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Tools of Exclusion: Race, Disability, and (Re)segregated Education

by Beth A. Ferri & David J. Connor - 2005

In this article we explore the dynamic interplay between racism and ableismor discrimination against someone based on perceived "ability" - in the resistance to school desegregation and inclusion of students with disabilities in general education. In attending to the workings of power that connect these two histories, we show how racialized notions of ability functioned to uphold segregated schooling and justify the use of special education as a tool of racial resegregation. Moreover, we locate the current problem of overrepresentation of Black students (and other students of color) in segregated special education classrooms to the connected discourses of segregation and exclusion. Recent efforts to challenge exclusionary practices in special education through the increased "inclusion" of students with disabilities in regular classrooms have resulted in resistance similar to that expressed in response to school desegregation shortly after Brown. In this article we first provide an overview of the complicated and intertwined histories of school desegregation and special education. Then, in the discursive context of a sample of very diverse newspapers, we examine how editors, readers and contributors responded to both court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s and then special education inclusion in the 1980s and 1990s by calling for delays and gradual compliance. We argue that gradualism has functioned to maintain, rather than disrupt, the status quo of racially segregated schooling both within and across schools. Finally, we argue that race and disability should be understood primarily as interactive social constructs and not distinct biological markers.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 3, 2005, p. 453-474
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11795, Date Accessed: 4/10/2021 7:45:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Beth Ferri
    Syracuse University
    E-mail Author
    BETH A. FERRI, Ph.D., is associate professor in Teaching and Leadership, Cultural Foundations of Education, and Disability Studies at Syracuse University, where she also coordinates the masters program in Secondary Inclusive Education. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Womenís Studies program at Syracuse University.
  • David Connor
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    DAVID J. CONNOR, M.Ed., is a doctoral candidate in the Learning Dis/Abilities program, and adjunct instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University. His dissertation research focusing on the intersections of disability, race, and class was awarded the Teachers College Presidentís Grant for Student Research in Diversity. As a teacher and teacher-educator, he has worked in the public school system of New York City for 18 years.
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