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Locating the Problem Within: Race, Learning Disabilities, and Science


by Justin E. Freedman & Beth A. Ferri — 2017

Background/Context: In this paper we draw on an intersectional critical framework to analyze and account for the simultaneous interworkings of race and dis/ability. Specifically, we draw on this framework to examine two aims of modern science: (a) to identify distinct biological markers of race and (b) to locate biological and neurological origins of Learning Disabilities (LD). These aims persist despite evidence that both race and LD are socially and politically constructed categories.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: By reviewing historical and contemporary attempts by researchers to locate race and LD as immutable features embodied by individuals, we reveal how the science behind these categories shares similar underlying systems of logic; both efforts attempt to locate social problems within bodies and illustrate what Samuels (2014) calls “fantasies of identification,” or culturally embedded desires to definitively identify and categorize bodies.

Research Design: This is a historical analysis

Conclusions/Recommendations: We assert the need to engage with intersectional analyses, not simply as demographic variables along the lines of identity categories, but as an analytical tool for uncovering underlying logics that undergird systems of oppression. Examining the shared scientific explanations of race and learning disabilities illuminates possibilities for rethinking key issues at the intersection of race and disability.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 5, 2017, p. 1-28
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21846, Date Accessed: 12/15/2017 10:49:04 AM

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About the Author
  • Justin Freedman
    Syracuse University
    E-mail Author
    JUSTIN FREEDMAN is a doctor candidate in the Special Education and Disability Studies programs in the School of Education at Syracuse University. His research focuses on critiquing scientific explanations of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities. His article entitled “An analysis of the discourses on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in US special education textbooks, with implications for inclusive education” was recently published in the International Journal of Inclusive Education.
  • Beth Ferri
    Syracuse University
    E-mail Author
    BETH A. FERRI, Ph.D. is a Professor of Inclusive Education and Disability Studies at Syracuse University, where she also coordinates the Doctoral program in Special Education. Professor Ferri has published widely on the intersection of race, gender, and disability. In addition to over 50 articles and chapters, she has also published three co-written/edited books: Reading Resistance: Discourses of Exclusion in Desegregation and Inclusion Debates (2006, Peter Lang); Righting Educational Wrongs: Disability Studies Law and Education (2013, SU Press); and DisCrit: Critical Conversations Across Race, Class, & Dis/ability (2016, Teachers College Press).
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