ab)normalcy. We ask to what degree can inclusive practices be compatible with
prioritized high stakes testing? What alternatives exist for students with disabilities
who cannot meet benchmarks dictated by the state?
Significance and limitations of the evidence
Engaging with the media is a dynamic process in which textual representations mirror
reality while simultaneously influencing how reality is shaped. Similarly, newspaper
readers engage with diverse voices and opinions about inclusion. Readers therefore
engage in a democratic experience, as they open themselves to polyphonic influences
74 D. J. Connor and B. A. Ferri
from the general public—including parents and teachers, disabled and non-
disabled—via letters or interviews, as well as writers and editors who ‘have something
to say’. The concept of inclusion, important to every citizen, is no longer merely in
the hands of a small coterie of policy-makers and academics; it moves from govern-
mental offices and ‘ivory towers’ into the streets. The everyday press is important
because it informs and shapes public knowledge about all aspects of life, including
people with disabilities and their place in society.
A strength of engaging with the media may also be perceived as a limitation. Every
publication has an ideological grounding that influences its position on all topics. In
brief, information can be skewed in a particular direction, arguably misleading or
distorted, even consistently over a long period of time. In her study of how special
education was represented in the New York Times for three decades Rice (2006)
concluded that the periodical largely portrayed special education as costly, ineffective,
bureaucratic and out of control. In our own analysis inclusion is often portrayed as an
idealistic, cost-cutting device that will tip the scales and destroy general education
(Ferri & Connor, 2005). Rice pointed out, and we concur, that traditional special
education discourses within the mass media do not include the concerns of disability
studies (aligned with an inclusive philosophy), such as increased access to all aspects
of society, participation, citizenship, civil rights, social justice, empowerment and
In closing, we must observe that special education is not the nice, orderly system of
structures, categories and services that introductory textbooks would have us believe
(Brantlinger, 2006). Instead, while predominantly (and tenaciously) rooted within
the medical model of disability, special education is also an increasingly complicated
arena in which legal, psychological, scientific, social, cultural, historical and a host of
other discourses compete. However, despite being a field replete with tensions and
contradictions, special education is a space of much debate, but little action toward
social change. For example, we must ask, when much of what is done in the name of
inclusion is unsuccessful, how much of the failure is due to an educational system that
is not wholly interested in change or equity? Also, are the majority of non-disabled
‘special’ educators more invested in maintaining their own sphere of influence than
making substantial changes for people with disabilities?
We acknowledge that special education is a field that genuinely seeks to best educate
children with disabilities and certainly many parents doubt their children’s needs would
be met without it. Yet, given the overwhelming evidence of its shortcomings, perhaps
the greatest paradox of special education is that is both a service and a disservice. Given
the trends of the past 30 years it appears likely that we will continue to debate the need
for ‘special’, but let us remember the terms of exclusion which put special into motion.
Instead of being satisfied with the way things are, we might do well to view students
in special education as a statement about insufficient progress towards the integration
of people into society at large—and continue to push for inclusive education.
Paradoxes in special education 75
1. All of these categories, MR, ED and LD, are legal/education terms when referring to specific
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76 D. J. Connor and B. A. Ferri
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... (2011) Positive Memories as Protection DHOTI emphasized the significant role that exciting, inclusive experiences of play can have in creating lasting positive memories for disabled children and young people. Research shows that when disabled children and young people share memories of play and learning in school contexts they often focus on the barriers they experienced (Díez 2010) and moments of segregation and discrimination (Shar 2007;Connor and Ferri 2007). Reviews of public playgrounds highlight that lack of accessible play equipment and the impact on meaningful equal play opportunities for disabled children and young people (Fernelius and Christensen. ...
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During the international coronavirus lockdowns of 2020–2021, millions of children, youth, and adults found their usual play areas out of bounds and their friends out of reach. How did the pandemic restrict everyday play and how did the pandemic offer new spaces and new content? This unique collection of essays documents the ways in which communities around the world harnessed play within the limiting frame of Covid-19. Folklorists Anna Beresin and Julia Bishop adopt a multidisciplinary approach to this phenomenon, bringing together the insights of a geographically and demographically diverse range of scholars, practitioners, and community activists. The book begins with a focus on social and physical landscapes before moving onto more intimate portraits of play among the old and young, including coronavirus-themed games and novel toy inventions. Finally, the co-authors explore the creative shifts observed in frames of play, ranging from Zoom screens to street walls. This singular chronicle of coronavirus play will be of interest to researchers and students of developmental psychology, childhood studies, education, playwork, sociology, anthropology and folklore, as well as to toy, museum, and landscape designers. This book will also be of help to parents, professional organizations, educators, and urban planners, with a postscript of concrete suggestions advocating for the essential role of play in a post-pandemic world.
... People with disabilities were given education in a separate setting. Such a special educational arrangement for a specific group of people was commonly known as Special Education (Connor & Ferri, 2007); Ministry of education, [MOE], 2011). Theories of special education were mostly based on personal tragedy concept and medical model of disability (Christensen, 1996;Gustavsson, 2004). ...
Inclusive education is considered one of the greatest reforms in education all over the world. Today many countries are said to have legislations and policies to promote inclusive practices at all levels of education. Issues and needs pertaining to social, political, and economic developments have been better addressed through the lens of Inclusive Education. The paper briefly examines the most significant milestones of the international development of Inclusive Education with special reference to the dynamic evolution of education for people with disabilities in Bhutan, a small Himalayan country in Southeast Asia.
... An opportunity for encouraging exposure and inclusivity is missed by the exclusion of peers with IDDs in formal education settings. Despite the growing movement for inclusive learning [46], many people with IDDs remain segregated to special education classrooms, often with restrictive academic curriculum and limited exposure to neurotypical peers [47][48][49][50]. By design, postsecondary education options that are historically aimed at neurotypical students have been generally inaccessible to adults with IDDs. ...
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Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training can benefit STEM students. However, typical college settings often limit college students' exposure to adult peers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs), a historically marginalized group. To lower this barrier, we developed a continuing education program, Lifelong Learning with Friends (LLWF), aimed at adults with IDDs on a large university campus, which provides diversity training to college students. In this program, undergraduate and graduate students from scientific and education disciplines are recruited to volunteer as peers and helpers. LLWF has reached hundreds of students with and without IDDs each year and more than 1,500 over the past 12 years. In our program, college students gain DEI training through learning sophisticated academic topics, including sciences, alongside adults with IDDs. Almost half (42%) of surveyed LLWF college volunteers did not have prior exposure to people with IDDs. Following program participation, we found that, irrespective of prior exposure, nearly all (98%) of volunteers had elevated their expectations of people with IDDs and reported increased interest in IDDs-focused research, education, social interaction, and advocacy. Additionally, college volunteers reported that they improved their science communication by seeing how science could be taught to a broad audience that includes adults with IDDs. We therefore suggest that other universities may consider our LLWF model to enhance DEI training by expanding opportunities for neurotypical students to befriend and learn science alongside adults with IDDs.
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... It faces value variances, and conflicts can emerge in it due to integrating disadvantaged children from other races into the traditional school structure. In addition, due to the characteristics of inclusive education and user readiness-related factors, discords may emerge (Conner & Ferri, 2007). Moreover, people may perceive inclusive education as a dramatic change when it is introduced as an innovation, and parents and educators may hesitate to accept it (Haug, 2017). ...
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Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder often struggle to establish and keep positive relationships with peers and adults because of communication and social difficulties. It has been shown that humanoid robots and virtual agents can enable interventionists to maximize engagement during instruction and program for generalization. Humanoid robots have also been employed as a mediator and therapeutic support tool for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder so that inclusive education for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be achieved. Similarly, the findings obtained in many research studies carried out recently support the use of technology-aided interventions and instruction with interactive virtual agents on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Therefore, in this study, the use of humanoid robots and virtual agents for inclusive education is reviewed and a pilot study is presented. In addition, challenges, opportunities and future research directions in this domain are provided.
p>The work presents the results of approbation of the approach to expert evaluation of inclusive practices in educational institutions developed at the Institute for Problems of Inclusive Education of the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education based on the integration of inclusiveness criteria and evidence requirements. The assessment involved 25 federal experts on inclusive education, who evaluated 30 cases in three nominations of inclusive practices submitted to the federal stage of the competition. The assessors scored the applications by completing expert protocols, which were processed to determine the level of inclusivity of the practice (zero, initial, basic, or advanced). Then a reflective discussion was organized on the application by experts of the approach we developed to assessing inclusive practices according to the criteria of inclusiveness and evidence, the results of this discussion were subjected to thematic analysis. The study revealed that the distribution of expert assessments of inclusive practices by levels differs from uniform (p < 0,01), confirming the effectiveness of the criteria as an assessment tool. At the same time, the reproducibility of the results of the expert assessment turned out to be at an acceptable level (83%), taking into account the unreliability of differentiation of the zero and initial levels (sample of repeated measurements: N = 12). The thematic analysis of expert reflection showed the usefulness of evaluation criteria as a tool not only for examination, but also for the development of expert thinking of the experts themselves, as well as the professional development of the contestants. Also, the results of the thematic analysis revealed the need for a broad discussion and further study of the key categories of inclusion (diversity, participation, acceptance, etc.) to operationalize them more accurately as inclusion criteria.</p
In this article we examine how, despite the understanding that a special school is not an inclusive setting, the senior leadership team (SLT) at Forest Academy Trust perceive their special schools as inclusive. Document reviews, interviews and a culminating focus group appear to indicate that possibilities for inclusive education may be related to a shared ethos of inclusion, resources, accessible opportunities, individualised approaches, and collaborative networks. These data also provide a critical insight into the perils related to inclusive education in multi‐academy trusts (MATs). The study of this MAT highlights the need for changes to policies, access to and equitable distribution of resources, curricular freedom balanced with accountability, a shift toward collaborative networking and partnership, and a shared vision for enactment, which may be leveraged in order to provide equitable and sustainable system‐wide inclusive practices.
The original version of this chapter was written in response to an invitation to Gerry Zarb and myself to present some findings of research we had recently completed on ageing with a spinal injury at an international conference in Denver, Colorado. Initially we were to do a joint presentation but subsequently we were asked to present separate papers which took into account theoretical developments and policy contexts.
The media claim to speak with authority on educational issues and thus play a major role in the construction of public messages about special education. Discursive constructions of "special education" portray the landscape of possibilities within which much of the public comes to understand what special education is , influencing their understanding and judgment of it. The purpose of this paper is to analyze public constructions of "special education" using editorials published in The New York Times from 1975-2004. Using critical discourse analysis, this paper reveals themes developed over time as well as the ways language is used to construct a particular view of "special education." Alternative discourses are suggested to counter the hegemonic presentations by the Times editors.
Who Benefits From Special Education?: Remediating (Fixing) Other People's Children addresses the negative consequences of labeling and separating education for students with "disabilities," the cultural biases inherent in the way that we view children's learning difficulties, the social construction of disability, the commercialization of special education, and related issues. The theme that unifies the chapters is that tension exists between professional ideology and practice, and the wishes and expectations of the recipients of professional practice--children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and their families. These voices have rarely taken center stage in formulating important decisions about the quality and characteristics of appropriate practice. The dominant view in the field of special education has been that disability is a problem in certain children, rather than an artifact that results from the general structure of schooling; it does not take into consideration the voices of people with disabilities, their families, or their teachers. Offering an alternative perspective, this book deconstructs mainstream special education ideologies and highlights the personal perspectives of students, families, and front-line professionals such as teachers and mental health personnel. It is particularly relevant for special education/disabilities studies graduate students and faculty and for readers in general education, curriculum studies, instruction theory, and critical theory.
From the distinguished authors of Beyond Separate Education comes this panoramic view of inclusive education -- past, present, and future. Grounded in historical perspective and fueled by contemporary accomplishments, the insightful discussions in this volume cover a wide range of issues, from program implementation to court decisions. Emphasizing the need for the concurrent development of inclusion and school restructuring, the authors share with policy makers, administrators, school board members, teachers, and parents their solid understanding of school reform, as well as a vision for the 21st century.
Racial inequities pervade special education in U.S. schools today. Minority children-especially African Americans-are far more likely than white children to be designated mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed and therefore in need of special education. Even when appropriately placed in special education classes, minority children often receive poorer services than disabled white children. This book explores the inequities experienced by minority schoolchildren in special education. These issues are examined as problems in their own right, and as reflections of persistent racial inequities in our system of public education. Racial Inequity in Special Education describes the scope of these problems, and provides a comprehensive review of attempts by legislators, child advocates, and educational and civil rights enforcement agencies to address these complex issues. The authors outline essential areas for further research and dialogue. An illuminating account of a widespread problem that has received little attention until now, Racial Inequity in Special Education sets the stage for a more fruitful discussion about special education and racial justice-a discussion that aims to advance racial equity in both special and general education.
Racial inequities pervade special education in U.S. schools today. Minority children-especially African Americans-are far more likely than white children to be designated mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed and therefore in need of special education. Even when appropriately placed in special education classes, minority children often receive poorer services than disabled white children. This book explores the inequities experienced by minority schoolchildren in special education. These issues are examined as problems in their own right, and as reflections of persistent racial inequities in our system of public education. Racial Inequity in Special Education describes the scope of these problems, and provides a comprehensive review of attempts by legislators, child advocates, and educational and civil rights enforcement agencies to address these complex issues. The authors outline essential areas for further research and dialogue. An illuminating account of a widespread problem that has received little attention until now, Racial Inequity in Special Education sets the stage for a more fruitful discussion about special education and racial justice-a discussion that aims to advance racial equity in both special and general education.