Spatializing Student Learning to Reimagine the “Place” of Inclusion
by Srikala Naraian — 2016
Background/Context: The goal of inclusive education is universally recognized as the fundamental restructuring of schools to engage hospitably with all forms of difference, including ability. However, inclusion, at least in practice, has come to mean the physical placement of students with disabilities in general-education classrooms. The conundrum of inclusion as currently implemented is that its entanglement with place weakens the possibility of the required large-scale transformation of school spaces. Additionally, analyses of place and disability/inclusion generally assume the concept of place to represent a fixed, stable entity with determinate boundaries, making it difficult to disrupt the linkage between place and disability.
Purpose/Objective: This paper is an attempt to explore a new conception of place that would permit educators to engage with student learning differences without associating them with fixed environments. Rather than consider place as a fixed, naturalized entity, I draw on theorists who develop the spatial dimension of human experience alongside the social and temporal (Soja, 1996; Massey, 1993). Within this theoretical perspective, school places are not merely containers within which events take place; rather, they are formed in the interaction of webs of ideas and people. The research questions for this paper, therefore, were as follows: How is place constructed within the discourse of teachers? To what extent do such constructions reflect prevailing notions of special education or inclusion as a place?
Research Design: Data for this paper drew primarily on 19 interviews I conducted with nine educators during the course of a series of ethnographically-oriented studies conducted between 2005 and 2014. Each of the studies addressed in this paper was conducted in schooling sites in the U.S. where general- and special-education teachers were supporting students with a range of disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Teacher interview data from a nine-month professional development sequence in inclusive practices were also used for this paper. The development of categories during data analysis for this paper emerged from triangulating interview data with extensive field notes maintained for each site.
Findings: Data analysis disclosed that teachers participated in maintaining the boundaries of places through their conceptions of students as learners, even as their own professional identities were produced via the historically mediated beliefs and practices that were implicated within those places. As educators struggled to create places of inclusion, the identities of such places differed depending on the logic in which they were anchored: student connectedness or learning need.
Conclusions: Supported by an alternate conceptualization of learning need, I draw on the linkage between teacher identity and place to propose that a diasporic sensibility can enable different relations between the two, making inclusion a spatially fluid project involving changing networks of people and experiences.
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