23 May 2006

Disability Studies Conference 2006

It was good to feel "at home" for a few days. It was good to sit in conversations with scholars and educators who understand that studies of educational policy that produce numerical averages of improved "results" on a measure or two do not tell us anything about what educational practices do for individual children. It was good to hear people who understand that the divide between "special education" and "regular education" is typically a false and destructive one. It was good to listen to leaders like Kim Reid and Susan Peters and Deb Gallagher (among many others) who have been fighting for all students to be treated fairly and decently for years.

I spent last weekend at the 2006 Disability Studies in Education Conference held, conveniently for me, at Michigan State University. Disability Studies is not what Americans call "Special Education," it is much more than that. Disability Studies looks in depth at the way "disability" is "constructed" and defined by society (no one really knew they were "reading disabled" until everyone was told they needed to learn to read), and the role education plays in the re-inforcement and amelioration of that.

So at the conference everything from Universal Design for Learning Technology (me, yes) to the role of humor, to classroom discourse, to international comparisons, to how teacher education programs might be altered, to "No Child Left Behind," to the need for post-graduate affirmative action for students with learning disabilities, was discussed. It was powerful stuff, unfortunately far out of the mainstream at too many colleges and schools of education, who continue to view "people with disabilities" as a medical problem that needs to be cured.

A few key links...
Disability Studies Quarterly
The Society for Disability Studies
Disability Studies for Teachers (Syracuse University)
The Center for Disability Studies (University of Leeds)
Review of Disability Studies (International)

There was one lowpoint though. After seeing a brilliant film on the brutality of George W. Bush's educational policies, No Child Left Behind, by young teacher and film-maker Lerone Wilson, I asked the assembled group: "If we all know that this law is terrible, that it starts from the absurd assumption that all children develop at the exact same rate and punishes those who fail to be perfectly "normal," what is the responsibility of colleges of education to stand up and fight? Don't we have to actively protect the children?"

No one said anything in response, except to say that "people are afraid" in this political climate.

But on the way out nine people came up to me, slapped me on the shoulder and said, "good question. Did you notice no one answered you?"

I had noticed.

-Ira Socol

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