Condition Critical—Key Principles for Equitable and Inclusive Education
reviewed by Kathleen Provinzano - March 30, 2015
Title: Condition Critical—Key Principles for Equitable and Inclusive Education
Author(s): Diana Lawrence-Brown & Mara Sapon-Shevin
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807754765, Pages: 256, Year: 2013
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Access to high quality, equitable education is not available to all students in the United States. Those who are fortunate enough to engage in such experiences subsequently use them as a means to bolstering increased social, economic, and political mobility and situate themselves in long-established and oftentimes unchallenged positions of power and privilege. Others, however, are consistently marginalized and offered a less than equitable approach to schooling because the diversity they bring is systematically characterized as a deficit that precludes them from an inclusive education. Place of birth, race, gender, and disability are all used as justifications by dominant groups for oppressive actions and separate treatment of historically undervalued individuals. Educational reform efforts designed to address these issues are typically fragmentary and lack an integrated approach. As a result, unjustness persists and educational institutions continue to preserve system-level inequities that permeate the very core of their existence.
A more deliberate, critical, and comprehensive approach to diversity and inclusion is needed. In Condition Critical: Key Principles for Equitable and Inclusive Education, Diana Lawrence-Brown and Mara Sapon-Shevin call upon educators to challenge the traditional deficit-based assumptions upon which inequitable educational systems are built by learning and applying a critical perspective toward educating diverse students in an inclusive environment. The authors broaden the scope of inclusion and frame it as a critical pedagogy that includes multiple perspectives such as multicultural education, disability studies, and critical pragmatism (p. 2). Brown and Sapon-Shevin bring together scholars from the fields of special education, equity in education, sociology, bilingual education, and gender and sexuality in education to demonstrate the commonalities and differences among various oppressions and how they can connect in mutually beneficial ways around civil rights and social justice concerns (p. 90).
The authors present a critical lens to view oppressive systems that have unjustly treated large groups of students. Emphasis is placed on how misguided assumptions about difference have denied students an equitable and inclusive education. Reiterated throughout the book is the notion that different does not equate to deficit and a critical perspective recognizes the intersectionality of disability, race, class, and gender. Reform efforts should not be focused on fixing the student, per se. Rather, oppressive systems that systematically fail to celebrate differences and provide students with equitable and inclusive educational experiences should be the target of any movement. These distinctions are what make this an important text.
The authors begin by examining the connection between inclusive education and critical pedagogy. Because educational systems were created and developed around faulty assumptions related to difference, a new approach to inclusive education is warranted. The authors posit that traditionally marginalized groups, although experiencing different levels of discrimination at different points in time, share in the negative consequences that accompany mistreatment. The burden of inequitable opportunity transcends multiple groups; yet each has historically approached reform separately. Brown and Sapon-Shevin assert that a critical perspective requires educators to make a paradigm shift in order to let go of preconceived notions about inclusive education and be open to an innovative approach that provides for appropriate services in the general education classroom. The authors imply that there is strength in numbers and educators advocating for any or all marginalized groups should collectively challenge the traditional deficit model of inclusive education and pressure the system to recognize and value human difference.
The book is designed around twelve foundational principles intended to guide aspiring and practicing educators in their understanding, development, and application of a critical perspective when instructing diverse students. Each principle is assigned its own corresponding chapter that provides not only a detailed discussion of the principle, but reflective activities for the reader to consider. Narratives and scenarios are also provided throughout the text to help the reader place theory into context. This was especially powerful in the Chapter Six discussion of extreme segregation. Painting a portrait of the various aspects of segregation, across multiple settings, serves as an effective motivational strategy for change. All reflections and Think About This activities directly connect to the central thesis, which provides the reader with models of culturally relevant, responsive pedagogy built on acknowledging and valuing student diversity (p. 4).
The first six chapters of the text focus mainly on helping the reader understand the grimness of maintaining the status quo and the deeply oppressive nature inherent to educational systems and structures. These chapters seem to create an internal fire in the reader that yearns for innovation and change. From a critical perspective, the reader is challenged to look at issues of access, equity, difference, and inclusion from multiple perspectives and across multiple layers. Similar to Senges (1990) iceberg analogy; the reader cannot help but see the importance of addressing these very real issues from a systems perspective. These chapters provide the theoretical lens that undergirds the practical applications discussed in the final six chapters.
Chapters Seven through Twelve are important because they provide the reader with a pseudo school reform action plan designed to address change in the most challenging of situations. The authors stipulate that including marginalized groups in the general education environment is a lofty task but not unforeseeable. In order for this to occur however, educators need to view diversity and inclusion from a critical perspective and be willing to tear down walls of oppression that have protected the mistreatment of countless individuals.
The authors should be applauded for approaching inclusion and diversity through a critical and responsive lens. As if weaving together issues of disability, race, class, and gender was not complex enough, the authors took it further by situating them within the larger context of equity and social justice and provided an actionable plan for making this dream a reality. For these reasons, the audience for this book extends beyond prospective and practicing educators and should be read by all those who are deeply committed to educational reform that is in the best interest of all students.
Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.