Challenging Ableist Beliefs, Practices, and Notions of Citizenship

Preview of a Disability Studies in Education panel at the upcoming AAA Annual Meeting.

Our responses to social, cultural, and political changes often reflect the tension generated through cooperation and/or opposition in the process of transformation. The Council on Anthropology and Education’s (CAE) Committee #11 (Disability Studies in Education) created a panel to address the intersections between disability studies in education and this year’s American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting theme of resistance, resilience, and adaptation.

This year, resistance, resilience, and adaptation are particularly important given US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s recent delay of the Obama-era rule that sought to address the persistent over representation of students of color in special education. Set to take effect in July 2018, DeVos elected to delay for two years the rule that would have required states to identify which districts over- or under-identify students for special education. Although the rule was hazy on specifics as to what qualifies as over- or under-representation and didn’t require any specific action after identification, advocates argued that the rule would have been a step towards tackling the racial disproportionality that has long characterized special education.

We consider the ways in which anthropology can contribute to understanding how students with disabilities and their family members negotiate, resist, and/or adapt to the current social, cultural, and political landscape in and outside of classroom.

In the announcement of the delay, the Department of Education cites research that claims that students of color are actually underrepresented in special education. This prompted disability studies in education (DSE) scholars who have documented overrepresentation to issue a response that argued that the claim was “in error due to (a) sampling considerations, (b) inadequate support from previous and current analyses, and (c) their failure to consider the complexities of special education disproportionality.” The authors conclude that “simplistic investigations…do little to further our understanding of the very real and consequential problem of the disproportionate representation of marginalized groups in special education.”

Accordingly, our panel explores anthropological tools as means to reconceptualize our understanding of disability and diversity in local and global settings. We consider the ways in which anthropology can contribute to understanding how students with disabilities and their family members negotiate, resist, and/or adapt to the current social, cultural, and political landscape in and outside of classroom.

DSE starts with the premise that disabilities should be understood as a social, political, and cultural phenomenon (Goodley 2012). Disability is not considered a biological characteristic of students, but rather it is a historical, political, social, and cultural construct that has deleterious implications for those to whom such a label is assigned. Critical disability theorists argue that disability “has no essential nature. Rather, depending on what is valued—or perhaps overvalued—at certain socio-political conjunctures, specific personal characteristics are understood as defects and, as a result, persons are manufactured as disabled” (Devlin and Pothier 2006, 5).  Similarly, Varenne and McDermott (1998) shifted the lens from the individual students themselves to the institutions and practices that determine them either successes or failures.

Disability studies relies on the social model of disability, rather than the medical model, which seeks to rehabilitate and “fix” people with disabilities. Social models of disability offer a different way to examine disability. Baglieri and Shapiro explain, “Social models focus not only on a disabling feature, but also on the social context in which disability becomes meaningful. Social models aim to understand disability as a total experience of complex interactions between the body and physical, social, and cultural environments” (2012, 25). In the social model, researchers recognize differences in ability, but argue that it is the meaning ascribed to those differences that makes a person “disabled.”

By challenging inequalities in various contexts, we envision our shared future through collaboration for building inclusive communities and opposition to ableist ideologies and practices through resistance and resilience.

Using DSE as our guiding framework, this panel examines the ways in which people with disabilities and their family members negotiate, resist, and/or adapt to the current social, cultural, and political landscape in and outside of the classroom. Two papers focus on local areas of resistance in teacher education programs.  One follows the resistance to introducing a DSE framework into a special education teacher training program, in which social justice is a core value. Data for this study was collected over two semesters and includes written reflections from 29 teacher candidates. These written reflections demonstrate how the candidates’ ideas evolved over the semester to reflect an understanding of how DSE can be used as a meaningful framework for resisting ableist practices in special education. Reflections also indicate a motivation to change some of their current language, practices, or attitudes as a way to resist ableist practices. The other paper focusing on a teacher education program uses counter narratives to highlight the expressed beliefs of six special education teachers of color who were obtaining teaching credentials at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in Southern California. Using DisCrit as a framework for teacher education instruction and as a tool for analysis of data, findings revealed that teachers created and shifted beliefs through 1) their own educational experiences, which often led to internalized racism and compliance; 2) activities in teacher education that specifically addressed the intersections of race/ disability; and 3) the ability to begin to build a map of resistance for use in teaching practice.

Next the panel moves into more global areas of resistance. In a third paper, the authors take on the case of Sayed, a Muslim, Iraqi refugee who was recently re-settled, along with his wife and children, in the United States. As a child in Iraq, Sayed experienced seizures and an ensuing operation that left him paralyzed in the left side of his body. The authors situate Sayed’s experience of disablement through Puar’s (2017) notion of debility, where the production of impairment is a tactic of war, poverty, and colonial projects. This anthropological exploration will contribute to an understanding of how disabled refugees negotiate and make sense of the re-settlement process.

A fourth paper focuses on adulthood in Korean American culture. It utilizes critical ethnography to explore how ableism is constructed and reproduced during the emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000) of youth and adults with disabilities in Korean American culture by sharing the experiences of Korean American youth and adults with disabilities at disability community events. This paper aims to provide empirical data to show ableist beliefs and practices in a specific cultural setting and presents the cultural acts of adults with intellectual disabilities as an antithesis to ableist beliefs and practices.

By challenging inequalities in various contexts, we envision our shared future through collaboration for building inclusive communities and opposition to ableist ideologies and practices through resistance and resilience. We invite you to join us at our session at the AAA Annual on Saturday, November 17, 2018 at 8:00 a.m.

MinSoo Kim-Bossard is an assistant professor in the Elementary and Early Childhood Education Department at The College of New Jersey.  She grounds her research in the fields of educational anthropology and reconceptualist scholarship in early childhood education, exploring the impact of immigration on the education of young children and their families.

Sylvia Mac is an assistant professor of education at the University of La Verne.  Her research examines how educational processes can promote a more equitable and inclusive educational system for diverse students, as well as understanding how influences, such as neoliberalism, factor into their success and access to quality education.

Please send your comments and ideas for Anthropology News columns to CAE Contributing Editors Patricia D. López ([email protected]) and Cathy Amanti ([email protected]).

Cite as: Kim-Bossard, MinSoo, and Sylvia Mac. 2018. “Challenging Ableist Beliefs, Practices, and Notions of Citizenship.” Anthropology News website, October 31, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1017

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