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Inviting Interdisciplinary Alliances Around Inclusive Educational Reform: Introduction to the Special Issue on Disability Studies in Education

by Susan Baglieri, Lynne M. Bejoian, Alicia A. Broderick, David J. Connor & Jan Valle - 2011

This article introduces the special issue, Disability Studies in Education.

In March 2008, we, the guest editors of this special issue, served as cochairs to the Eighth Annual Second City Conference on Disability Studies in Education hosted by Teachers College, Columbia University.1 We organized the conference around the theme, “Mitigating Exclusion: Building Alliances Toward Inclusive Education Reform in Pedagogy and Policy.” As explicated in our call for proposals, the purpose of this conference was

to explore the politics of exclusion with view to strengthening alliances in complementary areas of study (e.g., feminist studies, queer studies, critical race studies, and so on) as we continue to agitate for and implement change toward more inclusive policies and practices in public education. . . . The sponsoring organization for this conference is the Disability Studies in Education (DSE) special interest group (SIG) [of the American Educational Research Association]. As such, the participants and audience of this conference have historically been comprised of scholars working in the field(s) of disability. This year we aim to broaden our alliances in working toward inclusive education reform, by seeking both to build alliances with researchers in complementary areas of study, as well as by seeking the broader input and participation of other constituencies invested in inclusive education reform (i.e. classroom teachers, individuals labeled with disability/disabled people, family members of individuals labeled with disability/disabled people).

The decade-old DSE SIG and its annual conference have been aligned from their inceptions with the broad agenda of inclusive educational reform, often engaging with issues related to “inclusive education” and “inclusive pedagogy” through annual conference themes.2 The SIG largely comprises scholars working in the field(s) of disability; however, we are increasingly cognizant of the need not only to build political and scholarly alliances but also to work across disciplines, fields of study, and constituencies/interest groups if we, as an organization, are to contribute to furthering an inclusive education agenda conceptualized as radical educational reform.

As an outgrowth of this conference, particularly our closing plenary panel entitled “Cultivating Interdisciplinary Dialogues,” we (cochairs of the conference and special issue editors) developed an introductory article entitled “[Re]claiming ‘Inclusive Education’ Toward Cohesion in Educational Reform: Disability Studies Unravels the Myth of the Normal Child” (Baglieri, Bejoian, Broderick, Connor, & Valle, 2011, this issue). We circulated this introductory article to our five invited plenary panelists from the conference (four of whom presented at the conference and one of whom was invited but unable to attend) and invited a continuation of the interdisciplinary dialogue begun at that session through the development of original manuscripts (either single- or coauthored) that directly engage with ideas raised in the article. Each panelist was originally invited to participate in the plenary because each had already distinguished himself or herself as a scholar whose work either actively explores, or is ripe for exploration regarding, issues of intersectionality (of race, ethnicity, class, dis/ability, sexuality, gender, and so on) in experiences of educational exclusion. In keeping with this dialogic process, our special issue begins with the introductory article referenced above, is followed by presentation (in no particular order) of the five manuscripts that our plenary panelists generated in response to that article and concludes with a closing manuscript that was written in response to the five manuscripts authored by our panelists.

In our introductory article (Baglieri et al., 2011), we assert that imagining schools as places where children can find belonging and community conjures values and ideas with which few would argue, and indeed that democracy is posed as the political ideal of our culture. Within the context of this broad cultural and political discourse on schooling, we argue that the [re]claiming of inclusive education provides a heuristic concept and political agenda around which many strands of critical educational reform can cohere. At the center of our critique is the myth of the normal child—an idea of interest to scholars in the fields of DSE and disability studies (DS) more broadly, and an idea we seek to explore with critical scholars engaged in allied work seeking to contest, resist, and mitigate educational inequities. We contend that the commonality among a wide variety of ideologies of difference is rife with underexplored promise for allied work in inclusive education reform.

Erevelles (2011, this issue) draws simultaneously on the theoretical tools of both queer theory and DSE perspective, exploring the ways in which both ableist and heterosexist ideologies operate (often in overlapping and intersecting ways) as discourses of exclusion in schools. She argues that the regressive rhetoric of inclusion currently in vogue does little to critique how Other students, not just students with recognizable disabilities, are excluded by the normative discourses of schooling. She argues that for inclusive education to reclaim its transformative imperative, it would have to reimagine its original intent of (re)claiming disability by producing a refreshing new script that explores the radical possibilities of “coming out crip.”

Zion and Blanchett (2011, this issue) argue that the regressive iterations of “inclusive education” to emerge from within special education in the United States never even had the potential to be inclusive of all children, given that these iterations have been culturally grounded within the racist premise that people of color are biologically inferior to Whites. Their analysis offers a critique of the history of “inclusive” educational practice in the United States, a contention that future iterations’ needs must be grounded within a perspective of social justice, and an exploration of the specific contribution that Bell’s notion of interest convergence within the tradition of critical race theory may contribute to more progressive reconceptualizations of inclusivity in education.

Leonardo and Broderick (2011, this issue) take our invitation to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue perhaps more literally than some by electing, as a scholar of whiteness studies and a scholar of disability studies, respectively, to construct a piece that aims to critique “smartness” as an ideological system, with very real and differential materialist impacts on students’ lives by operating as cultural “property” in schools. They engage in this critique simultaneously and collaboratively from the perspectives of critical race theory and from a DSE perspective, critically exploring and asserting throughout the theoretical limitations and shortfalls inherent in exploring the issue from either perspective alone.

Ahram, Fergus, and Noguera (2011, this issue) explore how the social construct of the “normal child” is racialized through the special education processes of referral and classification, and subsequently produces disproportional representation of minority students in special education. Their analysis suggests a convergence of two distinctly problematic processes: (1) the development of racialized assumptions of cultural deficit on the part of special education professionals that result in problematic conceptualizations of disability and (2) the subsequent labeling of students in special education through a pseudoscientific placement process.

Ferri (2011, this issue), seeking to interrupt the dominant scripts of disability as well as to delve more deeply into the “interplay between ableism and other aspects of [identity and] culture” (Baglieri et al., 2011, this issue), argues that contemporary disability life writing can and should be read as challenging a tangle of oppressive ideologies and destabilizing any claim to a normative or fixed center that undergirds so many of the exclusionary practices in education. In her manuscript, she argues that a critical disability studies approach requires more than the infusion of different kinds of texts, but also the incorporation of diverse methods of analysis and theoretical framing of those texts, to fully appreciate their transgressive potential.

In the closing article, we (Valle, Connor, Broderick, Bejoian, & Baglieri, 2011, this issue) analyze the writings of scholars featured within this special issue of TCR, focusing on convergences of ideas and disciplinary-specific interanimations reflected in a variety of fields, including disability studies, critical race studies, queer studies, and feminist studies. In addition, we pose the notions of exclusivity justified by the prevalent rhetoric of neoliberalism as a shared concern and offer opposing vignettes to illustrate how discourses of both neoliberalism and inclusivity are performed in classrooms. Finally, we reassert our initial contention that inclusive education represents a political agenda around which multiple strands of critical educational reform may cohere, and we urge the continuation of the conversation begun in this special issue, with the hope of further cultivating interdisciplinary alliances united in their common desire to work toward equitable and democratic education.

We are delighted that the editors of Teachers College Record felt that our call to invite an interdisciplinary dialogue with allied critical scholars was both timely and relevant to TCR’s broad, interdisciplinary audience of educational researchers. Indeed, one of the challenges of working from a DSE perspective is that many people who are unfamiliar with the critical epistemological history of DSE may mistakenly conceptualize any reference to the study of “disability” within education as necessarily being related to or entrenched within the discourses of special education, and therefore conceptualize this work as somehow being unrelated to critical work grounded within other disciplines and traditions of inquiry such as multicultural studies, gender studies, critical pedagogy, critical race theory, social foundations of education, postcolonial theory, or queer theory. We purposefully seek to initiate alliances and interdisciplinary dialogues with other critical educators, both because we recognize that DSE has much to learn from other critical traditions, and because we are confident that we have much to contribute as well. The potential for theoretical and political generativity that such alliances among critical scholars may yield is exciting and provocative. We believe that DSE, in concert with other criticalist perspectives, can educate citizens to question school organization, personnel, and practices that perpetuate the damaging ideologies and discourses of difference that conjure the myth of normal/average/ordinary/typical/standard children. This special issue is a call to fellow critical educators to incite the social imagination for what can be, rather than accepting what is; as such, we believe that allied, critical educational research is imperative for the pursuit of increasingly inclusive, increasingly equitable, and increasingly democratic schooling for all students.


1. The conference was additionally cosponsored by the City University of New York; Long Island University–Brooklyn Campus; National Lewis University; and the Disability Studies in Education special interest group of the American Educational Research Association.

2. For example, in addition to the 2008 conference theme noted, the 2006 and 2007 DSE conference themes, respectively, were: “Disability Studies and Inclusive Education: Negotiating Tensions and Integrating Research, Policy, and Practice” and “Disability Studies and Inclusive Education: Implications for Practice?”


Ahram, R., Fergus, E., & Noguera, P. (2011). Addressing racial/ethnic disproportionality in special education: Case studies of suburban school districts. Teachers College Record, 113(10).

Baglieri, S., Bejoian, L. M., Broderick, A. A., Connor, D. J., & Valle, J. W. (2011). [Re]claiming “inclusive education” toward cohesion in educational reform: Disability studies unravels the myth of the normal child. Teachers College Record, 113(10).

Erevelles, N. (2011). “Coming out crip” in inclusive education. Teachers College Record, 113(10).

Ferri, B. A. (2011). Disability life writing and the politics of knowing. Teachers College Record, 113(10).

Leonardo, Z., & Broderick., A. A. (2011). Smartness as property: A critical exploration of intersections between whiteness and disability studies. Teachers College Record, 113(10).

Valle, J. W., Connor, D. J., Broderick, A. A., Bejoian, L. M., & Baglieri, S. (2011). Creating alliances against exclusivity: A pathway to inclusive educational reform. Teachers College Record, 113(10).

Zion, S. D., & Blanchett, W. J. (2011). [Re]conceptualizing inclusion: Can critical race theory and interest convergence be utilized to achieve inclusion and equity for African American students? Teachers College Record, 113(10).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 10, 2011, p. 2115-2121
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16427, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 2:41:21 AM

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About the Author
  • Susan Baglieri
    Long Island University
    E-mail Author
    SUSAN BAGLIERI is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus in New York City. Her research interests are teacher education, inclusive education, and disability studies.
  • Lynne Bejoian
    City University of New York
    LYNNE M. BEJOIAN is a committed educator to the full inclusion of and access for all persons with disabilities in all aspects of human endeavors. She is an experienced disability advocate and services professional. Currently, she teaches disability studies in education within the City University of New York. Research areas of interest include women and disability, media representations and disability, inclusive teaching and collaboration, and spirituality and disability.
  • Alicia Broderick
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    ALICIA A. BRODERICK is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her work is grounded in commitments to pursue inclusive schooling from a collaborative stance informed by disability studies in education (DSE) and other criticalist perspectives. Her research and teaching interests include critical explorations of cultural representations of dis/ability (particularly autism), and the role of DSE in pursuing socially just and inclusive schooling.
  • David Connor
    Hunter College
    E-mail Author
    DAVID J. CONNOR is an associate professor in the School of Education at Hunter College, City University of New York. He also teaches a course in disability studies in education for CUNY's School of Professional Studies and is a faculty member at large of CUNY's Graduate Center doctoral program in urban education. His research interests include disability, learning disabilities, inclusive education, and general issues of social justice.
  • Jan Valle
    City College of New York
    JAN VALLE is an associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at the City College of New York. Her research interests include parents and families of children with disabilities, parent and professional collaboration in schools, disability studies in education, and disability and the arts.
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