Double Jeopardy: Addressing Gender Equity in Special Education Supports and Services
reviewed by Robert L. Osgood - 2002
Title: Double Jeopardy: Addressing Gender Equity in Special Education Supports and Services
Author(s): Harilyn Rousso, Michael L. Wehmeyer (Editors)
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 0791450767, Pages: 384, Year: 2001
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Historically, the school experiences of students in special education have been designed and implemented with a primary, if not exclusive, focus on the nature and needs of a child’s particular disability or disabilities. This emphasis on the disability label as the defining feature of an eligible child has helped establish disability as an essential consideration in providing appropriate education for millions of students. Nevertheless, such a particularistic approach has come under serious question in recent years. More holistic approaches to special education and the advent of the inclusion movement have challenged teachers and administrators to consider all aspects of a child’s life in designing more effective and inclusive individualized programs for students with special needs.
The editors of Double Jeopardy: Addressing Gender Equity in Special Education, Harilyn Rousso and Michael L. Wehmeyer, have put together a significant contribution toward these efforts. This volume, published as part of the SUNY Press’ series on the Social Context of Education, includes a wide range of research, reviews, essays, commentary, and "best practice" features addressing the complex interactions of gender and disability as manifested in school as well as community settings. Arguing that "[t]here is a growing body of evidence that being disabled and female is a double disadvantage, placing young women with disabilities in double jeopardy for poverty, unemployment, and a bleak future upon leaving school," and that "issues related to disability, gender and education are rarely discussed," the editors prepared the book as "an attempt to begin that dialogue" (p. 2). Its ultimate purpose, according to the editors, is "to enable educators to fulfill the promise of a quality education for their students with disabilities who are female and, by extension, all students" (p. 2). This is especially important because many women with disabilities are coming to recognize their multiple disadvantages and are thus beginning to "take up the fight" for greater equity in their education and social opportunities. "As educators," ask the editors, "isn’t it our job to join them?" (p. 7)
The volume is divided into four sections. The first, "Gender and Disability," offers two selections establishing the general frameworks for discussing gender, disability, and the complex web of factors involved in defining and working with children in school settings. In Chapter 1, "Beyond Pedestals," Adrienne Asch and the editors present a clearly written and carefully crafted landscape of the intricate and potent interactions of gender and disability in the classroom and the community--defining terms, admonishing feminist scholarship for its neglect of disability issues, reviewing related research, disentangling the biological, functional, and social aspects of disability, and raising calls to action. Eric Jolly’s following essay, "Won’t You Know All of Me?", provides some brief commentary on the importance of recognizing the complexities of individual differences as well as some general suggestions for teachers on how to take advantage of those differences.
Section Two is entitled "Gender Issues in the Education of All Students." Although some of the chapters do include specific discussions of disability, the primary concern of the section is to establish the multiple ways in which gender discrimination and inequity arise in the school and community. Consequently, the section covers a wide array of themes, topics, and methods of investigation. Following an introductory piece by Katherine Hanson and Susan J. Smith, subsequent chapters offer rich detail and discussion on topics such as Title IX; gender bias in the curriculum, in math and science education, and in teacher-student interactions; and sexual harassment. The section also includes a chapter thoroughly discussing how gender bias affects boys, one on designing "non-sexist inclusive curricula," and a final, moving essay by Maryann Wicket, an elementary school teacher, describing in sometimes painful detail her own struggles to establish a bias-free classroom environment for herself and her students.
"Gender Issues in the Education of Students with Disabilities" constitutes Section Three and supplies the most specific and direct attempts to link equity issues related to both gender and disability. The section opens with a thorough review of extant research on gender bias in special education services. The section’s other articles actually take the reader away from school settings, looking at topics such as employment opportunities and outcomes for women with disabilities, the role of after school programs in the lives of young disabled women, the importance of effective role models (those with as well as those without disabilities) for such individuals, and a description of one program, Living Out Loud, designed to enhance the life experiences of adolescent girls with learning disabilities and/or physical disabilities.
The concluding section, "Summary and Future Directions," consists of a chapter by the editors outlining their suggested agenda for addressing this issue. Although brief, the final chapter does an excellent job of not only summarizing developments and presenting an agenda for the future but also of drawing together the depth and breadth of the information presented in the book and expressing its value in concise and coherent terms.
The strengths of the book are many and varied. The editors and authors have accomplished a formidable task: they have offered a portrait of an important and complex aspect of school and community life that is as comprehensive as it is clear. Most of the chapters are eloquently written and reiterate the theme that young women with disabilities face a variety of challenges in their school and community lives. Many of the chapters offer thorough reviews of the literature in terms of research conducted in specific areas, indicating that while much research has been done, in many other areas research has been ignored, even consciously so. The volume contains a multifaceted approach to investigating this broad issue: meta-analyses of research, a wealth of practical (if sometimes overly general) suggestions for parents and professionals, and a consistent refusal to compartmentalize children according to any particular label or stamp. The wide array of authors contributing to the volume includes college professors, leaders of advocacy groups, school professionals, and disability experts, helping to ensure multiple avenues of analysis and investigation.
The book’s primary limitation is that the editors may have missed opportunities to provide other kinds of essays that would have added significantly to their insights. While the book includes several reviews of research literature, there is little original research of an empirical nature prepared specifically for volume. Many of the contributors noted "little research had been done" in many areas; it would have been most helpful to feature some research in those areas both to contribute to our understanding and to provide a model for other studies. In addition, there was but one teacher’s voice featured prominently as an author; the power and quality of the piece suggest that similar works, including pieces by young women with disabilities or members of their families, would have added important and authentic perspective and understanding to the lived experiences of the true subjects of the book. However, these are understandable in light of the extensive coverage already provided in a lengthy work. These comments instead should be taken as encouragement to produce other work to follow up on the significant and important contributions of this volume to the fields of both gender studies and special education.