Foundations of Special Education: An Introduction

НазваниеFoundations of Special Education: An Introduction
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Social Perspectives

Having considered briefly a mainly individual view and outlined work that recognizes in varying degrees an interaction between individual and social accounts, it is now necessary to consider predominantly social approaches to special education. The section alludes to past structural-functionalist and con­flict perspectives, before outlining the perhaps more current social creationist and social constructionist views (Farrell, 2003a, pp. 152-154).

A structural-functionalist view (Parsons, 1952) focuses on structure and equilibrium in society and structures are considered to interact with each other so that each performs some positive function. In special education, those who value the structures that exist to help identify, assess and provide for pupils with disability/disorder might point to these as examples of structures performing a positive function. On the other hand, those who do not value these structures perhaps even regarding them as oppressive would clearly not consider them essentially positive. Criticisms of a structural-functionalist perspective include that it may underplay the existence of conflict and may be too optimistic about social structures having positive functions. From a different angle, Skrtic (1995a) offers a post-modern criticism of a functionalist position.

If the optimistic structural-functionalist view emphasizes stability and everything working to a constructive purpose, conflict approaches, depending on one's vantage point, take either a more jaundiced slant or a more realistic one. They focus on the struggles in society between different groups with different views and vested interests, thought to centre on access to limited economic resources or power. Weber (1972), for example, explores the conflicts between different groups over resources, power and status. The dominance of one group over another can arise in various ways and authority is an important aspect of dominance in this view. In considering special education from conflict perspectives, one could examine the historical development of special education and related economic, social and political circumstances. One might consider how some group interests can permeate the special education system and how interest groups can shape the structures for their own benefit. For example, potential conflicts may be examined between different lobby groups seeking what they consider appropriate recognition and sufficient resources for a particular type of disability/disorder such as reading disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Or the grounds of conflict between different professional groups might be examined. Along similar lines, a 'radical structuralist' view of special education is presented by Tomlinson (1995) and by Sleeter (1995).

Structural-functionalist and conflict views are perhaps less current in recent times, and social creationist and social constructionist perspectives appear to be more favoured. A social creationist perspective regards the perceived problem of the disability/disorder as being a facet of the institutional practices of society. Disability is seen as being created as a form of oppression, which would be reduced if society's perceptions of disability as a problem were changed and if there was greater acceptance of human diversity. Also, it is implied, if disability is an aspect of society's institutional practices, then non-disabled members of society should contribute, including in material ways, in rectifying or reducing its effects. Within this context, the position has been used to argue for more resources from national taxation being used to improve the material conditions of disabled people (Allen et al., 1998, p. 23).

Social constructionist perspectives emphasize the 'world' as socially con­structed and social categories and social knowledge as being produced by the communications and interactions between people (Berger and Luckmann, 1971). Such a view tends to attribute disability/disorder to environmental factors such as the negative attitudes of teachers and others and the use of inappropriate teaching methods. Disability/disorder is considered to be largely constructed through the use of labelling (usually seen as negative) and categorization, both of which are consequently discouraged. Related to this view are interpretative approaches, 'bottom-up' views that inform research into small-scale interactions in everyday life. In special education, for example, interactions between a teacher and a child considered to have disability/disorder might be examined in terms of how these influence the child's view of himself and his environment (Ferguson and Ferguson, 1995).

When a social model of disability/disorder is considered in recent debates, it is often the social constructionist perspective or the social creationist view that is assumed. Sometimes the two are suggested to be similar in their differentiation from more 'reductionist' views as when Shakespeare (2006) states, 'The social model is social constructionist or . . . social creationist, rather than reductionist or biologically determinist' (ibid., p.29). Accordingly, in this chapter, the terms 'social perspective' or 'social view' are used in this broad sense. 'Strong'versions of the social view tend to differentiate between 'impairment' and 'disability'. 'Impairment' is seen as the physical, bodily aspect of a condition, and 'disability' is regarded as relating to the perceived barriers that an oppressive society places on the individual with an impairment. 'Disability' is regarded as a socially created or constructed phenomenon additional to the impairment (ibid., pp. 12-13) and can be seen as an interaction between the impairment and social influences.

A Social Perspective and Special Education

If 'disability' in the social perspective sense is seen as predominantly related to social oppression, it follows that an appropriate response is likely to be social, that of removing the oppression. Distinctions between different types of disorder/disability would be problematic in this view including claims for particular disability groups. Indeed, it has been suggested that, ' . . . the social model is incompatible with an impairment specific approach to disabled people' (Oliver, 2004, p. 30).

By contrast, it has also been argued that,' . . . people with different impair­ments experience specific issues and problems' (Shakespeare, 2006, p. 32). Also, evidence-based practice suggests that for different types of disability/disorder, different types of provision (curriculum and assessment, pedagogy, school and classroom organization, resources, therapy/care) is effective in encouraging educational progress and personal and social development (Farrell, 2008b, pas­sim). For example, for a pupil with autism, several approaches are considered as scientifically based practice: applied behaviour analysis, discrete trial teaching, pivotal response training and Learning Experiences-Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Parents (Simpson, 2005).

A social view has influenced the language in which special education is discussed in some quarters, for example, where provision for special children is seen in terms of removing perceived barriers. Bowe (1978) identified six kinds ofsocial barriers: architectural, attitudinal, educational, legal, occupational and personal. The implication is that society, through its built environment, social organization, relationships and practices and people's attitudes has placed barriers in the way of a special child. It is argued therefore that society can remove such barriers in various ways, for example, by:

  • changing the physical environment

  • modifying the way that things are done and the associated social relation­ships

  • changing attitudes.

Changing the physical environment If a physical barrier is the obstacle, this might be removed or action taken to reduce its impact. A building with steps that cannot be negotiated by someone in a wheelchair is seen as a barrier. It may be removed by fitting a ramp or installing an elevator wide enough for wheelchair access. Yet modifications to the physical environment tend to be more applicable to physical or sensory impairment rather than to other types of disability/disorder such as cognitive impairment (MacKay, 2002).

Apart from using learning resources effectively in teaching, which is part of what effective educators do anyway, it seems less convincing to speak in terms of removing physical barriers for cognitive impairment, autism, anxiety or depression.

The notion that certain features of the environment are a predominant part of a disability similarly seems to underemphasize both the impact of impairment and the interaction between impairment and environment. The impairment may make life more difficult for a person. Aspects of the environment maybe modified to be more helpful to a special child. However, the idea that removing barriers somehow removes the impact of the impair­ment (that is in the present context, the disability) because it is predominantly brought about by the creation of the barriers seems to overemphasize the role ofsocial aspects.

Modifying the way things are done If the way things are routinely done acts as a barrier, then other ways of doing them might be attempted. The teacher and others working in special education can be represented within the social constructionist model to be creating barriers when they use inappropriate methods of teaching, for example, teaching a special child in the same way as other children, taking insufficient account of his personal ways of learning. If the teacher uses better teaching methods more attuned to individual dif­ferences, this barrier can, it might be suggested, be removed or considerably reduced.

This is one of the themes of inclusive pedagogy. The idea is that if teach­ing and learning and associated aspects such as the curriculum, the use of resources, assessment, therapy and organization are sufficiently individualized for all pupils, special pupils will be no different from other pupils, who, equally will benefit from individualized or personalized learning. However, this seems to overlook evidence in favour of distinctive aspects of provision that appear to work for pupils with different types of disability/disorder as different groups (Farrell, 2008b; the chapter titled 'Pedagogical' in this book). This is not to suggest that there is one approach to pedagogy for special children and another for children without a disability/disorder and that the two have no relationship to one another. A clearer way of representing the possible range of provision including pedagogy for special children is to dis­tinguish three areas (Lewis and Norwich, 2005, passim). The first is those approaches that apply to all children, for example, that they learn better if teaching captures attention and is engaging. These tend to be emphasized in debates about inclusive education. The second is approaches that may apply to a particular child, for example, drawing on a particular set of personal interests and inclinations. These are likely to be foregrounded in discussions about personalized learning. The third is those approaches that tend to work in the education and support of pupils with particular types of special educa­tional needs such as profound cognitive impairment, autism, developmental coordination disorder or disruptive behaviour disorder. These tend to be highlighted when the debate turns to distinctive provision and evidence-based practice.

It is evident in this third area of approaches that sits uncomfortably with claims that the most effective solutions to provision (including pedagogy) have to be individualized ones. All three approaches can be used and the more productive debates centre on the degree to which any particular one is favoured and emphasized.

Changing attitudes In his attitudes to the pupil, the teacher can be presented in the social model as putting up barriers such as having expectations that are too low or seeing the pupil more in terms of his disability/disorder than as an individual. The worry seems to be that identifying pupils as having particular disability/disorder might lower expectations, perhaps because generalizations that might apply to pupils as a group could be incorrectly applied to a particular pupil. This is summarized to some extent by the term 'negative labelling'. The child becomes viewed in terms of the label originally intended for a condition.

Social perspectives of special education can alert practitioners and parents to the need to ensure that the social setting in which the special pupil is educated encourages academic progress and personal and social development. Any tendency to think of the child mainly in terms of his disability/disorder that might lower expectations is challenged. Where such attitudes are questioned and shown not to reflect the abilities of the pupil in question, they may be modified. Higher aspirations than might otherwise be the case are encouraged. In brief, where attitudes are acting as barriers, they may be challenged and changed.

However, with reference to the possibility of negative labelling contributing to attitudinal barriers, the alternative possibility that labelling might be positive is less often considered. Recognition of a particular type of disability/disorder can enable a pupil to receive suitable provision if educators judiciously draw on aspects of the provision previously found to be effective with other children with the condition. This is essentially the theme of evidence-based practice informed by professional knowledge and judgement.

Some Considerations Relating to Social Perspectives of Disability/Disorder

Among the general reservations about social views of disability/disorder, where they are used as an argument for mainstreaming, is that they tend not to draw on empirical justification for their position. For example, 'oppression' may be cited as the reason children should be educated in ordinary schools. This is taken to imply that greater 'equity' will be found where special pupils are educated in ordinary schools. However, these can become accepted positions from which the analysis begins, relegating any empirical enquiry to a merely illustrative role (Clarke et al., 1998).

Attempts have been made to relate a socially constructed view of 'learning difficulty' to the supposed subordination and oppression of those labelled in this way and to further link this view to an emancipatory perspective of resistance. Armstrong (2003) collected the life stories of 40 people who had been 'labelled' as having learning difficulties. The relevance for modern special school education was limited. Over half these participants had experienced schooling 30 years or more prior to the research. Only 9 were at school after 1985, nearly 20 years before the survey. Armstrong maintains that the participants experienced 'subordination' but showed 'resistance'. However, the supposed evidence of subordination did not imply that participants' experience of special schooling was unhappy, sometimes quite the contrary. One participant in particular 'tells a story of his schooling that is filled with fond and happy memories' (p. 60). To the extent that Armstrong's concern is about possible subordination, as Warnock (2005) has pointed out, mainstream schools can be settings where children with special educational needs can be isolated, unhappy, marginalized and disaffected. However, there are implications that the views ofpupils in special schools and ordinaryschools, as well as those of adults with learning difficulties could be listened to and taken into account more. Voices that are not always taken into account and are sometimes marginalized are those of the many pupils speak highly of their special schools (Farrell, 2006a, pp. 38-45) and those of the many parents of children educated in a special school value the school greatly (Farrell, 2006a, pp. 27-37).

A social perspective recognizes difference but sees this as being at the level of the individual. It criticizes the construction of categories of pupils (such as pupils with autism) because it is considered that categories may ignore individual complexity and lead to responses that are arbitrary and even oppressive. Responses to individual pupils are therefore ad hoc, hindering the development of an explanatory theory of difference and any formalization of pedagogy. Where there are attempts at socially informed pedagogy, they con­centrate on problem-solving, adhocracy and mechanistic curriculum models from which it is expected that the structures and practices that will deliver inclusion and equity will emerge. However, this may miss the point that once a curriculum is determined, some pupils will always learn within it better than others, perpetuating pupil differences whether categories are constructed or not (Clarke et al., 1998, p. 166).

One might recognize the physical aspects of the environment that is a concern of a social view. At the same time, one might wish for a language other than that of barriers that would convey the importance of trying to modify the physical environment to improve access for people with disabilities without the suggestion that the environment has been somehow malignly designed for the purpose of excluding them.

The social perspective is reluctant to label pupils sometimes assuming that this is inevitably negative. However, it has been maintained (Farrell, 2008b) that this may have the disadvantage of de-emphasizing pedagogy and other provision shown to be effective for particular types of disability/disorder. Distinctive and effective provision could be given insufficient emphasis in an attempt to present disability/disorder as an aspect of difference with no consequences for provision.

Also the attempt to distinguish 'impairment' as the physical reality of a condition and 'disability' as the social consequences sometimes diminishes the consequences of the physical impairment. Attempts to deny the reality of cognitive impairment have been made attributing this largely to social factors as if by putting quotation marks around the terms they are exposed as fallacious. Goodley (2001, p. 211) maintains, ' . . . social structures practices and relationships continue to naturalize the subjectivities of people with ''learning difficulties'', conceptualizing them in terms of some a priori notion of ''mentally impaired'''.

However, contrary to this view, it has been argued that with reference to emotional and social well-being, it is difficult in practice to separate mental distress caused by biological impairment and 'socially engendered psycho- emotional problems' because 'illness and impairment also undermine psycho- emotional well-being' (Shakespeare, 2006, p. 36). Disability is considered to be 'a complex interaction of biological, psychological, cultural and socio-political factors which cannot be extricated except with imprecision' (ibid., p. 38). In a similar vein, it has been maintained, ' . . . injustices to disabled people can be understood neither as generated by solely cultural mechanisms (cultural reductionism) nor by socio-economic mechanisms (economic reductionism) nor by biological mechanisms (biological reductionism). In sum, only by taking different levels, mechanisms and contexts into account, can disability as a phenomenon be analytically approached' (Danermark and Gellerstedt, 2004, p. 350). From this vantage point, the contribution of a social perspective is likely to be at its strongest when part of an interactionist view of special education and of disability/disorder.

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