Beth Ferri, associate professor in teaching and leadership programs, is the coordinator of the Doctoral Program in Special Education. She teaches courses in adapting instruction for diverse learners as well as graduate seminars in Disability Studies, including a course on Race and Disability and a course on Gender, Disability and Sexuality. Her research interests focus on inclusive education, disability studies, and narrative inquiry. In her 2006 book, Reading Resistance: Discourses of Exclusion in Desegregation and Inclusion Debates (Peter Lang), she and coauthor David J. Connor explore how the entanglement of race and disability worked to create and maintain new mechanisms of exclusion after the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision.
As any educator will tell you, the pendulum of reform rarely stays in one place very long. There is always something new: new ideas, new theories, and new paradigms. Certainly my own field of special education has been at the epicenter of many educational reforms (i.e. inclusion, positive behavior support, phonemic-awareness). Yet, given this penchant for reform, how is it that the more education changes, the more it seems to remain the same?
One reason for pendulum swings, at least in terms of special education practice, is that the foundational assumptions of the field remain deeply entrenched. The idea that students come in two types, one “special” and one “regular,” for instance, remains an unstated assumption across a range of reforms. We know, of course, that students share a range of abilities, motivations, interests, identities, and backgrounds—all of which cannot be reduced to a simple binary. Yet, because we have yet to challenge this core assumption, we continue to assume that students who are deemed “special” or disabled are different in fundamental and essential ways from their non-disabled peers. Read more