Ability Profiling and School Failure: One Child's Struggle to Be Seen as Competent

By Kathleen M. Collins | Go to book overview

12
“I'm the Boy Who
Likes Bugs. ”

As the school year drew to a close, the tension in my relationship with Laura increased, and we developed a somewhat oppositional stance toward each other. Neither of us explicitly recognized or made reference to this tension, but it was present in my persistent attempts to portray Jay's “emotional impairment/learning disability” as coconstructed and in Laura's consistent responses that, through interrupting me, turning away, and refusing my invitations to meet outside of the classroom context, silenced my position. To acknowledge or listen to my interpretation meant seeing Jay differently, and to do this meant seeing herself and her classroom community differently.

As Erickson (1987) asserted, risk is involved in teaching and learning. When learning is less than successful, both parties stand to “lose face” or be revealed as less than competent. The consequences of failed teaching and learning interactions have effects at local and institutional levels for both teacher and child. Locating a problem within each of the excluded children and identifying this “problem”—emotional impairment, learning disability, poverty, hearing impairment, ethnicity, lack of family support—as the sole cause of their school failure allowed Laura to avoid these consequences and to avoid examination of the situated cultural values, as represented by the organizational, interactional, semiotic, and activity-related practices of her classroom, which made their perceived differences into deficits. Further, by locating the problem within each of the excluded children, Laura was not called on to rewrite her narrative of herself as a sensitive and successful teacher.

-139-

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