This chapter examines the relative absence of critique in inclusive education research, policy and practice, and in education more generally – and consider the consequences of doing without critique. It responds to Bruno Latour's (2004, p. 243) urgent call for progress towards “a fair position” and for the development of “new critical tools” to work positively and constructively towards social change. The potential for criticality is explored in relation to disability studies, disability arts and children's perspectives. Each of these sources is evaluated in terms of their affordance of criticality and for their potential to mobilise political action. They are also considered in relation to the epistemological shifts and altered power relations that are necessary to create an inclusive educational environment.
Allan, J. (2022), "Disability Studies, Disability Arts and Students' Perspectives: New Critical Tools for Inclusive Education", Amrhein, B. and Naraian, S. (Ed.) Reading Inclusion Divergently (International Perspectives on Inclusive Education, Vol. 19), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 63-74. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1479-363620220000019005
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The relative absence of critique in inclusive education research, policy and practice, and in education more generally, has not helped us to reach an understanding of what is needed to progress towards an inclusive society. Teachers, forced to do without critique in their training and subsequent practice, lack the capacity to understand the global influences on their profession and on their selves precisely at a time when the effects are considerable (Alexandersson, 2011; Sleeter, 2008). Furthermore, they are less able to recognize the competing demands of equity and choice and therefore to find a balance between them (Alexandersson, 2011). This makes them in turn at greater risk of political manipulation and economic exploitation (Sleeter, 2008). The consequences for children and families, according to Roger Slee (2011, p. 151), of an absence of critique are stark, taking the form of the creation of ‘surplus populations – the unwanted’ (p. 151). Bruno Latour (2004) has suggested that our critical spirit has ‘run out of steam’ (p. 225) and we have become like mechanical toys, endlessly repeating the same gesture, trying to conquer territories that no longer exist whilst being unprepared for the ‘new threats, new dangers, new tasks, new targets’ (p. 225) that we face. Latour (2004, p. 243; original emphasis) calls urgently for progress towards ‘a fair position’ and for the development of ‘new critical tools’ to work positively and constructively towards social change. The critical potential of three sources will be examined. These are disability studies, which invite a rethinking and a questioning of assumptions about disability and ability; disability arts, which turn the disabling and exclusionary gaze back on the viewer; and students' perspectives, by their very essence critical and oriented to inclusion. Each of these sources will be evaluated in terms of their affordance of criticality and for their potential to mobilise political action. They will also be considered in relation to the epistemological shifts and altered power relations that are required in order to put them to work on the task of creating an inclusive educational environment.
5.2 Missing the Critical
The texts available to teachers aspiring to be inclusive both lack criticality and fail to inspire curiosity. The textbooks, which Ellen Brantlinger (2006, p. 45) referred to as the ‘big glossies’, function as ‘authoritative purveyors of technical knowledge’ (Brantlinger, 2006, p. 67), giving beginning teachers fake confidence based on a routinisation of deficits. They portray inclusive education as a technical problem that is merely to be managed and ensure sight is lost of ‘what matters’ (Ferri, Gallagher, & Connor, 2011, p. 222). Doctoral students and new researchers entering the academy get little assistance in, and indeed are strongly discouraged from, becoming critical. Texts such as How to get a Phd (Phillips & Pugh, 1987) or on the foundations of social or educational research (e.g. Crotty, 1998) deny both the intensely political aspect of educational research and the interwoven nature of theory, philosophy, practices and material realities (Schostak, 2002). The failure to acknowledge and engage with these interactions leads to a series of ‘derailments’ (Schostak, 2002, p. 5) in students' own research whereby they enter the ‘logical graveyard where sense and nonsense fuse and meanings are loosened from their anchorage in master narratives’ (Schostak, 2002). The foundational texts (e.g. Crotty, 1998, p. 1) provide frameworks which align methods, methodologies, theoretical perspectives and epistemologies in, he claims, a ‘reasonably clear cut way’, but which leaves students with a sense of inadequacy when they fail to match their own framings against the master narrative.
In place of critique of inclusive education, there has been significant antagonism between, on the one side, special educators and, on the other, proponents of inclusion. What characterizes these exchanges is their deeply personal and unpleasant nature, rather than any critical engagement with the issues. An intense ‘discussion’ over labelling between Marten Söder (1989) and Tony Booth (1991) that played out in the European Journal of Special Needs Education led to an accusation by the disabled scholar Mike Oliver that these two (able bodied) individuals were engaging in ‘intellectual masturbation’ (Oliver, 1992, p. 20) because their discussion was divorced from the lived experience of disability. Later, Ellen Brantlinger (1997), a self-declared inclusionist, took on the ‘traditional special educationists’ and challenged their pronouncement that inclusionists were being merely ideological. Her argument, echoing others' (Thompson, 1984), was that ideology, while difficult to discern is inevitable; ‘Like the poor, ideology is always with us’ (Eagleton, 1994, p. 220) and she demonstrated that the special educators were just as ideological as the inclusionists. However, she also argued that ideology was a crucial element in critique, accessing ‘meaning in the service of power’ (Thompson, 1984, p. 7) and understanding how it disadvantages particular individuals and groups while serving the interests of others. A ‘head-to-head’ within the journal Exceptionality evidenced further animosity between special educators Kauffman and Sasso and Gallagher, an inclusionist. Accusations and denunciations abounded, mainly from Kauffman and Sasso, but with strong rebuttals from Gallagher. Both sides agreed that there was little chance of agreement: Kauffman and Sasso (2006, p. 69) concluded ‘we cannot all just get along’, while Gallagher (2006, p. 92) conceded that consensus between both camps is probably never likely but was nevertheless holding out for ‘calm, respectful, deeply informed and reasoned discussions’. We can see from these confrontations that
…a certain form of critical spirit has sent us down the wrong path, encouraging us to fight the wrong enemies and, worst of all, to be considered as friends by the wrong sort of allies because of a little mistake in the definition of its main target.
(Latour, 2004, p. 231)
In the absence of any systematic and scientific critique of special education, special educators have been able to reinvent themselves as inclusive educators and perform a neat folding into ‘special and inclusive education’, which Slee (2011) regards as sinister and underhand. Brantlinger's (2006) question ‘who benefits from special education?’ is not a denunciation of special education itself but, rather is an invitation to come up with a ‘countermovement to oppose stratifying measures and … overcome hierarchical and excluding relations in school and society’ (Brantlinger, 2006, p. 224).
Beach and Bagley (2012) draw on Basil Bernstein to illustrate the negative impact that a lack - or loss - of criticality has on beginning teachers' thinking. Bernstein (1999, p. 6) distinguishes between a horizontal, the everyday, discourse, linked to commonsense understandings and often tacit, oral and context specific, and a vertical discourse, which is a ‘scientific “know why” discourse’. The erosion or removal of the vertical discourse from teacher education could potentially be part of a move to undermine the knowledge interests of a professional discourse and open them up to influences. But as others have argued (Beach & Bagley, 2012; Sleeter, 2008) the erosion of the vertical discourse prevents critical thinking of the kind that is needed to promote equity. Slee (2011, p. 151) ‘how did we become so gullible?’ equating a loss or a failure of criticality with a loss of regard for community:
…we have been gullible enough to believe that if only our country could claw its way up the international PISA and TIMMSS league table, then the children of the poor, disabled and immigrant children, who even if they are scoring marginally better on a test and have unlocked the mysteries of phonics, will be delivered from poverty. (p. 151)
Slee also suggests an element of complicity in condoning a system, by working within it that there is ‘to separate and sort children into their allotted tracks, into the streams that assign them to unequal destinations’ (p. 151).
5.3 New Critical Tools
The three critical tools discussed next – disability studies, disability arts and students' perspectives – vary in their degree of newness and in the extent to which they are established as a field of study. They each have in common, however, a disposition towards criticality and a positive orientation to social change.
5.3.1 Disability Studies
The emergence of disability studies as a field of enquiry can be traced, at least in the UK, to several disabled people's organisations, chief among them the Union of Physically Impaired against Segregation (UPIAS, 1975). The lineage in the US is a more strongly academic one, with roots in deviance studies (Becker, 1963) that challenged the ‘nonsense questions’ (Mercer, 1965, p. 1) about the incidence and prevalence of disability (Taylor, 2011). A strong activist orientation, coupled with the promotion of the social model of disability to replace medicalised constructions, defined and drove disability studies over the next 30 years and delivered some powerful foundational analyses of the nature and causes of disability (Oliver, 1996). Davis (1997, p. 3), observing the growth of disability studies in the US, cites the clear need for such a combination of academic inquiry and political activity to ‘recognise the level of oppression, both overt and by marginalization’. The fact that it originates and is organized by disabled people and other interested parties gives it additional authenticity and authority. Disability studies was given formal recognition in the US in 1982 through the establishment of the Society for Disability Studies (SDS) (Connor, Gabel, Gallagher, & Morton, 2008).
Subsequent named variants of disability studies include disability studies in education and critical disability studies and Goodley, Lawthom, Liddiard, and Runswick-Cole (2019) note that the move towards a critical version of disability studies is a welcome signal of intent for new affiliations – for example with postcolonial, queer and feminist theories – in order to effect transformation. It is also an explicit rearticulation of disability as a ‘cultural and discursive politics’ (Goodley et al., 2019, p. 975). Linda Ware (2020) has continued to advocate for a humanities based disability studies, arguing that it allows multiple questions of, for example, identity, education, representation and sexuality to be surfaced. It also allows disability to be re-narrated and re-imagined as an integral part of human experience and history (Longmore & Umansky, 2001). The cultural affordances of the humanities has opened up a further variant of disability studies in the form or disability arts and the critical value of this genre is discussed later in this chapter.
Challenges to disability studies that have come from within have undermined its authority to some extent in the short term but may have ultimately helped to strengthen it as a field of study. Objections have been directed mainly at the place occupied by the social model of disability, founded by Mike Oliver, Vic Finkelstein and UPIA. Sally French (1993) voiced criticisms of the lack of consideration of impairment inherent in the social model while Shakespeare (2006) declared that the social model has become a major obstacle in the development of the disability movement and disability studies. Even Mike Oliver came to a view that the social model had not worked as a tool for social change, but instead had been endlessly debated and theorized (Allan & Slee, 2008). These critiques, whilst unsettling because of their often acrimonious nature, have nevertheless given rise to an enhanced reflexivity about the social model of disability and disability studies and have generated new models of disability such as the capability model (Nussbaum, 2011).
Ware (2020, p. 181) asks ‘dare we do disability studies?’ while Ware and Valle (2009, p. 113) hope that disability studies might become the ‘default paradigm.’ Disability studies (or however it is named), as Taylor (2006) notes, is not a unitary perspective and indeed its inter- and trans-disciplinary nature is partly what marks it out as distinctive. The practice of disability studies, especially in its recent, more critical, incarnation, involves one or more of the following: consideration of the contemporary conditions of globalisation, austerity and a widening gap between rich and poor and the impact of this on disabled people; recognition of global, national and local contexts; and cultural relativism. This requires both foundational analyses and the insights offered from feminist, queer, postcolonial and critical race scholarship (Goodley et al., 2019). Those undertaking disability studies have seized the new critical opportunities and affordances and have delivered ‘fearless critiques of special education’ (Connor, 2013, p. 1229). These are successfully ‘rewriting … discourses of disability’ (Ferri, 2008, p. 420) and managing to ‘talk back’ to forces in education that undermine inclusive values' (Connor et al., 2008, p. 455) and ‘dehumanise’ (Bogdan & Taylor, 1989, p. 146). Disability studies is a powerful force, enabling us to think and perceive differently and to do so ‘better’ than we have hitherto done. It allows us to see policy as far from benign, but rather as doing things to people and to ask questions about the consequences for individuals.
5.3.2 Disability Arts
The criticality offered by disability arts profoundly alters the audience and forces upon it a series of becomings. It provides an embodied display of difference, but also works upon able-bodied people's perceptions of normality and unravels these, creating dissonance and forcing a rearticulartion of disability ‘as a source of insight and power’ (Nussbaum, in Lehrer, 2004). The embodied nature of disability arts strikes a strong counter-point to the social model of disability and its lack of attention to, and sometimes outright denial of, the body. Instead, with its joyous attention to the disabled body, disability arts strategically seeks to deploy difference in order to make a political difference.
Many of the practising disability artists are playful and mischievous, seeking to disrupt the commonplace and the taken-for-granted in both the art form and in everyday life. The kind of art practised here can be likened to a form of kynicism (Allan, 2005; Sloterdijk, 1987), a Greek term denoting a form of solemn mockery which is also outrageous, ‘pissing against the idealist wind’ (Sloterdijk, 1987, p. 103) to achieve its disruptive goals. Kynicism attacks the piety of seriousness through the ‘physiologically irresistible energy of laughter’ (Sloterdijk, 1987, p. 110). Disabled artists confront non-disabled people with their own banality and force them to look at themselves and at how they disable and exclude through their attitudes and behaviour and through the structures and practices they participate in. They are made to experience the comedy and irony of these and are taken to the ‘horror of the comic’ (Kundera, 1986, p. 104), where they are inside the ‘guts of a joke’ (p. 108) and are forced to think again about how they relate to disabled people. Disabled artists, involved in a range of activities including music, visual art, photography, dance, film and stand-up comedy, have used their own bodies as material, or, as some see it as weapons, to subvert and undermine disabling barriers. Some of the art involves portrayals by disabled people of themselves as emboldened or empowered, while other work depicts the disabling environment in which disabled people have to live.
The field of disability arts is substantial and expanding and the following two examples from poetry and dance illustrate the powerful interventions that they constitute. Cheryl Marie Wade (2007), in her poem ‘I'm not one of the’, teases her audience with a set of oppositions. She solicits a becoming from the audience by forcing them to encounter her disabled self as simultaneously beautiful and grotesque, portraying herself as both a sexual object – with lace panties – and as deformed – with a stub. She also playfully denies the benevolent labels put on disabled people such as ‘physically challenged’, preferring to reclaim banished language, such as ‘gimp’ and ‘cripple’, whilst also declaring herself an ‘epitaph for a million imperfect babies left untreated’ and an ‘ikon carved from bones in a mass grave at Tiergarten’. In offering herself as a ‘French kiss with a cleft tongue’ she is demanding a sexual presence which disabled people have hitherto been denied (Davis, 1997), but recognises the distaste this provokes: ‘I'm orthopedic shoes sewn on a last of your fears’. Nevertheless, by presenting herself in this way she is forcing her audience to examine their own normalising and disabling knowledge and actions.
Dance and physical movement open up the possibilities for knowing disability and difference in new ways that are not yet fixed by notions of otherness and Deleuze (1986, p. 9) refers to this space as the Open: ‘because its nature is to change constantly, or to give rise to something new, in short, to endure’. Kuppers (2003, p. 131) seeks to disrupt the diagnostic gaze upon disabled people by creating performances which are acts of ‘witnessing’. Disabled dancers can, according to Hickey-Moody (2009), use their own disabled bodies to create a different persona and existence outside of the medical discourses that usually define them. The performance space in which this takes place opens up possibilities for a ‘turning away’ from a history of intellectual disability which imposes limitations upon disabled people, especially in the eyes of a mainstream public. Through the act of turning away, disabled dancers can participate in an act of becoming other, an act which ‘wrest[s] the percept from perceptions of objects and the states of a perceiving subject [and wrests] the affect from affections as the transition from one state to another’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p. 167). Non-disabled participants, and indeed audience, can experience a ‘turning away’ from their own presumptions and misapprehensions about disabled people and other minorities in a process that is for them also a becoming (Hickey-Moody, 2009, p. 178). Kuppers (2003, p. 84) warns us that art work which cuts into the known is ‘risky business’ but assures us that ‘new rhythms, new ways of knowing social space can emerge in it’.
5.3.3 Students' Perspectives
The two critical tools mentioned above are already fields of study and knowledge, whereas this third, students' perspectives, is still somewhat unformed. The potential critical contribution of students' perspectives to our understanding and advancement of inclusive education is, however, substantial. Children and young people, when asked about inclusive education, have demonstrated both clarity and wisdom and have appeared to see it as worth striving for (Ainscow & Messiou, 2018; Allan, Smyth, I'Anson, & Mott, 2009). They appear to be unfazed by difference and, rather, find exposure to it stimulating, interesting and educative.
The engagement of children's perspectives has a basis in law. The framework of children's rights within the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, and now enshrined in legislation in many countries (although not the United States), safeguards certain rights and provides a mandate for greater participation by children generally and in discussions about matters directly affecting them. However, Article 12, the right to express views freely and for these views to be given due weight, is a mixture of potential toothlessness and bold intent (Lee, 1999). It also raises questions about the citizenship of the child (Prout & James, 2003). Childhood, in spite of the UNCRC, is still understood by adults as a highly ambiguous state and children are largely invisible in policy and professional practice, only becoming visible when they present to adults as having troublesome behaviour or are challenging in some other way.
Research placing the perspectives of students at the centre has generated high levels of criticality that has identified barriers to inclusion, provided insights into the experiences of inclusion and exclusion and specified measures for achieving change towards greater inclusivity. A study of the implementation of children's rights within a primary school (I'Anson & Allan, 2006) found that students were able systematically to pinpoint barriers to inclusion in their school and, for one student in particular, the act of taking responsibility for his fellow students' inclusion led him to stop his own negative behaviour and end his recurrent exclusion from school. The student described how this experience was life changing:
I used to be, like, really really bad. I used to fight everybody, but now I've calmed down because I've got a responsibility to look after them. … I used to get into fights and stupid things like that but when I started to get to know them … I started on my behaviour; I wanted to start again and be good. …I didn't want everybody to know me as ‘Alistair the bad boy’. I want to be good now. … Sometimes I'm amazing and no-one thinks that I used to fight and that, but I just kick it off again. I just want to be good but I [can't] sometimes. I think I've really improved my behaviour. I used to be really bad but now I'm not that bad. I'm quite good now.
(I'Anson & Allan, 2006, p. 274)
Research within a Swedish municipality which had dramatically improved students' exam performance through inclusive education sought students' understanding of the reasons behind the success. The students drew attention to the significance of social relations and trust, rather than the more organizationally focused elements such as leadership and pedagogy, in their achievements. They also remarked on the impact of the absence of social relations and trust in their subsequent upper secondary schools (Allan & Persson, 2018). A study of a new school seeking to be inclusive and comprehensive through its architecture, an admissions policy that maximized the diversity of its intake the practice of mixed ability teaching obtained students' views of their early experiences. Students articulated clear benefits to all, including themselves, of a high degree of diversity. They also contributed to the much needed understanding of inclusion ‘outcomes’ by specifying how it had impacted upon them (Allan & Jørgensen, 2020).
Involving students in research requires some careful consideration and approaches that do not merely replicate the existing hierarchical relationships between adults and children. Ensuring that they engage with the research critically may require additional work to actively subvert these power relationships. This could include explicit attempts to undermine the status and authority of the adult researchers, events and activities that reinforce the ‘expert’ status of the students and handing over control of parts of the research to the students. Photo-elicitation is one method which gives children and young people control over the topics discussed and acknowledges and foregrounds their agency. This was used in one of the projects that sought students' perspectives (the study of the new school, described previously) and involved handing the students a Kindle and inviting them to collect images within the school relating to themselves, others and their wellbeing. Interviews then took the form, not of the usual questioning by the researcher, but of the students explaining their images. This approach appeared to position the students effectively and critically as ‘producers of their own lives’ (Templeton, 2020, p. 5). Engaging children and young people critically within schools requires explicit undertakings by schools to build confidence and connectedness among the students and to find room in the curriculum for this. Schools also need to fulfil their obligations to provide Human Rights Education, and this requires substantial restructuring of schools and greater understanding by teachers of their responsibilities in this regard (Robinson et al., 2020).
The critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles. The critic is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naıve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather. The critic is not the one who alternates haphazardly between antifetishism and positivism like the drunk iconoclast drawn by Goya, but the one for whom, if something is constructed, then it means it is fragile and thus in great need of care and caution.
(Latour, 2004, p. 246)
Latour's (2004, p. 243) call for progress towards ‘a fair position’ and for the development of ‘new critical tools’ (Latour, 2004) is a challenge to return to ‘the matters of concern that we cherish’ (Latour, 2004, p. 248). Critique helps us to understand the political ends intended by specific practices and to make these explicit, serving ‘as public memory to recall what is forgotten or ignored’ (Said, 1995). It is not, Foucault (1988, p. 154) contends, ‘a matter of saying that things are not right as they are’ but rather ‘of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged and unconsidered modes of the thought the practices that we accept rest’ (Foucault, 1988, p. 155). Critique also seeks out the under-represented, the disenfranchised and misrecognized other and names and privileges their voices and identities, making a discourse of that which has formally been a noise and engaging in process of rupture ‘that opens out into the recognition of the competence of anyone, not the addition of a unit’ (Rancière, 2008, p. 3).
The critic wades into the ‘conflict between truth and politics’ (Arendt, 2006, p. 227) and attempts to ‘find out, stand guard over, and interpret factual truth’ (Arendt, 2006, pp. 256–257). However, the critical work invoked here amounts to far more than truth-telling, and is positive and constructive, pointing to new ways of conceptualizing and critiquing inclusive education and new forms of political action arising from this critique. Undertaking critique involves engaging in exercises in political thought, which requires practice and we all must walk the ‘path paved by thinking [and] … must discover and ploddingly pave it anew’ (Arendt, 2006, p. 13).
Critique is crucial in interrupting the causation that is endemic in education (Hargreaves, 1972), whereby children's deficits are explained deterministically and their paths are mapped out with equal certainty. It also has the potential to help us to understand special education and its effects, particularly in creating new mutations of disadvantage. This could in turn alert us to ways of challenging the effects, through for example articulating how policy and legislation might be adjusted to be more equitable and inclusive. The new critical tools of disability studies, disability arts and students' perspectives could ultimately be shared with those most closely involved in, and affected by, inclusive education, with all standing to benefit from waking up to criticality. Teacher educators will gain from becoming more aware of ‘linkages between macro-level shifts in power and local realities, to engage in the long-term work of pushing back collectively’ (Sleeter, 2008, p. 1955). School principals could be enabled to become readers of power, equipped with skills in interpreting the intentions and consequences of policy and legislation. Teachers might also benefit from a degree of policy literacy, enabling them to apprehend the web of surveillance and scrutiny in which they are caught. This could empower them to take up the responsibility, issued by Arendt (2006, p. 193), to prepare children for the task of ‘renewing the world’. Parents, coming to see their child as diagnosed as having, rather than actually having special educational needs might become adept at talking back to the power that seeks to position them innocently as citizen-consumers. Last, but by no means least, students who, as I have suggested above, do not lack critical capacities, will nevertheless benefit educationally from developing, from an early age, the critical thinking skills that they require in further and higher education and in life.
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- Theories, Contexts, Practices: Traveling Alongside the Possibilities of ‘Inclusion’
- Part I Understanding Inclusion via Struggles Around the World
- A World Exposed: A Plaintive Plea for Inclusion
- Historical and International-Comparative Perspectives on Special Needs Assessment Procedures – Current Findings and Potentials for Future Research
- Genealogical Critique of Institutionalising ‘Inclusive Education’ in Indonesia
- Disability Studies, Disability Arts and Students' Perspectives: New Critical Tools for Inclusive Education
- Part II Critical Interrogation of Inclusive Practices in Local Contexts
- Incessant Agitations: Inclusive Education and the Politics of Disposability
- Inclusion and Exclusion in Local Governance: A Post-Development and Spatial Perspective on a Field Study from Benin
- The Struggle for the Power of Interpretation of Inclusive Education in Germany – Multi-Level Theoretical Considerations
- Stifled or Loosened Course of Inclusive Education in Rwanda: Interrogating Policy and Practice in Africa
- Part III Methodological/Epistemological Commitments in Analyzing Inclusive Education Processes and Practice
- Establishing and Maintaining Participatory Elements in Transnational and Cultural Research Collaboration on Inclusive Education
- The Notion of Context in International Research on Inclusive Teaching Practices: Perspectives Derived from Reconstructive Research Approaches
- Reconstructive Approaches in Inclusive Education: Methodological Challenges of Normativity and Reification in International Inclusion Research
- Stimulating Methodological Innovations in Researching Inclusion: Posthumanism and Disability
- Part IV Conclusion
- Staying Mindful, Moving With (Un)certainty