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[Re]conceptualizing Inclusion: Can Critical Race Theory and Interest Convergence Be Utilized to Achieve Inclusion and Equity for African American Students?


by Shelley D. Zion & Wanda Blanchett - 2011

Background/Context: Even though not fully realized, in legislation and theory, the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act and the No Child Left Behind Act have created pressure to address the historical inequity in educational opportunity, achievement, and outcomes, as well as disparities in achievement between students of color and White students; disproportionality in special education referral, identification, and placement; high dropout rates for students of color; and disproportionate discipline and referrals for students of color, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, students from immigrant families, and students in urban areas.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The authors argue that inclusive education never had the potential to be truly inclusive because it is built on the premises of an inferiority paradigm. Issues of race, class, and privilege have rarely been incorporated into the inclusive education definitions or debates in the United States, and certainly not in practice. The purpose of this article is to examine: (a) the historical context of public schooling in America; (b) inclusive education in practice: segregation of African American and other students of color; (c) [re]conceptualizing inclusion: the importance of a social justice lens and critical theory; and (d) the relevance of interest convergence.

Research Design: Analytic essay

Conclusions/Recommendations: The authors contend that the inclusive education movement has not resulted in positive outcomes or inclusion in general education for African American students because the movement was built on faulty assumptions that centered on ability and placement and did not look at the intersection of ability/disability with race, class, culture, and language. More important, the movement did not address issues of racism, White privilege, White dominance, and social class dominance. The authors assert that social justice, critical race theory, and interest convergence are powerful tools with which to [re]conceptualize inclusion and inclusive education in America.


“Inclusion” means inviting those who have been historically locked out to “come in.” This well-intentioned meaning must be strengthened. A weakness of this definition is evident. Who has the authority or right to “invite” others in? And how did the “inviters” get in? Finally, who is doing the excluding?. . . The act of inclusion means fighting against exclusion and all of the social diseases exclusion gives birth to. (Shafik Asante, n.d.).


As we enter the 21st century, even with the successful implementation of “inclusion,” African American and other students of color are still disproportionately placed in special education, receive the most segregated special education placements, have the poorest postschool outcomes, and continue to be segregated from their White and nondisabled peers. (Blanchett, 2010). The 1954 Brown legal decision requiring schools to provide an equal educational opportunity for all students launched a new era in public education policy that embedded conversations about race, equality, and inclusion in law and public policy. Brown provided the impetus for current legislation, such as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 (2002), which establish requirements that address the need to ensure that all students in the United States are provided equal educational opportunities.


Even though not fully realized, in legislation and theory, the requirements of IDEIA and NCLB have created pressure to address the historical inequity in educational opportunity, achievement, and outcomes that plagues our educational system. Among the most significant issues that have been placed on the table for resolution are disparities in achievement between students of color and White students; disproportionality in special education referral, identification, and placement; high dropout rates for students of color; and disproportionate discipline and referrals for students of color, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, students from immigrant families, and students in urban areas. Our public education system today faces a variety of pressures to live up to the expectations established in Brown v. Board of Education to provide equal educational opportunities for all children attending public schools in the United States. Brown set the stage for the pursuit of equity in educational opportunity in the decision that separate was not equal for students of color, and IDEIA has further clarified the responsibility of public schools to provide a free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities—specifically, that they should be included in the general education classroom and curriculum to the maximum extent appropriate. NCLB further extends this duty; it explicitly holds schools accountable for improving the performance of historically low-achieving students, particularly students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students with limited English proficiency, and students with special education backgrounds (NCLB, 2002). These mandates create the context in which educational systems must begin to look at equity not only in the provision of educational opportunities, but with a focus on educational outcomes as well. It is our contention that the reason we have yet to be effective on a large scale in improving outcomes for all students is that we have not yet framed the problem appropriately—as part of the history and legacy of racism in the United States, and as an issue of civil rights and social justice, viewed through a critical lens. Accordingly, a critical lens must underlie any and all efforts we make at improving schools and outcomes for students. Such a lens must be applied to examine the current status of inclusion, and who has benefited from the inclusive education movement and, more important, why.


In this article, we argue that inclusive education never had the potential to be inclusive of all children, because it is built on the premises of the inferiority paradigm, which assumes that people of color are biologically and genetically inferior to Whites (Tate, 1997). Issues of race, class, and privilege have rarely been incorporated into the inclusive education definitions or debates in the United States, although there is emerging scholarship internationally that calls for definitions of inclusion to incorporate other areas of marginality (Baglieri, Bejoian, Broderick, Connor, & Valle, 2011, in this issue). To expand our conceptualization of “inclusive education,” a critical lens, supported by the frameworks of critical race theory (CRT) and interest convergence, has to be applied to past, current, and future inclusive education practices to examine the extent to which we are doing whatever it takes to remove all barriers so that we really can educate all children. Hence, the purpose of this article is to examine: (a) the historical context of public schooling in America; (b) inclusive education in practice: segregation of African American and other students of color; (c) [re]conceptualizing inclusion: the importance of a social justice lens and critical theory; and (d) [re]conceptualizing inclusive education: the relevance of interest convergence.


CRT names race as the defining issue that underlies all our law and public policy and uses the principle of interest convergence to critique key elements of the civil rights movement and legislation to provide an explanation of why those on the inside finally invite (or allow) those on the outside in: It is when the interests of those in power (Whites) converge with those on the margins (Blacks) that law and public policy will make way for civil rights gains. Lynn and Parker (2006) and Milner (2008) called for educators to use CRT and the principle of interest convergence as an analytical tool to “analyze, explain, and conceptualize policies and practices in teacher education” (Milner, p. 332). We will argue in this article that interest convergence can be used not only as an analytical tool but also as a framework for questioning, understanding, disrupting, and leveraging change by uncovering and naming the tension inherent in the idea of inclusion (who is out and who is in) and thus begin an authentic dialogue about the impact of race on special education policy.


THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF PUBLIC SCHOOLING IN AMERICA


Historically, public schools have served the dual role of controlling and sorting children deemed problematic or undesirable by society. The first public school was established in 1647 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the purpose of teaching students to read the bible so they would know the rules of their religion (Applied Research Center, 2006). In 1779, Thomas Jefferson proposed a two-track educational system, with one track for the laborer and one for the learned. This system would allow a very small number to advance from lower to upper classes, by “raking a few geniuses from the rubbish” (Applied Research Center). In 1805, the New York Public School Society was founded and developed a model of schooling that focused on obedience and discipline in response to what factory owners needed in workers. In 1851, the first compulsory education law was passed, with the goal of “ensuring that the children of poor immigrants get ‘civilized’ and learn obedience and restraint, so they make good workers and don’t contribute to social upheaval” (Applied Research Center).


Public school has long been used as an instrument of segregation and forced assimilation, beginning with laws that forbade slaves to learn to read, removed Native American students from their homes and placed them in boarding schools, outlawed the use of languages other than English in public school classrooms, and criminalized children who did not attend school (Gatto, 2005). Further, beginning in 1896 with Plessy v. Ferguson, the law authorized the notion of separate but equal, legitimized segregation in U.S. society, and allowed for continued segregation of African American students in public education. It is possible to argue that schools have come a long way since 1647. After all, there is Brown v. Board of Education, which eliminated segregation based on race; the school choice movement, which created an array of charter school choices for families who can access them; and the disability rights movement, which ensured a free and appropriate education in public school settings—and yet, we seem to be no closer to closing the racial equity gaps in our education system (Berlak, 2001).


Our public education system was developed with a set of purposes, explicitly stated in law and public policy, to control and sort students according to the needs of the state. Joel Springs, in American Education (2005), named three purposes of schooling: the political goal of educating future citizens to participate in a democratic republic, the social goal of controlling the behaviors of the masses, and the economic goal of socializing workers into industry. Our educational system was initiated, and refined, to meet these needs.


Current law has moved from the notion of control and sorting into rhetoric about the provision of equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. It seems no surprise, then, that reform efforts, particularly those aimed at inclusion, are not working for all students; the system, as it was designed, is working at cross purposes to the outcomes that are now named.


INCLUSIVE EDUCATION: CONTINUED SEGREGATION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN AND OTHER STUDENTS OF COLOR


As the editors of this special issue stated, the practice of inclusion in the United States “refers to initiatives to open general education to students labeled with disabilities” (Baglieri et al., 2011, this issue). Consequently, little attention has been given to exploring inclusion in a broad sense, where it is focused on all areas of marginalization and ending all forms of social exclusion (Graham & Slee, 2008). Because inclusion in practice in the United States does not include “those who have been historically locked out” (Asante, n.d.), the benefits of inclusion have not been extended to all, and in fact have created exclusion while largely ignoring educational inequities. With a few exceptions (Erevelles, Kanga, & Middleton, 2006; Ferri, 2008; Ferri & Connor, 2005; Reid & Knight, 2006), many in the disability studies and disability studies in education movements have remained silent about the disproportionate representation of students of color in disability categories and the continued exclusion of students of color identified with disabilities from general education classrooms while their White peers with the same disabilities have been included. This is a symptom of an educational system that, in spite of federal mandates and legislation to the contrary, still serves to sort and marginalize students of color (Blanchett, 2010; Klingner et al., 2005).


Even within the dominant narrative about the supposed success of the inclusive education movement, the quality of education that students receive and their access to the general education classroom seem to be affected by the intersection of race, culture, disability, and language (Blanchett, Klingner, & Harry, 2009). According to the 28th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2009), 52% of students labeled as having disabilities in the United States are indeed included in general education classrooms for 80% or more of their day. However, despite this, many African American and other students of color with these very same disability labels are still segregated from their peers with and without disabilities and not included in general education settings (U.S. Department of Education). Because the disparities in access to inclusive education settings are greatest among African American students when compared with their White peers with the same disability labels, African American students’ access to inclusive education will be the primary focus of this article. Because African American students are often educated in segregated special education settings versus inclusive general education settings, these marginalized students are being denied an opportunity to receive an equitable education, and it seems that few have noticed, let alone acted to interrupt this injustice.


The most current data available on special education referral, identification, and placement highlight the racial inequities and disparities in our special education system. Students’ risk index for being labeled as having a disability and placed in special education is impacted by their race/ethnicity, as evidenced in the 28th Annual Report to Congress (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). For example, American Indian/Alaska Native students experience a risk of 13.7%, African American students 12.4%, White students 8.7%, Hispanic students 8.3%, and Asian/Pacific Islander students 4.6% of being labeled as having a disability. The data also suggest disparities with regard to the placements that students receive and their access to inclusive or general education classrooms. For instance, African American students are least likely to be educated in the general education classroom for 80% or more of the day, at 41% of the time, as compared with 56.8% of White students. What is even more problematic is that even in a culture in which inclusive education is common practice, 26.2% of African American students are educated outside the general education classroom for more than 60% of their day, and 5.5% are educated in a separate educational environment entirely. In addition, African American students are 2.83 times more likely to be identified and labeled with mental retardation and 2.24 times more likely to identified as emotionally disturbed than other racial groups combined; these two categories have the lowest rates of inclusion in the general education classroom (56.9% and 45.6%, respectively). Finally, African American students with disabilities drop out of school at a rate of 38.3%, compared with a rate of 27.5% for White students.


These stark realities suggest that our dominant narrative about “inclusive education” must be questioned. How is it that in 21st-century America, the inclusive education movement—which was supposedly born to prevent the continued segregation of students with disabilities and to ensure that these labeled students would both have access to the general education curriculum and be full participants in all facets of life (Blanchett, 2006)—leaves so many children of color excluded? Clearly, these outcomes of inclusion for African American and other students of color highlight the need to reconceptualize inclusion to reflect a social justice framework and the infusion of critical theories so that we move toward a conceptualization of inclusion that is not simply focused on ensuring that primarily White students with disabilities are included in general education classrooms. To be sure, we are calling for a conceptualization of inclusion that interrogates racism, classism, ableism, and all forms of privilege, discrimination, and marginalization.


[RE]CONCEPTUALIZING INCLUSION: IMPORTANCE OF CRITICAL THEORIES


In the paragraphs that follow, we lay out some of the theoretical frameworks that provide an opportunity for us to analyze, critique, and reconceptualize education in a way that redefines the purpose of schooling—to serve a liberating, emancipatory outcome and eliminate the need for insiders and outsiders—because, in spite of changes in legislation and education policy, the gaps between privileged and marginalized students have increased over the past 20 years (Berlak, 2001). The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE, 2007) report, Tough Choices or Tough Times, stated that “our education and training systems were built for another era. We can get where we must go only by changing the system itself” (p. xx).


We propose a radical critique of both the current assumptions about and efforts for inclusion, and a move away from legalistic and incremental movements toward justice, toward a new framework in which we move from the dominant ideology around learning into a new ideology that will form a strong foundation for discussing and dismantling the ways in which we continue to marginalize and exclude students based on the intersections of their racial, economic, and ability status. Ivan Illich (1971) named school (the age-based, teacher-focused, and compulsory attendance model) as the problem rather than the solution to equity in our country, because it creates formal mechanisms to discriminate against some members of society and to privilege others. Illich’s critique of public education was that it begins with the assumption that there are preset “things” that all people need to learn, that we can determine what those things are, and that we can train other people to deliver those things. He challenged the field of education to rise above this notion and to instead begin with the question, “What kinds of things and people might learners want to be in contact with in order to learn [what they want to learn about]?” (p. 78).


Similarly, Passeron and Bourdieu (1990) explicated this idea within a framework of social reproduction, in which they named cultural and social capital as the means by which individuals in society contribute to their own ongoing marginalization or elite status, and situated the educational system as a primary institution that perpetuates the cycle of social reproduction of class and status difference. Cultural capital incorporates all the individual advantages that individuals may have because of their education, knowledge, or skills that enable them to achieve a higher status in our society, whereas social capital refers to those same types of advantages that are based on group membership. Social institutions are set up by those in power and thus are organized to support and value the types of cultural and social capital held by those in power. Sandra Stein (2004) went a step further and examined the culture of education policy in the United States as a tool for furthering discrimination and marginalization in her analysis of the ways that the language of education policy creates a context in which schools must identify “problem” students to be fixed in order to successfully implement the policy. These theorists view schools as the site of struggle, a place where students must choose to engage with the dominant culture or choose to resist becoming a part of that value set.


Theories that take a critical stance look closely at hidden forms of oppression. Critical multiculturalism specifically addresses existing systemic inequities in curriculum, pedagogy, resource allocation, and policy (Banks, 1995; Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1997; McCarthy, 1993; McLaren, 1997), advocating for direct exploration of embedded biases and inequities of power in all aspects of the school system (Lund, 2003). Critical pedagogy challenges us to a commitment to the co-construction of knowledge by sharing power and authority between students and teachers, challenging the hegemonic notions of what school is and should be, and giving up control of the curriculum and pedagogy of the classroom. Sharing power with communities, families, and students and facilitating questioning of the political and social structures of school create a space in which students and adults broaden their understandings of themselves, the assumptions that society operates by, and the ways in which the world works (Giroux, 1997; McLaren, 1989). Critical theories name schools as political sites that “represent arenas of contestation and struggle among differentially empowered cultural and economic groups” (Giroux, 1983, p. 3) and require us to look at and uncover instances of hegemony. Within this theoretical framework, it is possible to uncover instances of domination and oppression and the role of power and privilege, and understand how the hidden curriculum and reproductive nature of our school system conspire to perpetuate inequities between members of dominant and marginalized groups. This is an issue that also must be addressed if we are to improve the opportunities available to all students—only when all members of society are aware of issues of hegemony and institutionalized oppression can we unite as allies and create the space where true equity in access can occur. This will require an effort on the part of educators to uncover issues of power and privilege and to shift from a perspective of meritocracy and individual achievement to understandings of the social construction of domination and oppression (Applebaum, 2005).


Critical legal studies (CLS) provides a critique of the primacy of universalism in U.S. legal jurisprudence and counters the acceptance of transcendent, acontextual, universal truths grounded in objectivism as based in hegemonic acceptance of dominant cultural norms (Williams in Tate, 1997, p. 220). CLS explores the tensions of the legal system that is built by and enforced by the norms of the dominant culture, in such a way as to leave us unaware of the influences and implications of hegemonic norms that form the basis of that system. Tate explored critical race theory, which originated as a both critique and extension of CLS as a model for exploring the salience of race in our public education system, and called on scholars to begin to question, critique, and reinterpret the ways that race plays out in our public education system. He named the inferiority paradigm as foundational to understanding the need for CRT.  This is based on three key historical elements: the history of research that sought to prove the genetically based intellectual inferiority of African Americans and other people of color by using White middle-class men as the standard against which others are compared; the universal applications of instruments to all groups, with minimal attention to variations within diverse populations; and the failure to recognize possible sources of variance (race, gender, class, language) as explanatory or confounding factors. This theoretical framework gives us a place to begin in reframing the debates about inclusive practices, which are grounded in legalistic notions of moving toward justice without a critique of the systems of power and ideas about inferiority that frame the application of the law, and in the hegemonic norms that are allow us to not critique that differences and power structures that divide us. Disability studies furthers this critique; Ferri and Connor (2005) drew explicit connections between the legacies of the racist practices supposedly dismantled by desegregation, and the use of ableism to continue “permitting forms of racism under the guise of disability” (p. 454) with a dominant ideology that racializes both ability and merit. They called out the dominant cultural norms around which determinations of what counts as academic ability are based and thus used to identify as dis-abled those students who don’t fit within the norms. Ferri (2008) illustrated how both race and disability are socially constructed in relation to the power relations in public schools, and how both are grounded in a deficit-based perspective of disability that fails to examine the behaviors and needs of students that are culturally grounded.


Given the complexities of the intersection of race and disability that are present in conversations about inclusion, and the tension between federal mandates that lay out a vision of what schools can and should be that is in conflict with the ways they have been set up, what are we to do? Derrick Bell’s (1980) seminal thinking about CRT, specifically the principle of interest convergence, which stresses “that the interests of Blacks in achieving racial equality will be accommodated only when it converges with the interests of Whites” (p. 523), may provide an avenue. Many CRT scholars are skeptical about the process of transforming the way that U.S. society operates to ever create a truly equitable environment. However, as Asch (2001) stated,


I share some of the skepticism about whether the goals are attainable. However, I am not ready to abandon the quest for a society in which human beings are appreciated for abilities and talents, assisted based upon their needs, and where differences in skin color, gender, sexual orientation, and health status are not occasions for exclusionary or pejorative treatment. (p. 1)


Scholars of color who have examined the role of CRT in education (Hilliard, 1992; Ladson-Billings, 1998) support this notion, with a challenge for us to find the places where convergence may occur by identifying the interests of the dominant cultural group and the interests of those marginalized, and by working to show the ways that the policies and practices we argue for not only bring about greater equity but also are in the best interests of all parties. It seems that the time is ripe to bring about this type of social change, given that the interests of those in power in our school system include escaping the scrutiny brought to bear by the requirements of NCLB and IDEIA to disaggregate data by race and ethnicity, to document the inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classroom, and to evidence achievement for all students.


It is clear to us that the principle of interest convergence, given that it may be interpreted as maintaining the status quo of who is in power—that is, allowing any group to be the inviters, leaving other groups waiting to be invited in—is problematic. However, if we can use the principle of interest convergence to identify opportunities as Milner (2008) suggested, then we can cease to “beg” those in power for access, but rather use CRT and interest convergence as a disruptive theory of movement “(a) to serve as a tool in explaining processes and developments of racialized and equity-centered  movements and (b) to assist social-justice-oriented individuals in organizing to actually do something to change racist systems, policies, and practices. Indeed, an important goal of critical race theory in education . . . is to foster, support, and advance social change in the human condition” (p. 339).


CRT and the principle of interest convergence can be used not only to critique the current system of special education referral, identification, and placement, but also to question, understand, disrupt, and leverage change by uncovering and naming the tension inherent in the idea of inclusion (who is out and who is in) and thus begin an authentic dialogue about the impact of race on special education policy and by identifying levers that, if engaged, might move us toward equity in school outcomes for all students.


[RE]CONCEPTUALIZING INCLUSIVE EDUCATION: TOWARD AN EQUITY AGENDA


As stated previously, there are a number of problems with how inclusion and inclusive education have been conceptualized and practiced in United States. Seen through an equity lens, the most obvious shortcoming is the continued segregation of African American and other students of color in special education placements while their White peers with the same disability labels are being educated in general education classrooms and afforded all the rights and privileges associated with such a placement. This exclusionary practice occurring within the context of an inclusive education movement, and the fact that it has not been disrupted or corrected, begs interrogation. CRT and interest convergence provide an intellectual and political frame within which to question issues of access to and equity in education as identified by Donnor (2005):


Who gets what (e.g., placement in advanced courses)? How and why do they get these advantages? Why did someone else or another group not receive the same benefits? Why does the same group continue not to benefit when all things are “equal”? Is this a historical pattern or an isolated case? (p. 62)


The earlier review of literature indicates that students of color do not get equitable access to inclusive educational opportunities and shows the historical pattern of this issue, while naming the disconnects between the purpose of schooling and the interests of the dominant cultural groups as the reason for this continued inequity. We have also named the opportunity that currently exists, given recent law and public policy, to address and re-dress these issues. Employing a CRT interest convergence perspective, we raise the following questions: (1) Whose interests are involved in the continued segregation of African American and other students color? (2) What are those interests? (3) Where is the opportunity for convergence? (4) How close are we to convergence? (5) What do we need to do to get to convergence? and (6) If convergence results in legal remedies, will we be in the same place as we are currently with desegregation?


Whose interests are involved in the continued segregation of African American and other students of color? We do not contend that we have all the answers to these questions. However, at minimum, we assert that these are indeed questions that the field of education and we—as scholars in disability studies, disability studies in education, urban education, or any area of equity in education scholarship—must grapple with and seek to answer. In any context in which a given group is marginalized (in this case, African American and other students of color), we must look critically at who gets to determine who gets in and who remains on the outside. Clearly, the individuals who are both “in” and have assumed the authority for determining who “gets in” are in a position of power and privilege. Therefore, when examining the issue of African American students continuing to be placed in segregated special education environments while their White peers are included in the general education classrooms, we have to ask the question of why. Is this a conversation about power and privilege, and the notion that we have to dismantle the myth of the meritocracy and reframe the debate about what constitutes academic success and acceptable practice for all and not just for a select privileged few? By doing so, we challenge the assumptions of White and middle-class families that their children deserve the fast track to academic success even if it is at the expense of students of color and low-income students (Blanchett, 2010). This would be a new undertaking, given that current practice continues to reinforce and accommodate White and middle-class parents’ aspirations for their children, rather than require them to substantially change or alter their constructions of success to be more inclusive of students who are often marginalized, as they seek to secure for their children what they believe they are entitled to receive (Blanchett, 2009a). By maintaining homogeneous grouping of students based on “ability”—which may in reality be a construction based in cultural norms and values around school readiness (Brice Heath, 1983; Lareau, 2002)—some students are constructed as deficient (academically or behaviorally), and it is much simpler to maintain the status quo than to restructure schools, and our conceptions of the purpose of schools, and to require assimilation or failure instead. As Bell (1980) stated, we must distinguish between the world as it is, and how we might want it to be. Much as desegregation did, inclusion threatens the social status of the dominant culture. Therefore, we conclude that White and middle-class parents, families with and without children with disabilities, and the dominant culture as a whole in American society have benefited from the continued segregation of African American and other students of color in special education classrooms. More important, it seems that White privilege, racism and social class privilege, and dominance are the major interests that are being protected through this continued practice of segregation.


What are those interests? Few would argue against the fact that it is in the best interest of our nation to ensure that our reputation and competitive place in the global marketplace is not lessened by a substantial population of students who have been failed by our educational system. Therefore, given the outsourcing of labor-focused jobs, it is in the interest of our economic stability to improve the educational status of more of our population (NCEE, 2007). It is also in the interest of the nation to maintain adherence to the principle on which our country was founded—that we work toward creating a more perfect union, in which all are created equal. It is not in the interest of our nation to fail or to be perceived as a segregated society, which was the case prior to the Brown decision and the subsequent civil rights movement. Thus, laws and public policy (NCLB, IDEIA) have begun to force the hands of schools in terms of ensuring achievement for all students, disaggregating data by race, economics, and ability. It is in the interests of schools to not be on the hot list, named as a failing school; it is in the interest of teachers to show academic growth for all students. More important, it is in the best interest of all parents to ensure that all students receive a quality public education that will enable them to function fully in all aspects of life. In societies where there are significant gaps in access to appropriate education, there are also large numbers of individuals who are unemployed or underemployed, higher crimes rates, social unrest, and an overall less informed and civilized society. The international, national, and societal consequences of continuing to poorly educate African American and other students of color, students who are English language learners, and students who live in poverty, are significant and pose a major threat to America’s workforce, national security, and overall standing in the world.


Where is the opportunity for convergence? The stage is set for convergence to occur, given the mandates currently in place and the interests of our public education systems to meet the requirements of the law (or at least remove themselves from scrutiny). Many educational reform experts have named a need for authentic and courageous conversations about race, and they are challenging institutes of higher education (IHEs) to provide educators with the skills to examine their practices, values, and beliefs in ways that will ensure that they understand the complexity of the cultural nature of schools, what biases they hold, and how those impact student outcomes (Gay, 2000; Harry, Kalyanpur, & Day, 1999; Irvine & York, 2001; Sleeter, 2001). The National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (Klingner et al., 2005) has named as critical the need for educational practices that assist educators to appropriately identify students who are culturally and linguistically diverse for special education services; to develop assessment practices that accurately reflect cultural norms and influences; to provide effective interventions for students from diverse cultures; and to provide professional development to improve the cultural responsiveness of all educators. Universities, state and local educational agencies, and individual schools  across the country are beginning to engage in this important conversation.


How close are we to interest convergence? What do we need to do to get to convergence? As a field of education and an American society, we are not as close to interest convergence as we need to be, but we have made progress, at least in the legal and policy arena, with legislative mandates and provisions that provide an impetus for pursuing an equity agenda in education. That we are doing this special issue on inclusion and approaching it from a critical perspective suggest that there is at least interest on the part of scholars in disability studies in education and urban education to look at reframing and reconceptualizing inclusion to be more inclusive and more equity focused. As the authors in the introductory article stated, we have been presented with a unique opportunity to [re]claim or [re]conceptualize inclusion and the inclusive education movement in the United States (Baglieri et al., 2011, this issue); so much is riding on public schools and districts to demonstrate that they are serving well and improving the overall learning and achievement of all their students, including African American and other students of color, students labeled as having disabilities, English language learners, and students who live in poverty—not just those who have been historically served well. It is our hope that holding all schools accountable for increasing and documenting student learning will force our society, educators, researchers, classroom teachers, and school district administrators to come together to reconstruct a vision of educational success that really does include all students and in which no child is left behind. Interest convergence can only happen if those who are currently included, or “in,” are willing to give up some of their power and privilege to invite those who are currently excluded, or “out,” to come in so that they can co-construct the future of inclusion as equal partners. After all, “Who has the authority or right to ‘invite’ others in? And how did the ‘inviters’ get in?” (Asante, n.d.). As we stated earlier, the timing appears to be ripe for engaging in conversations about interest convergence as it relates to inclusive education; to move in this direction, we do need to grapple with some tough questions. Who has the authority or right to invite others in? At this point, it seems appropriate to acknowledge that the proponents of the inclusive education movement likely did not consider the implications of inclusion for students of color, and thus it has been used as a tool for practicing segregation. Those who enjoy the benefits of inclusive education for their children with disabilities have the authority to invite others in and should accept responsibility for doing so. Additionally, scholars in disability studies, disability studies in education, urban education, and multicultural education should also be engaged in the work of deconstructing the faulty assumptions associated with inclusion and how it is conceptualized and practiced in the United States, and in building the literature base to support reconceptualization and interest convergence. We believe that we are at the point of convergence, and we need to ensure the commitment on the part of IHEs to prepare educators to engage in these conversations, to support schools in taking on the challenge of asking the tough questions, and to engage in a national dialogue on the purpose of schools. We need to engage students, families, and communities in conversations about school reform, and we need to fund research, professional learning, and reform efforts that are committed to uncovering the complexity of the intersection of race, class, language, ability, gender, and all the other categories of individuals that have been excluded and that serve to divide us, marginalizing some while privileging others (Blanchett, 2009b).


IMPLICATIONS FOR MOVING TOWARD AN EQUITY AGENDA AND INTEREST CONVERGENCE


Given the complexity of the challenge that lies before us—which is to create a conceptualization of inclusion and inclusive education in the United States, in theory and practice, that begins with all marginalized groups at the table as equals and ends with all marginalized children and families fully included—we have to start by recognizing that what we have today is anything but true inclusion and that building from the ground up is needed. Though a daunting task given where we are right now, starting anew in terms of [re]conceptualizing inclusion by applying a social justice lens informed by critical race theory and interest convergence provides us with some incredible opportunities and benefits:


1.

We can develop a conceptualization of inclusion that seeks to ensure that all students labeled with disabilities have equitable access to general education placements—not just primarily White middle-class students.

2.

We can develop a conceptualization of inclusion that encompasses all areas of societal, school, and community marginalization.

3.

We can redefine what it means to create supportive and successful learning environments for all students, taking into account the needs of individual learners.

4.

We can redefine the purpose of schooling and schools in America.

5.

We can redefine what constitutes learning and success, and how they should be measured.

6.

We can develop inclusion and inclusive education theory and practice that address and are responsive to issues of race, class, culture, language, and ability, as well as the intersection of these demographic markers.

7.

We can determine the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that educators will need to teach, serve, and work in truly inclusive education settings that fight against all forms of exclusion.

8.

We can, as educators and researchers, exercise our moral and professional obligation to prepare the next generation of educators, administrations, and mental health professionals to serve all students.

9.

We can create a participatory space such that we do not keep having those who are “in” and those who are “out,” eliminating the need for “inviters.”


CONCLUSIONS


In summary, the inclusive education movement benefited many—society as a whole, White students labeled with disabilities and their families, and nondisabled White children and their families—at the cost of African American and other students of color through the practice of placing them in the most segregated special education settings. Ironically, the inclusive education movement was built on many of the strategies and tactics of the civil rights movement but has become exclusionary and yet another form of segregation. Critical theories, specifically critical race theory and interest convergence, offer a framework that scholars who are concerned about educational inequities can employ to reconceptualize inclusion and inclusive education in the United States. We agree with the suggestion of Baglieri et al. (2011, this issue) that inclusion and inclusive education in the United States must be reconceptualized to reflect a broader commitment to educational equity and to breaking down all other forms of exclusion; it should not be singularly focused on where students labeled with disabilities are placed. However, we would also like to caution scholars who are concerned with inclusion to not forget that there are thousands of families of African American students and other students of color in the United States who would welcome a singular focus on ensuring that their children are educated in the general classroom because that has never been a part of their reality—only something that they have watched others access. We also contend that the inclusive education movement has not resulted in positive outcomes or inclusion in general education classrooms for African American students because the movement was built on faulty assumptions that centered on ability and placement and did not look at the intersection of ability/disability with race, culture, class, and language. More important, the movement did not address issues of racism, White privilege, White dominance, and social class dominance. As a result, all the privileges and areas of marginalization that are inherent in the larger society can be found in the inclusive education movement and how inclusion has been practiced in the United States. However, a [re]conceptualization of inclusion and inclusive education in America that employs a social justice, CRT, and interest convergence framework presents a rare and unique opportunity to ensure that “the act of inclusion means fighting against exclusion and all of the social diseases exclusion gives birth to” (Asante, n.d.) in the American public educational system and larger society.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 10, 2011, p. 2186-2205
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16430, Date Accessed: 1/24/2021 1:21:26 AM

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About the Author
  • Shelley Zion
    University of Colorado Denver
    SHELLEY ZION is the executive director of the Center for Advancing Practice, Education, and Research and assistant research professor at the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. She specializes in issues of social justice and equity in urban education, with a focus on school reform, teacher preparation, and student voice. Related publications include Klingner, J. K., Artiles, A. J., Kozleski, E., Harry, B., Zion, S., Tate, W., et al. (2005). Addressing the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education through culturally responsive educational systems. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13(38), 1–40; and Blanchett, W., & Zion, S. (in press). Asking the right questions in urban education research: Researcher values. In K. A. Scott & W. J. Blanchett (Eds.), Research in urban educational settings: Lessons learned and implications for future practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.
  • Wanda Blanchett
    University of Missouri–Kansas City
    WANDA BLANCHETT is dean of the School of Education and Ewing Marion Kauffman/Missouri Chair of Education at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. She specializes in urban and special education teacher education, issues of educational inequities, and social justice. She has published in journals such as the Educational Researcher, Theory Into Practice, Remedial and Special Education, and Urban Education, and has presented extensively at annual conferences of the American Educational Research Association and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. Her most recent publications include: Lindsay, B., & Blanchett, W. J. (Eds.). (2011). Universities and global diversity: Preparing educators for tomorrow. Routledge Research in Education Series. London: Routledge; Blanchett, W. J. (2010). Telling it like it is: The role of race, class, & culture in the perpetuation of learning disability as a privileged category for the White middle class. Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(2); and Shealey, M. W., & Blanchett, W. J. (Eds.). (2009). Students with disabilities: A missing component in the urban education agenda [Special issue]. Urban Education, 44(4).
 
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