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We Are All Emotional Intersectional Beings: A Necessary Ingredient for Affective Intersectional Inclusion for ALL
What do we all have in common, yet at the same time experience qualitatively differently? We all experience a range of positive, negative and in-between emotions as we live our daily lives as human beings with multiple and intersectional identities (Crenshaw, 1991). Having multiple and intersectional identities with a range of emotionality, are two sides of the same coin. By intersectional we mean that a person can embody and experience cultural practices, such as reading out loud in a classroom or participating in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting for their child, differently, given their multiple identities. For example, an African American woman will experience cultural practices differently than an African American man or an emergent bilingual who also happens to be Mexican. Dominant institutionalized narratives about historically and continually marginalized youth at their intersections, particularly the intersections of race and ability, persist to this day leading to misunderstandings (Hall, 1997; West, 1993).
This positioning of marginality existed in institutions such as the courts through single dimensional recognition of individual’s rights and personhood which leads to social patterns and practices of segregation based on gender, language, racial/ethnic, ability, and class differences (Crenshaw, 1989). In other words, our identities might include being a mother, father, student, sister, teacher, husband, partner, paraprofessional, special educator, general educator, and/or student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a Specific Learning Disability such as Dyslexia, Autism, Down Syndrome, or Emotional Behavioral Disorder. However, we are not only these, but have other identities that make us vulnerable to the perceptions that societies and cultures have inherited due to these past histories. Given these vulnerabilities, oppression and marginalization exist in multiple, simultaneous ways. An intersectional understanding of folks’ identities would not allow us to forget this.
Frierian philosophy directs us to recognize the full humanity of all persons which includes aspects of affect and emotionality, as well as the individually unique positionality and experiences shaped by our individual identities and intersectional lives. Some of these emotions might include anger, sadness, frustration, irritation, indignation, powerless, joy, disappointment, love, pride, and hope. We might experience more than one of these emotions at a time. Our emotions, feelings and affects and our intersectional identities, within educational contexts and cultures may, given our culture-less and identity-less dominant perceptions, be unacknowledged (Artiles, King-Thorius, Bal, Waitoller, Neal, & Hernández-Saca, 2011; Artiles, 2017, October 19; Hernández-Saca, 2017). It is important to acknowledge and act in ways that respect such complexity and lived experiences particularly within the context of education.
Literature on parent-school relationships documents how families from historically marginalized communities continue to feel alienated from the bureaucracies associated with schools (Harry, Allen, & McLaughlin, 1995; Trainor, 2010), as do their children. Specifically, consider the following key findings about how many school and transition personnel often fail to engage with culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) families and youth with disabilities, by Greene (2011). This study finds that they often–
- Do not possess critical knowledge and skills related to the multiple dimensions of cultural and linguistic diversity (CLD);
- Do not respect CLD parents and youth with disabilities involved in the transition process;
- Do not acknowledge the hopes and dreams for the future held by CLD families and youth with disabilities;
- Do not engage in culturally responsive collaboration with CLD families and youth with disabilities in a way that makes them feel valued, listened to, and respected during the transition planning process. (p.118-119)
Similar patterns of intersectional marginalization have been documented at different grade levels. Gallo (2017) conducted a multi-year ethnographic study and documented the ways in which teachers enacted gender, racial, and immigration bias towards Mexican immigrant fathers of elementary age children in Pennsylvania. Gallo (2017) observed the increased marginalization of Mexican immigrant fathers, whose presence engendered greater suspension and surveillance in school and educational settings. Manifestations of this, she noted, often took the form of being ignored at parent-teacher conferences, and through teacher discourse about their parental engagement in language-building and literacy activities with their own children, as subversive and detrimental to academic development (Gallo, 2017).
One explanation for this might be the deficit-thinking dominant in society about CLD youth at their intersections and their families. This deficit-thinking in turn becomes lies that circulate as “true” within society, communities, schools and individual minds about CLD youth and their families. According to sociologists, these lies are social constructions and stereotypes about particular individuals based on their membership in a particular identity group (Ainlay, Becker, & Coleman, 1986). We have come to understand the traditional memberships (race, gender, sexual orientation, social class) as “identity badges” (Artiles, 2015). However, from a cultural historical approach to human development and activity, we can also see that professional, cultural, and other types of roles carry with them stereotypical residues, which, in light of the histories of violence against such groups, create vulnerability to stereotypes about who and how capable they are. Ginsberg, Kamat, Raghu, and Weaver (1995) pointed out the pervasive, yet public myth that teaching is an apolitical activity. This predicament makes it imperative to remind ourselves that we are all human[s] who experience the full range of negative, positive and in-between emotions, and that for too long our educational and broader culture has used these emotions as a mechanism of exclusion as opposed to inclusion.
How we critically feel and think about who counts within a community is a deeply ingrained and learned phenomena that has the potential to either humanize or dehumanize, or at worst, create the other (Said, 1978). In creating the other, we construct an image of that person in our own way, a way that is deeply false to who they are and disconnected from reality and humanity (Powell, 2012). Since building relationships involves emotionality, and relationships are central to education, we argue that attention to how we build relationships is imperative for quality teacher education, special and general education policy, and practice. One way of accomplishing this feat involves the study of emotionality and affect in teacher learning about social justice issues for theory, research, and practice. We care deeply about students with dis/abilities at their intersections and their families and believe their human development and well-being is necessary to create an inclusive psychology, school, and world for ALL.
Because of our own unique intersectional identities within the system of education and society, we each experience qualitatively different lives. I (first author) am Latino of mixed ethnicity, of El Salvadorean and Palestinian descent, gay, and labeled with an auditory learning disability. I (second author) identify as a Mexican-American woman, Texas native, with a health impairment that affects the way I structure and access school and work environments. However, what we both have in common is: 1) our dehumanizing experiences within the educational system that hurt us and our opportunities to learn; and 2) our passion for educational equity for all that centers the role of unconditional and radical love (Fromm, 1956). In our view, unconditional and radical love has the potential to re-envision educational policy and praxis—the coupling of critical thinking and action—for historically and continually marginalized youth with dis/abilities at their intersections and emotional states.
As a fairly new teacher educator I, David, have come to understand my role in the last year and a half as listening to my pre-service teachers’ fears, hopes, passions, dreams, and witnessing how they make sense of their developing understanding of critical educational equity issues. These issues include: White Supremacy, whiteness, cultural diversity, disproportionality (the over or under representation of students of color and minority students in special education compared to their white counterparts), special and general education law, the history of deinstitutionalization for people with dis/abilities in the U.S., questions related to whether special education and general education should merge, collaboration between special and general educators, the importance of intersectionality for serving historically and continually marginalized youth and their families, and other critical issues in special and general education.
All of these critical issues in special and general education have legal precedent and it is of critical importance for new teachers, at their intersections, to also understand how their future students and their families are qualitatively differently situated within the system. The legal precedent includes federal special education laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P.L. 108-446), and federal general education laws such Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (P.L. 89-10), later renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (P.L. 107-110) and more recently Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) (P.L. 114-95).
Developing a critical consciousness of such issues beyond the technical dimensions of teaching and learning is a central goal of the courses I teach in teacher preparation. The two courses are 1) special education law, assistive technology, and advocacy and 2) transition planning and programming for students with disabilities at their intersections. Developing a critical consciousness includes creating new knowledge that will help students build skills and dispositions as agents within the system about the technical dimensions of teaching and learning but also about social justice and philosophical aspects. These include not only issues of oppression as their students are evolving as human beings, for example, but also who they are and are becoming as teachers, along with them.
We are also reminded by scholars like Tuck and Yang (2014) that researchers have a moral obligation to move beyond the “collec[tion] of stories of pain and humiliation in the lives of those being researched for commodifications” (p.223). Adhering to this principle we seek to create a space for general and special education teacher practitioners, education researchers, and students with dis/abilities at their intersections, and parents, to reconcile the existing tensions and intersections we see in our relationships with students with dis/abilities at their intersections and education systems. As a necessary first step to unpacking these beliefs, we recognize two implicit tensions which shape how teachers, students with dis/abilities at their intersections and parents from historically and continually marginalized populations interact in educational spaces. These are special education IEP committee meetings, and the communication and advocacy efforts of parents within schools on behalf of their students.
First we call for an examination of the explicit and implicit values, assumptions, and perspectives embedded in educational policy at large, specifically policies of special education. By this we mean we want to start more conversations about the connotations, denotations, and expectations associated with the rights, responsibilities and entitlements of school districts, students with dis/abilities at their intersections, and their parents. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to trace the historical shifts and opinions of policy makers, judges, and public opinion towards the protection of the educational and civil rights of students with dis/abilities at their intersections and responsibilities of their parents to protect these rights over time, we do note the shift over time that has increasingly placed responsibility on students with dis/abilities at their intersections and parents to protect their rights (Turnbull, 2005).
Second, we acknowledge that the material realities in which we find ourselves as humans are continuously shaped by the visible and invisible forces of capitalism and class as well as capital (Bourdieu, 1986) derived from our identities and backgrounds that include economic capital (class background), social capital (educational attainment and other status markers), and society’s labels based on singular categories of race/ethnicity, class, gender, etc. All of these intersect and create multiple forms of oppression and marginalization within educational contexts which are meant to provide access, participation, and positive outcomes and capital in the first place. The question that emerges from these two points is, what concrete steps we can take to change how we as teachers, students, and parents interact and work together in educational spaces.
Though not a final, or fully developed answer (if even one exists) we suggest that teachers, mentors, and all persons must challenge themselves to take up two mind-and-heartsets that will create repositioning of power, equity, and inclusive collaboration in this work:
- Consider equally, and perhaps foreground our treatment and relationships with others in a way that positions the person before the disability label and the policy rather than the standard (or historical) practices of placing the student’s disability before a notion of students as an individual human being; and
- Work to intentionally operate from a value-neutral position in which we withhold judgement and check our biases about those individuals with whom we work (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2011), and use a lens of empowerment evaluation centered on 10 core principles that include: “Improvement, Community ownership, Inclusion, Democratic participation, Social Justice, Community Knowledge, Evidence-based strategies, Capacity Building (we add in others/persons), Organizational learning, and Accountability” (Fetterman & Wanderson, 2004. p.30).
With these objectives in mind-and-heart we hope to begin creating space in communities about the potential for re-shaping how we work together towards both internal and external inclusion for ALL. We do want to point out, however, that given the status quo and the deep asymmetrical legacies of power-relations embedded within U.S. education, we also encourage the readers to continue to question what counts as “evidence” within positivist structures (Heshusius & Ballard, 1996) that attempt to “prescribe” “evidence-based” practices as “universal.” Asking who benefits and who doesn’t and other questions of power, privilege, representation, and difference are not asked in assessing “strategies” or in other words “scripts” for human interactions within learning and teaching contexts. These “scripts” we submit further construct and impede authenticity, love and justice, and lead to further dehumanization and hence colonization. We believe this alternative mind-and-heart paradigm, as a way of being, doing, feeling and seeing, can contribute to a generative language and emotionality that humanizes and can work toward educational equity for ALL.
 We chose to use the term emergent bilingual instead of English Language Learner (ELL) given that ELL centers the power of English, and reproduces the hegemony of English, while the former term acknowledges not a deficit view or assumption of individuals learning another language which happens to be English and denotes a positive and robust repertoires of linguistic practices that the language learner can engage in learning beyond English.
 We chose to use the term culture-less and identity-less as opposed to “color-blind,” given that the latter is a species of ableist language since it connotes “blindness” as a deficit. In addition, these two words emphasize the role of culture and identity in all human activity, when often times these two words are only associated to particular ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Indigenous groups. When in fact, those at the center of power in the U.S., such as White, cisgendered, abled-psychoemotional and bodied, upper-class, English-only speaking, and those who embody other hegemonic identities, also have culture, but they might not be aware of it given that they are the center of power and these identities have become normalized and hence are at the center of the historical assimilationist project working to and through people who embody such positionalities and hence it is difficult to be introspective as a culture or an individual when you don’t question your culture or the role of power in your identities that are privileged within the larger social imaginary of what counts to be human.
 Given our Disability Studies in Education (DSE) dispositions, we add a dash to the term, “disabilities,” to underscore the fact our belief that people with dis/abilities have both abilities and impairments and in given our belief in the social model of disability we see dis/ability as an identity marker to be proud of, as opposed to something to diagnosis and remediate. The latter would be the medical model of disability.
 By emotional states, we don’t purely take a psychological stance on emotion, feelings, and affect, but one that is interdisciplinary in nature that understands emotional states as social constructions and sociocultural in nature as well.
 From a Disability Studies in Education approach, it is important to acknowledge that some people with disabilities would prefer a disability identity-first language and it is perfectly fine to put the disability identity first. This is so, given that disability is seen from a minority model approach where disability serves as a political identity in order to garner civil rights (Longmore, 2003).
 Nevertheless, we want to be explicit about the importance of understanding that we are not advocating for “objectivity” here, since we understand that there is no such thing. Moving beyond binaries of subjectivity and objectivity is important to build upon one’s inclusive critical thinking and acting within educational relationships and systems. In addition, as stated earlier in the blog, teaching and (un)learning is a political act and antithetical to neutrality.
Ainlay, S. C., Becker, G., & Coleman, L. M. (1986). The Dilemma of difference: A multidisciplinary view of stigma. New York, NY: Plenum.
Artiles, A. J., King-Thorius, K., Bal, A., Waitoller, F., Neal, R., & Hernández-Saca, D. I. (2011). Beyond culture as group traits: Future learning disabilities ontology, epistemology, and research knowledge use. Learning Disability Quarterly, 34, 167-179.
Artiles, A. J. (2015). Beyond responsiveness to identity badges: Future research on culture in disability and implications for RTI. Educational Review, 67(1), 1-22.
Artiles, A. J. (2017, October 19). Re-envisioning equity research: Disability identificationdisparities as a case in point. Fourteenth annual AERA Brown lecture in Education Research. Retrieved from: http://www.aera.net/Events-Meetings/Annual-Brown-Lecture-in-Education-Research
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Research for the Sociology of Education (241-258). New York, Greenwood. Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). P.L. 89-10.
Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA). P.L. 114-95.
Fitzpatrick, J.L., Sanders, J.R., & Worthen, B.R. (4th Ed.) (2011). Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines. New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon.
Fetterman, D. M., & Wandersman, A. (2004). Empowerment Evaluation Principles in Practices. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Fromm, E. (1956). The art of loving. New York, NY: Harper Row.
Gallo, S. (2016). Mi padre: Mexican immigrant fathers and their children’s education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Ginsberg, M.B., Kamat, S., Raghu, R., & Weaver, J. (1995). Educators and politics: Interpretations, involvement, and implications. In Ginsberg, M. B. (Ed.). The Politics of Educators’ Work and Lives. New York, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
Greene, G. (2011). Transition Planning for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Youth. Brookes Transition to Adulthood Series. Baltimore, Maryland: Brookes Publishing Company.
Hall, S. (1997). Race, the floating signifier. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.mediaed.org/transcripts/Stuart-Hall-Race-the-Floating-Signifier-Transcript.pdf
Harry, B., Allen, N., & McLaughlin, M. (1995). Communication versus compliance: A three-year study of the evolution of African-American parents’ involvement in special education. Exceptional Children, 61(4), 364-377.
Hernández-Saca, D. I. (2017). Re-framing the master narratives of dis/ability at my intersections: An outline of a research agenda. Critical Disability Discourses/Discours critiques dans le champ du handicap, 8, 1-30.
Heshusius, L. & Ballard, K. (1996). How do we count the ways we know? Some background to the project. In Heshusius, L. & Ballard, K. (Eds). From positivism to interpretivism and beyond: Tales of transformation in educational and social research (The mind-body connection), (pp. 1-16). New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). P.L. 108-446.
Longmore, P.K. (2003). Why I burned my book and other essays on disability. Philadelphia: PA: Temple University.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB). P.L. 107-110.
Powell, J. (2012). Racing to justice: Transforming our conceptions of self and other to build an inclusive society. Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
Trainor, A.A. (2010). Diverse approaches to parent advocacy during special education home-school interactions: Identification and use of cultural and social capital. Remedial and Special Education, 31(1), 34-47.
Tuck, E., & Yang, K.W. (2014). R-Words: Refusing Research. In Paris, D. & Winn, M. (Eds). Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp.223-248). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Turnbull, R. H. III. (2005). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization-Accountability and personal responsibility. Remedial and Special Education, 26(6), 320-326.
West, C. (1993). Race matters. Boston, MA: Beacon Press
By Timothy E. Hornik, LMSW, CATIS, US Army Veteran and Founder of Blind Not Alone.Tim is a disability and Veterans advocate pursuing a PhD in Therapeutic Sciences through the University of Kansas Medical Center. He adheres to Dr. Ed Canda’s concept of transilience, or going beyond who you were before to become someone new. He has earned various military and civilian recognitions for his service.
As we flip through social media feeds it is common to hit upon anything from a shared post on some fitness app, like Straba, to “liking” a friend’s running race results These posts may motivate us to remain physically active or inspire us to establish health and wellness goals (Teodoro & Naaman, 2013). Our timelines and feeds lead us to conclude that the society generating our online experiences clearly cares about physical fitness. Unfortunately, the National Institute of Health recently reported otherwise. In the last decade one out of three American adults and 13% of American adolescents achieved an average body mass index (BMI) classification of either overweight or obese (Ng et al., 2014).
For individuals with disabilities, the chances of being overweight or obese are even greater. In 2010, The Center for Disease Control reported 57% more adults and 84% more adolescents with disabilities were overweight and/or more obese than their peers
Factors such as access to quality nutrition, financial and social resources to engage in physical fitness-related activities, secondary effects of medications or conditions, and access to suitable equipment and programs, directly impact these elevated rates (Jaarsma, Dijkstra, Geertzen, & Dekker, 2014; Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2006).
However, by understanding how to achieve fitness goals, individuals with disabilities may reverse national trends. In a study of older adults, moderate to vigorous physical activities three times a week lowered their mortality rates by 22% (Hupin et al., 2015).
Children who participated in a group aerobic and strength training program for 60 minutes twice a week achieved fitness goals established by the 2010 President’s Fitness Test for their age groups (Fragala-Pinkham, Haley, Rabin, & Kharasch, 2005). For adults, research pinpointing precise strategies or fitness requirements vary based on an individual’s disability. Community and group programs tend to do more than just empower one to reach their fitness goals, they more importantly aid in the process of accepting a disability or adopting a positive disability identity (Lai, Young, Bickel, Motl, & Rimmer, 2017; Lundberg, Taniguchi, McCormick, & Tibbs, 2011; Ponchillia, Ponchillia, & Strause, 2002).
The impact of fitness goals goes beyond health and wellness. It alters self-perception. Consider an individual who has just lost their sight. It’s common for people in this position to feel suddenly secluded. The simple act of going for a run resides largely outside of their abilities without accommodations and supports. No cane technique affords one the chance to truly hit a moderate to vigorous running pace and cycling independently remains elusive—at least for the time being. The solution requires a community approach. Blind Running or cycling quickly becomes a team sport through sighted guides and tandem captains. An individual’s results range from the achievement of fitness goals, to a sense of belonging, to engagement with community, to empowerment in establishing new independent living goals (Ponchillia, Ponchillia, & Strause, 2002)
The sense of positive effects of being a part of something greater than oneself in achieving a previously impossible goal echoes my feelings generated during my time in the US Army before losing my sight — and in every race or event I’ve participated in since then. My sight loss stems from injuries sustained during combat operations in Iraq. The Warrior culture places a significant value on one’s ability to demonstrate individual physical prowess during fitness tests and to developing a sense of cohesion, improved morale, and esprit de corps through group activities.
Throughout my military service, my fitness goals pushed me to exceed minimum requirements and obtain the maximum score possible. Early in my career, I managed to easily achieve this, earning the respect of those under my leadership and generating a high level of self-confidence. These feelings of accomplishment came crashing down after I lost my sight and could no longer independently run, cycle, or do a host of other activities.
During my rehabilitation process, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Army Wounded Warrior Program, and friends and family contributed to developing my disability identity. Initially I rejected outright all attempts to integrate tools and skills which brought any attention to my blindness. The only exception involved assistive technologies for computers. This would align with my love for computers and an understanding of the role they would play in my remaining time in the Army. At no point during this period did anyone attempt to assess my capacity for setting goals in adaptive sporting or recreational programs.
Nearly a decade after being injured, Richard Hunter, a blind Marine, drew my attention to adaptive sports through his events for the visually impaired division of the California International Marathon. While I participated in a couple of events for disabled Veterans, none of them truly demonstrated the power of adaptive sports to foster life changing dynamics between peers, volunteers, and community supporters. It mattered not whether one crushed the marathon with a two and a half hour time or if they putzed through a leg on a relay team like I did. We all celebrated, regardless of our differences, together. For the first time, I truly felt proud to be blind.
It does not matter whether one establishes a goal to win their division or to simply participate. I continue to feel this way throughout any of the events I attend. When Dr. Mike Reynolds and I competed in the 204 mile Dirty Kanza gravel race, we constantly found ourselves surrounded by other riders asking about tandem riding. The funniest part is that no one realized I was blind until they saw me crossing the stage with Dr. Reynolds with my white cane to mount the first-place podium for the tandem class. Likewise, my sighted running guide, Chris Benjamin and I, spent much time talking with each other and fellow participants during the Kansas City Marathon and the Trolley Run.
It is high time for adaptive sporting programs to cease to be viewed as hobbies or remedial recreational programs for individuals with disabilities. Rather, rehabilitation plans and individual educational plans need to incorporate fitness and adaptive sporting measures. This would benefit individuals with disabilities by providing the tools needed to combat obesity, promote disability acceptance (Lundberg et al., 2011), forge lasting community bonds (Zabriskie, Lundberg, & Groff, 2005), and increase employability (Lastuka & Cottingham, 2016).
Fragala-Pinkham, M. A., Haley, S. M., Rabin, J., & Kharasch, V. S. (2005). A fitness program for children with disabilities. Physical therapy, 85(11), 1182-1200.
Hupin, D., Roche, F., Gremeaux, V., Chatard, J.-C., Oriol, M., Gaspoz, J.-M., . . . Edouard, P. (2015). Even a low-dose of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces mortality by 22% in adults aged≥ 60 years: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2014-094306.
Jaarsma, E., Dijkstra, P., Geertzen, J., & Dekker, R. (2014). Barriers to and facilitators of sports participation for people with physical disabilities: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(6), 871-881.
Lai, B., Young, H.-J., Bickel, C. S., Motl, R. W., & Rimmer, J. H. (2017). Current trends in exercise intervention research, technology, and behavioral change strategies for people with disabilities: A scoping review. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 96(10), 748-761.
Lastuka, A., & Cottingham, M. (2016). The effect of adaptive sports on employment among people with disabilities. Disability and rehabilitation, 38(8), 742-748.
Lundberg, N. R., Taniguchi, S., McCormick, B. P., & Tibbs, C. (2011). Identity negotiating: Redefining stigmatized identities through adaptive sports and recreation participation among individuals with a disability. Journal of Leisure Research, 43(2), 205.
Ng, M., Fleming, T., Robinson, M., Thomson, B., Graetz, N., Margono, C., . . . Abera, S. F. (2014). Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The lancet, 384(9945), 766-781.
Ponchillia, P., Ponchillia, S., & Strause, B. (2002). Athletes with visual impairments: Attributes and sports participation. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB), 96(04).
Teodoro, R., & Naaman, M. (2013). Fitter with Twitter: Understanding Personal Health and Fitness Activity in Social Media. ICWSM, 2013, 611-620.
Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian medical association journal, 174(6), 801-809.
Zabriskie, R. B., Lundberg, N. R., & Groff, D. G. (2005). Quality of life and identity: The benefits of a community-based therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports program. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 39(3), 176.
All doctoral students and faculty in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas participate in specializations. The six specializations include the Strengths Based and Inclusive Approaches to the Education of Adolescents with Extensive and Pervasive Support Needs sequence of which I co-lead. I suspect that our specialization has the longest program sequence name in the entire field of education and it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Because several of us have had a hard time getting the full name correct when asked, we’ve started calling it Strengths Based Inclusive for short.
Leaving the length of the name aside for a moment, there are probably many people outside of the field of special education, and perhaps some inside as well, who might be curious about our focus on “strengths”. After all, our doctoral sequence is intended to prepare scholars whose future work concerns children and adults with disability diagnoses that are consistent with intellectual disability and related developmental disabilities. Isn’t that population different from the general population because of their deficits?
The definitions that are used for diagnoses of disability clearly suggest that evidence of a deficit is a distinguishing characteristic. For example, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), intellectual disability is “a disorder with onset during the developmental period that includes both intellectual and adaptive functioning deficits in conceptual, social, and practical domains” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 33). This deficit-based definition and approach to understanding people with disabilities is consistent with what has traditionally been known as the medical model of disability.
Identifying deficits within a person can be useful to the extent that deficits can be prevented or remediated. Certainly, preventing neurological impairment and teaching people useful skills are worthwhile endeavors. However, the downside to the medical model becomes apparent in instances where a condition cannot be prevented (i.e., the central nervous system is already formed) and achievement gaps cannot be fully remediated, even with the very best instruction.
When viewed through a medical model lens, a condition that cannot be fixed is understood to be a chronic pathology. An implication of such a conceptualization is to focus professional efforts on caring for people in specialized settings, much like people who are physically ill being provided care in a hospital. Pathologizing and medicalizing disability has historically resulted in restricting people’s opportunities to participate as full citizens in society.
An alternative to the medical model is a social-ecological model to understanding disability, where disability is understood in terms of the fit between a person’s competence and the demands of community environments. Understanding people this way focuses professional efforts on modifying the context in which people function. It is important to point out that a social-ecological conceptualization does not call for denying that people with disabilities experience limitations in personal competency. Their limitations in competency, however, are not their most salient characteristic. According to a social-ecological conceptualization, the most important difference between people with disabilities and the general population is that people with disabilities need extra support to successfully participate in daily life activities in community settings. Educators and other human service professionals are called to prioritize time and energy on (a) making environments and activities more accessible and welcoming, and (b) identifying and arranging personalized supports so that a person can successfully participate in culturally valued settings to afford access to rich life experiences.
So, in terms of the real world, what does this changing conceptualization of disability really mean? I know a young man whose life experiences provide a good example of the power of a strengths-based, supports oriented, and inclusive approach to working with people with disabilities. For the past five years this young man has been employed as an office worker in one of the world’s largest insurance companies. His job involves sorting and delivering mail and running an array of office machines, while often being pulled away from his own duties to help others in the office who are in a pinch. From a deficit-based perspective, an observer could point out that it took him longer to learn his job tasks compared to others whom his company might have hired, and he has continued to require more direction and coaching on the job than most other employees. He might never had been hired had the focus been placed solely on these challenges.
Instead, his strengths were taken into consideration and he has proven to be an excellent, long-term employee. Although he could not learn job tasks as quickly as others, this was not a weakness that kept him out of the job market. Rather, his commitment to learning helped him master the duties his job required, and once he learned them he learned them well. The fact that he needed more direction and coaching than others did not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to job success. Rather, his job required someone who was willing to follow directions from others, and it was important to have someone who could be counted on to do job assignments as directed. His eagerness to help others and his flexible disposition were strengths that served him well in a job that required him to step away from his normal duties and assist others who found themselves in a time crunch. Perhaps his most important talents were his cheerfulness and ability to bring out the best qualities in others. These personal strengths had a positive effect on the office climate, which enhanced everyone’s productivity and motivation.
It would be a mistake, however, to limit consideration of people’s strengths and talents to only those that are directly relevant to success at school or on a job. Most people want to embody and share different sides of themselves; that is, they seek multiple ways to demonstrate their strengths and make contributions to the world. Having a multi-faceted life may even be essential to living a fulfilling life. Can we envision people with extensive or pervasive support needs in non-vocational and non-student roles? Can we envision them as artists, preachers, chefs, gardeners, travel enthusiasts, athletes, sports fans, or in any other culturally valued role that grows and asserts itself from an inner passion? Can we encourage people with extensive or pervasive support needs to develop their strengths in ways that enable them pursue life experiences that truly enhance their quality of life? A story from Psychology’s history shows what can happen when people with intellectual disability are allowed to discover their dormant/hidden/undervalued strengths.
In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, a group of adolescent girls and women with developmental disabilities were living at a state institution in Iowa with nearly 2,000 other residents. Near to the institution was a severely overcrowded and understaffed state-run orphanage. The orphanage was in dire straits due to a perfect storm of an increasing number of destitute women who simply did not have the means to take care of their babies, a decreasing number of families that were in any economic position to adopt, and a dearth of public funding for human services. Infants at the orphanage were failing to thrive physically and intellectually due to a lack of stimulation. With literally no room to place another baby, two infants (15 and 18 months old) who showed signs of significant developmental delays were temporarily moved to women’s cottages on the grounds of a state school in Iowa. Dr. Skeels (1966), who chronicled the events, recalled, “The youngsters were pitiful little creatures. They were tearful, had runny noses, and sparse, stringy, and colorless hair; they were emaciated, undersized, and lacked muscle tonus or responsiveness. Sad and inactive, the two spent days rocking and whining” (p. 5).
Six months after placement, Dr. Skeels (1966) visited the wards of the institution where the babies had been left. He observed two toddlers “smiling, running about, responding to the playful attention of adults and looking like any other toddlers” (p. 6). He did not recognize them as the two “pitiful” babies that had been sent from the orphanage a little over a half of a year ago. He returned to the orphanage, which was in every bit of disarray as it was six months earlier, and concluded “There seemed to be only one alternative, and that a rather fantastic one; namely to transfer mentally retarded children in the orphanage nursery, one to two years of age, to an institution for feebleminded in order to make them normal” (Skeels & Dye, 1939/2002, p. 21).
Dr. Skeels convinced the State of Iowa to allow him to identify the infants with intellectual disability in the orphanage. Half were sent to the institution (the experimental group) and half remained at the orphanage (the control group). A follow-up two years later showed the experimental group infants were thriving while the control group infants were languishing (Skeels & Dye, 1939/2002). The experimental children lost their diagnosis (i.e., they no longer met deficit criteria for intellectual disability) and 12 of the 13 were adopted by families. When the children from the two groups were contacted 25 years later, all of the experimental group children were found to be self-supporting adults, compared to only 4 of the 12 control group children (Skeels, 1966).
Psychology was still a relatively young field at the time of Dr. Skeels’ study, and by today’s standards his research was significantly flawed in terms of scientific rigor. Many would suggest it was flawed ethically as well (How could they leave half of the children in the orphanage, knowing that they would be neglected?). From a research standpoint, the biggest problem was that data collection and analyses were overly focused on IQ score changes; infant and early childhood IQ scores are notoriously unreliable, and therefore IQ was not valid as a dependent measure. However, despite questionable data, Dr. Skeels’ main conclusion was spot on. Namely, babies need stimulation and human contact (e.g., touch, affection) to flourish. Neglectful early environments can result in a failure to thrive with long-term effects. Dr. Skeels deserves credit for influencing a line of research targeted to understanding how experiences and conditions early in life can affect future physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development.
Unfortunately, very little is known about the women who cared for these neglected babies. But, what is known is both beautiful and heartbreaking. Skeels and Dye (1939/2002) reported that each child was placed on a ward that included 30 institutional inmates (this was term used at the time for institutionalized adults) who they described as older girls, and one attendant (there a was staff hierarchy, with matrons and assistant matrons in charge of the wards, and attendants were the lowest level of employee). We also know that “in the case of almost every child, some one adult (older girl or attendant) would become particularly attached to a given child and would figuratively ‘adopt’ him” (p. 25). But, everyone contributed. “The girls would spend a great deal of time with the children, teaching them to walk, talk, play with toys and play materials, and in the training of habits. Most of the clothing for these children was made by the older girls. The girls were so fond of the children that they would actually spend their small earnings and allowances to buy them special foods, toys, picture books, and materials for clothing” (p. 24).
The pitiful infants certainly brought a priceless gift with them to the institution. Namely, they offered those who were willing to love them the opportunity to discover their own strengths and talents, and to find additional meaning in their own lives. What a delightful change of pace it must have been to have a baby on the ward to love and to hold. What joy these babies must have brought to their temporary mothers. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl (1992) explains how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning through his experiences. He writes:
Being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself (p. 115).
After 2-3 years at the institution, the toddlers were removed and returned to the orphanage because they were now perceived to be promising candidates for adoption. Did the mothers take pride in the work they had done? Did they celebrate the fact that they had provided their child with an opportunity for adoption by a family? Were they even aware that this was the child’s likely fate? Or, was a child, who was loved dearly by a group of women, taken away from them without much explanation? Did any of them question why, despite their efforts and success, they were no longer considered to be worthy to be mothers, or even provided opportunities to maintain their relationships with these children?
Skeels and Dye’s (1939/2002) famous study offers little to us today in terms of guidance in regard to child development. There is far more solid research documenting the importance of optimizing the early years of a child’s life. The most relevant lesson we can take away from their study concerns the importance of understanding people with disabilities by their strengths and seeing their potential to enhance the lives of others with whom they are associated. The women from the Glenwood State School were briefly provided an opportunity to discard their identities as institutional inmates, and discover their strengths as healers and mothers.
In the Strength Based Inclusive sequence the efforts of students and faculty members coalesce around research agendas that bring to light the strengths and gifts of people with extensive and pervasive support needs. We strive to prepare future educators to see past disability labels while recognizing and fostering the talents of their students. As long as the faculty and students in our doctoral program sequence remain true to these ideals, it is probably OK if we continue struggle to correctly recall the full name of our sequence.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Frankl, V. E. (1992). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy (4th ed.). Beacon Press: Boston, MA. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/MansSearchForMeaning-English
Skeels, H. M., & Dye, H. B. (1939/2002). A study of the effects of differential simulation on mentally retarded children. Proceedings of the American Association on Mental Deficiency, 44, 114-136. Reprinted in J. Blacher & B. Baker (Eds), The Best of AAMR: Families and Mental Retardation: A Collection of Notable AAMR Journal Articles Across the 20th Century. American Association on Mental Retardation: Washington, DC.
Skeels, H. M. (1966). Adults status of children with contrasting early life experiences: A follow-up study. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 31 (3, Series No. 105).
James R. Thompson, Ph.D. has over 30 years of experience in the field of developmental disabilities as a direct support professional, special educator, rehabilitation counselor, teacher educator, and researcher. He has authored or co-authored over 70 books, book chapters, monographs, and articles in professional journals, and has directed multiple federal and state funded research and model demonstration projects. His primary research focus for the past 15 years has been on support needs assessment and planning with children and adults with intellectual disability and related developmental disabilities. He is the lead author of American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ Supports Intensity Scales (both the adult version and the children’s version), the first assessment tools to provide standardized measures of the support needs of people with disabilities. The Supports Intensity Scales have been translated and published in 13 languages, and are being used throughout the United States and world. Jim serves as Editor of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
Dr. Thompson serves as a Professor in the Department of Special Education, Senior Scientist at the Beach Center on Disability, and Associate Director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities. He has previously served on the Board of Directors for the AAIDD and the Council for Exceptional Children’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Division. He currently serves as Editor of the professional journal, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
By Barbara A. Kerr. Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology, University of Kansas (KU) School of Education.
Teachers, you know the old story. A guy is walking along the beach where a tsunami has swept thousands of starfish ashore. He is throwing one starfish at a time back into the sea. Another guy walks up to him and says, “So many thousands of dying starfish. What do you accomplish by throwing one back in the sea? What does it matter?” The first guy says, as he throws another one, “Mattered to him.”
Sometimes, I am sure you feel like you are surrounded by struggling starfish. Decades of reduced funding, blaming teachers for students’ failure to meet test goals, and school closings mean that teachers, students, principals are demoralized by the long siege of the “reformers”. You’re tired of building seawalls against the tsunami… writing letters, organizing, going to meetings, speaking out… and I know that sometimes you just want to quit.
Before you quit teaching, let me have a word. I want to implore you to save a starfish. I want to encourage you to find ONE creative kid. Wait – I heard your train of thought: Creative = gifted = elitism = one white kid from a middle-class family. Just stop. I’m not talking about that. Forget the labels and the complex identification procedures for gifted education that so often favor more privileged students who have been exposed to the kinds of experiences and opportunities that are often assessed as part of the formal processes for determining/labeling who is gifted who is not.
Creative students who have potential to become innovators in the arts, sciences, social vocations and entrepreneurship are some of our most neglected students. Creative kids are everywhere. In fact, creativity knows no boundaries of race, class, gender, disability or any other category devised to divide us. For example, a number of great inventors came from low-income families that had to make do, to fix things, and to tinker with an engine or a recipe until a solution is found that works. Some eminent women writers were considered at-risk.
All kids are curious, engaged in their own learning adventures, and in love with ideas. It might be the girl or boy who reads alone at recess or insinuates his or herself into the basketball game, or spends more time drawing the four square court than playing the game. It might be the kid who doodles no matter what. It might be the kid who knows everything there is to know about videogames but doesn’t do his homework. Curiosity and creativity is part of human experience. For some students, creativity trumps all other preoccupations. Writing, building, coding, drawing, and emoting make school livable.
Find that kid. Teachers are good at finding creative kids – yes, my research says so – look it up. (“Finding Tomorrow’s Innovators: Profiling Creative Adolescents”) Using your intuition and your knowledge will help you recognize the creative kids around you. You can look up our five categories of traits: Verbal and linguistic skills, mathematics and science, spatial and visual skills, interpersonal and emotional skills, and music and dance (Kerr & McKay, 2013).
I think you already know what a future inventor, artist, writer, or leader looks like. Curious, quirky, independent, single-minded, nonconforming, and sometimes a little weird – find that kid. Ask, “What are you drawing…that looks amazing!” “Tell me about that book you’re hiding in your lap. What’s it about? What do you like about it?” “How did you figure out how to make that – it works great!” That’s how the conversation starts. Then find out what he or she wants to know about that topic, and give the gift of knowledge. Slip her a book to read. Tell him where he can find an animation software program. Show him an article on Japanese cultural influences on early Nintendo games. Now keep the conversation going, every day. Share your enthusiasm for the student’s passions with the parents. Find a friend who knows something about that kid’s interest, and introduce that person to the family—that’s social capital. Look for after-school programs or a summer camp that fits, and find a local library, museum, or college where that child has never been – and get him or her there – that’s cultural capital. Find and raise scholarship money for those programs – that’s capital. Talk about careers, and help the kid develop their own agency to pursue their goals. Finally, follow up, even after the school year is over. “What are you doing now? What’s your latest project? I’d love to see it!”
Pretend you’re in the post-apocalyptic scenario that has seized the imagination of a generation, and find one kid to hold safely in your hands. Keep that child safe, shelter that child from the storm. One day, he or she will find, with your help, the creative community where ideas and new enterprises can thrive. Be an advocate for that creative child until that day comes when you can throw your starfish into the sheltering sea of like souls.
Maybe you will discover what I did. When you find one kid, when you see her or him, when you authentically collaborate with one kid, you learn something about yourself. Perhaps you will re-awaken your love for teaching. Perhaps you awaken your own curiosity and passion for learning and new ideas. When we acknowledge the mysterious human gifts of exploration and creation in others, we find it in ourselves. To rescue starfish is to rescue ourselves.
Kerr, B. A., & McKay, R. (2014). Smart girls in the 21st century: Understanding talented girls and women. Tucson AZ: Great Potential Press.
Kerr, B. A., Cohn, S. J. (2001). Smart boys: Talent, manhood and the search for meaning. Scottsdale AZ: Great Potential Press.
Kerr, B. & McKay, R., (2013). Searching for tomorrow’s innovators: Profiling creative adolescents. Creativity Research Journal, 25(1). 21-32. DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2013.752180
Barbara Kerr, Ph.D. holds an endowed chair as Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of Kansas and is an American Psychological Association Fellow. Her M.A. from the Ohio State University and her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri are both in counseling psychology. Her research has focused on the development of talent, creativity, and optimal states, while training psychologists and counselors to be talent scouts who provide positive, strengths-based services. She founded the Guidance Laboratory for Gifted and Talented at the University of Nebraska; was Associate Director of the Belin-Blank National Center for Gifted and Talented at the University of Iowa; and co-director of the National Science Foundation projects for talented at risk girls at Arizona State University. She is editor of the recent Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent Development, and author of Smart Girls: A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness; A Handbook for Counseling Gifted and Talented; co-author of Smart Boys: Talent, Masculinity, and the Search for Meaning, Counseling Girls and Women and over one hundred articles, chapters, and papers in the area of giftedness, talent, and creativity. She currently directs the Counseling Laboratory for the Exploration of Optimal States (CLEOS) at the University of Kansas, a research through service program that identifies and guides creative adolescents. With Karen Multon, she has co-directed the NSF Project, Milestones and Danger Zones for STEM Women. Barbara Kerr specializes in optimal human development and positive psychology, counseling of gifted and creative people, gender issues in counseling, and spirituality. Web site: http://cleos.ku.edu/
By Federico R. Waitoller
Let’s talk about charter schools, disability and race. Three topics that tend to be discussed separately, but they stick together like bread, peanut butter, and jelly. Ok, here is a warning; I am going to start with a jargony sentence, but I promise that by the end of the blog it won’t be so jargony. Here is my sentence. First, read it, take a minute to digest it, and then continue reading it. Are you ready?
Charter schools are an ability and racial project associated to the production of urban space.
To illustrate this jargony sentence, let me share with you a quote from a participant from a recent research project that I conducted in Chicago with Black and Latinx parents of students with disabilities who experienced conflicts with charter schools. Her name was Janet, a Black parent of a student identified with Autism living in a Black segregated neighborhood that had being impacted by extreme poverty since the 1970s, and also by school instability due to school closings, including turnaround schools (see Figures 1 and 2).
Janet, had a history of poor experiences with neighborhood schools. Before enrolling in the charter school, her son attended to two turnaround schools in where the constant turnover of personnel affected the delivery of special education services received by her son. After these experiences, Janet felt without school options. “I just was being failed by all of these schools out there. The charter was our last resort,” she said.
Once in the charter school, her son received uncountable disciplinary sanctions, including numerous suspensions. When reflecting about her experiences in the charter school Janet shared with me,
Race has a lot to do with it because I feel like they just automatically assume, “Well, since you’re black, you’re poor, you come from a broken home, you’re a single parent, and your child has problems because of that. Not because of his disabilities, his routines, his environment at school. Well, because he’s adopted, he’s black, you’re black, this is a black area, and those are your problems. That’s why your kid is actin’ up, so let us just fix him. We’ll get him right. We’ll have him like a robot in no time if you just calm down and let us, and it’ll be better that way. We’re gonna push him.” They go off of—they taught my son chants and songs that he’s going to college every day. I don’t have a problem with that. I do want him to go to college, but I feel like it was kind of a brain washing mechanism that they’re using with these kids, like black people are down here and poor, and white people go to college and they’re up here. I have a bachelor’s degree. You’re a poverty stricken black family and let us show you what you can do to improve everything in your life, your child’s.” Comin’ into these areas, these neighborhoods, and puttin’ up these—factories is a good analogy, and your kids are the product. It’s all about numbers. “Well, Miss Baker, calm down because our stats say it’s working.” “Your child is an exception, and we’ll whip him into shape.”
Wow! Do you need to read it again? Please do so.
Lets unpack this quote together, shall we?
Janet perceived charter schools as saviors coming to Black areas to “fix” Black student so that they can get to College. By the way, Janet’s son was in early elementary grades. The deficit discourse about black communities is clear-cut. Indeed, the large majority of charter schools in urban areas market themselves as beacons of academic and disciplinary rigor and a path to college for low-income students. Offering flashy educational opportunities for families that had far to few, if any. A brochure from an elementary charter school in Chicago stated its how as, “how to best support our students as they grow and prepare to compete with their peers in college preparatory high schools and four-year colleges, ambitiously pursue career opportunities.” Charter schools target specifically certain areas of the city of Chicago affected by gentrification or by poverty and school closures (see maps in Figures 1 and 2). They become a “spatial fix” for the kinds of neighborhood in which Janet’s leave. They are associated to process of urban space and economic development. On the one hand by trying to revive certain area of the city that are prime for real state investment and in the other hand by producing subjects (mostly black students) that are disciplined and trained to contribute to the market economy.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with preparing students for college. That is not my point, nor was it Janet’s point. The problem is the paternalistic and deficit discourse about black communities. This deficit discourse had material consequences. The charter school employed a combination of mechanisms that were exclusionary and resulted in pushing Janet and her son away from the school: the school that she considered her last school option.
These mechanism included a combination of (a) denying certain services that Janet son had in his IEP, (b) applying a strict disciplinary and academic code that did not account for Janet’s son disability, (c) having inexperienced and untrained teachers, and (d) explicitly suggesting her to move her son to another schools in where he could receive better services. If students could not perform in such inflexible, non-supportive, and normalizing environment, they were weeded out or suggested to leave. This was the case of Janet’s son.
In Janet’s family’s case, race and disability intersected in two ways. On the one hand, by dis/abling race through negative and racist attitudes toward black children, the charter schools positioned themselves as saviors that came to “Whip children into shape” so that they can become productive subjects and attend to college, and ultimately contribute to a market economy. On the other hand, by racializing disability, the academic and disciplinary practices of charter schools positioned black children as dis/able and incapable to succeed in an environment that was never designed with them in mind.
If charter schools are to become a solution to educational inequities, they should not be excluding any student. Otherwise, charter schools are like and old wine in a new bottle. Old forms of exclusion based on racism and ableism are now renewed and mutated under the banner of school choice. Exclusive spaces come to replace exclusive spaces.
So, can charter schools become inclusive rather than exclusive? I mean not a just a few exemplary cases, but all of them or at least the vast majority. Otherwise, they are not options for parents who live in spaces where those schools do not exist. And, even if those schools are an option for parents like Janet, do we want students of color to attend such paternalistic, meritocratic, and punishing spaces? Do these spaces have communities of color best interests or what purpose do they serve? Whose cultural, political, and economic values informed charter schools’ practices?
I think even when regulated and in their best form, charter schools will struggle to deliver their promises of equitable inclusive education. First, market responses to educational inequities present services for particular students, or we also may say particular identities. They are selective by design. In order to market themselves, charter schools have distinct missions that differentiate them from other schools. They have a particular market niche (e.g., disciplining student of color in areas perceived as unsafe and marginalized). Their teaching practices represent such missions, as in the case of Janet. Their goals are not to be inclusive but exclusive to certain kinds of students.
Second, the problem of market of responses to inequities such as charter schools is that they address students with disabilities and other underserved populations in paradoxical terms. They are commodities that are desirable but also disposable. That is, on the one hand, these students signal new opportunities for market expansion and commodification (e.g., charter schools economically benefit from enrolling students). Students with dis/abilities, particular those of color, are understood as eternally lacking and in constant need of new commodities (a charter school education) to be individuals that contribute to the market economy. Charter schools offer the services to whip these students into shape and the promises of being included in the market economy. On the other hand, students with disabilities are perceived as threats to the “ideal individual” that contributes to the market economies (i.e., productive, independent, disciplined, and self-entrepreneur) and therefore, they are a threat to the core identity of the charter school and need to be disciplined, fixed, and normalized. Otherwise, they need to be pushed away.
To end, I want to go back to our starting phrase; Charter schools are an ability and racial project associated to the production of urban space. That is, charter schools are located in urban spaces occupied by black (also Latino families) families that have suffer years of poverty due to neglect and disinvestment or in spaces that are seen as prime for real state development (i.e., gentrification). After various poor educational experiences, Black and Latinx parents that I interviewed living in such spaces were lured by the promises of charter schools: a safe space in unsafe neighborhoods and the so coveted access to college. Once in the charter school, however, they experience new forms of exclusion at the intersections of race and disability. In the end, the charter school promises vanished, and parents found themselves again looking for another school in an educational market that treats them as disposable. Charter schools, race, and ability have a sticky relationship.
About the Author
Dr. Waitoller is an assistant professor in the department of special education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research focuses on urban inclusive education. In particular, he examines how neoliberal informed polices, such as top-down accountability, portfolio district models, and school choice converge with inclusive education efforts, and how these initiatives affect Black and Latinx students with dis/abilities. His research also examines teacher learning efforts and pedagogies for inclusive education.
When I enrolled in my first college class as a special education major in the Fall semester of 1978, it was with both the excitement of a pioneering adventure and apprehension of the enormity of the task. Excitement because only a few years earlier (1975) the landmark Public Law 94-142 had been passed and the field of special education was growing in leaps and bounds.
Apprehension because—well, because there was so much to do. PL 94-142—now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—opened the school doors for literally thousands upon thousands of children and youth with disabilities who, prior to that Act, were denied a free public education in most places in the country. I began my teaching career in 1980 and throughout that decade can remember adolescents coming to school for the first time in their lives.
In 2015, I had the privilege of speaking at the U.S. Department of Education’s celebration of the 40th Anniversary of IDEA. It was a time to reflect, to admire the journey, to celebrate the progress, and to take stock of what remained to be done. In other words, it was a time of excitement to celebrate the impact of that landmark Act, and a time of apprehension about the enormity of the task that remained. Yes, there was much accomplished in that 40-year span, and we must not take for granted what has been achieved nor forget those who worked so hard to get us to this point. Yet, there is still much to be done. Students with disabilities are still too often segregated from their peers without disabilities. Special education remains, in the minds of too many, a place to which students are sent, rather than specially-designed instruction. Students with disabilities are held to low expectations and IEPs still too often reflect student deficits and not their strengths.
On July 1 of this year, I had the honor of becoming the chair of the KU Department of Special Education. I do so with a sense of both—well, you guessed it, excitement and anticipation. Excitement for the innovations that will result from the research, teaching, and service from our internationlly-renowned faculty. Excitement for the opportunity to interact with world-class doctoral and graduate students. Excitement for the growth of the highest quality online graduate programs in the country. Excitement for the opportunity to work with alumni who are changing the field and friends of the department who support our efforts. Excitement to work with teachers and administrators and students in schools across Kansas, the U.S. and, indeed, the world. We are uniquely positioned to lead the field into whatever is next. In fact, it is what we do… we lead the field in new directions. Dr. Elizabeth Kozleski has provided exceptional leadership to the department and we are stronger as a result. Anticipation? Well, we are not the same faculty I joined in 2001. Many of those pioneers have retired and started new adventures. We, as a faculty, need to create our own identity, forge our own path, and build on the legacy that we have inherited. The challenges are, in some way, more difficult. The easy problems in education have been solved, what are left require partnerships, creative thinking, and elbow grease. And yet… there are few, if any, departments better situated to take on these tasks: To generate the next big idea that changes how students with disabilities are educated; to train the next generation of leaders in research and practice; to influence policy that leads to full citizenship for all. It is what we do… we lead the field in new directions. I look forward to working with you in whatever role you have in our department as we start this part of the department’s journey.
Michael L. Wehmeyer, Ph.D., is the Ross and Marianna Beach Distinguished Professor in Special Education and the chairperson in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas. He is also Director and Senior Scientist for the Beach Center on Disabilty at KU.
Elephants, American Indians, and the Circus
by LeAnne Howe
My mother collected elephants, bronze, ceramic, silver, large and small urns shaped like elephants, and even a belt with the silver images of marching elephants. After she died in 2003, my brother and I were going through her things and dividing the mementos that we each wanted to keep. I chose her elephant collection. Today the yellow, or gray, or silver elephants of all shapes and sizes rest in various places nooks and crannies in the house that has been passed down from my grandmother, to my mother and now me.
Until I began the research for my novel Mike Kings: An Indian Baseball Story (Aunt Lute Books, 2007) set in Ada, and later research for our new play, Side Show Freaks and Circus Injuns, co-authored with Monique Mojica, I had no idea why my mother was drawn to elephants. But it seems that circuses and elephants loomed large in the minds of American Indians in southeastern Oklahoma, and certainly in my mother’s imagination. Small and intermediate-sized circuses began coming to Ada, Indian Territory, as early as the 1890s. The Ada Weekly News began writing about the circus in Ada in 1904.
When circuses came to Ada, they always parked in Daggs Prairie about six blocks from my grandmother’s house. My mother and my great aunt Euda and their friends would always sneak in the backside of the circus tents and watch the elephant, tiger and bears that were part of the circus acts. Sometime around 1929 my great aunt Euda joined the circus, and she traveled all over the world as a circus performer. Euda was only a few years older than my mother, and the two looked like sisters and remained very close until their deaths.
Enter Sideshow Freaks and Circus Injuns
Over the past seven years I’ve been working with indigenous actress and playwright Monique Mojica, and others on an indigenous research project for our 70-minute play about mounds, mound building and theatrical performance. Both Monique and I had family members that were in the circuses. Our play involves developing new Indigenous performance models based dramaturgically on Indigenous cultural texts: earthworks. Indian Mounds were built by layering different kinds of soils one upon the other. As Indigenous playwrights Monique and I will employ the deep structure of earthworks as dramaturgical models. Our soil layering will be represented in the stories we “layer in the play” with circus acts and our two principle characters, Panther Girl and Invisible Woman. We began our research at mound sites by asking a simple question: How do Natives embody the lands of their origin? To help with our research we talked with tribal elders and residents in Native communities in close proximity to mounds, and we visited mound sites from Canada to Louisiana, and read historical documents.
What we found was that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, modern circuses parked on mound sites. Why mound sites is a little unclear, but one guess is because the sites were ready made for the circus tent. I’ve since wondered if my great aunt Euda had played Indian on any of these mounds sites.
The Western Hemisphere is populated with mounds and earthworks in various ages from the Archaic, Early Woodland, Middle Woodland, and late Woodland/Mississippian periods. In the Southeast some of the great mound cities are Poverty Point (Louisiana), Moundville (Alabama), Nanih Waiya (Mississippi), and Okmulgee (Georgia). Other earthworks known as Hopewell era sites are located across Ohio and the Ohio Valley. At one time, hundreds of thousands of mounds, including embankments, conical mounds, platform mounds, and effigy mounds, dotted Indigenous North America, beginning as early as 4000 BCE. The very name “Turtle Island” connotes a vast effigy mound rising out of the water.
In studying mounds as Indigenous literatures, we asked other questions. Are the earthworks embodied mnemonics aligned with moon and sun rotations to show future generations of Natives when and where to converge at specific sites? Another indication of the return motif. One thing is certain, the circus always returned to Ada to perform for two weeks at a time, as if following in the footsteps of indigenous people who designed “return elements” via cosmic alignments at all these mound sites in Native north America.
Today at Hugo, Oklahoma, located within the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is Showmen’s Rest, Circus Cemetery for all the “showmen under God’s big top.” Indeed, it’s a graveyard of circus performers of ages past. You will note the elephant statues that graces the graves of past circus performers. Hugo, the second oldest Choctaw town in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, has been a “popular winter headquarters for traveling circuses, earning the nickname “Circus Town, USA,” according to Hugo’s website.
In finding out so much of the history of the circus that came to town and enticed my family members to join it has been a joy and a sorrow. A joy because they were brave people to uproot themselves. A sorrow because I should have asked more questions when my mom was alive: “Why did you collect elephants, Mama?” In writing this play, I think I’ve found the answer. But I’m sure there is more to the story.
LeAnne Howe is an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. She writes fiction, poetry, screenplays, creative non-fiction, plays and scholarship that primarily deal with American Indian and Native American experiences.
Her first novel Shell Shaker (Aunt Lute Books, 2001) received an American Book Award in 2002 from the Before Columbus Foundation. The novel was a finalist for the 2003 Oklahoma Book Award, and awarded Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year, 2002. Equinoxes Rouge, the French translation, was the 2004 finalist for Prix Medici Estranger, one of France’s top literary awards. Evidence of Red (Salt Publishing, UK, 2005) won the Oklahoma Book Award for poetry in 2006, and the Wordcraft Circle Award for 2006. Her most recent novel is Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story (Aunt Lute Books, 2007). Her latest two books Choctalking On Other Realities (Aunt Lute Books), a memoir, and Seeing Red Pixeled Skins, American Indians and Film (Michigan State University Press), a co-edited anthology of film reviews were both published in 2013. She is the Eidson Distinguished Professor of American Literature in the English Department at the University of Georgia, Athens. She is available for readings and lectures at colleges and universities.
She is now working on an Irish Choctaw Chapbook with Irish poets Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Padraig Kirwan about the 1847 Choctaw gift to the Irish for famine relief.