Theorising Special Education

By Catherine Clark; Alan Dyson et al. | Go to book overview

1

INTRODUCING THE ISSUE OF THEORISING

Catherine Clark, Alan Dyson and Alan Millward

This book arises out of a symposium of the same title organised by the editors at the International Education Congress in Birmingham, UK, in 1995. Our own professional backgrounds are first as teachers in a range of mainstream and special educational settings, then as teacher trainers and finally as researchers in the field of special education. 1 Over a period of years, however, we have noted how our own somewhat pragmatic concerns have become permeated by theoretical issues, and how theoretical questions have continually forced themselves upon our attention. It seems impossible to consider issues of educational failure (the child's or the school's?), of disability (personal tragedy or public issue?), of inclusive schooling (ethically necessary or educationally damaging?) from a purely pragmatic perspective. Questions of fundamental values, of assumptions about learning and learners, of conceptualisations of difference and deviance seem to arise at every turn.

Alongside our growing concern was a sense that the state of theorising in special education was complex, not to say confused. On the one hand, the certainties which underpinned the pioneering work of Burt and Schonell seemed to have disappeared. In their place had arisen a multiplicity of positions ranging from the powerful advocacy of new approaches to difference based on an unequivocal commitment to principles of equity and inclusion to subtle deconstructions of special education based on sophisticated theories of organisational types, or of professional learning or of social interests. On the other hand, much practice and research in the field of special education seemed to be proceeding on a pragmatic basis, as though these newer ideas simply did not exist. Above all, it was clear that, if a single reliable theory on which special educational practice could be based had ever existed, no such simple and universal relationship between theory and practice was now possible.

In view of this situation, it seemed to us that the time was ripe for issues of theory in special education to be placed centre stage. In convening the Birmingham seminar-and in the additional work which is incorporated in this book-we asked our contributors to address three questions:

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