Disability as a Social Construct: Legislative Roots

By Claire H. Liachowitz | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 5
Disability and Education: Physically Handicapped Children

He, whose Mind directs not wisely, will never take the right Way; and he, whose Body is crazy and feeble, will never be able to advance in it.

John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education.1

The thesis central to this book is that early public policies have created a disabling atmosphere that helps to translate physical defects into social defects. This chapter further illustrates that argument by showing that the truthfulness of Locke's prophecy frequently depends not on physical inabilities but on inferences promoted by American education. Historical analysis suggests that educational institutions create this effect by transmitting beliefs that individuals with physical impairments belong to a category called "the handicapped." This labeling process and its consequences in turn indicate that stereotypy and segregated education have become so interrelated that one set of practices both justifies and generates the other. To the extent that this sequence causes the dysfunction of physically impaired people, it is a major source of disability.

The first section of the chapter focuses on public education from the colonial era to the first half of the nineteenth century. Records of the early years of this period do not indicate the existence of handicapped children in public schools.2 While such records might of course mean that the statistics of the time did not specify the physical condition of students, they may also indicate that some handicapped children failed to survive until of school age. The case of Philadelphia shows how this latter alternative may have operated. Education in that city was as accessible to children as any place in colonial America, with the exception of some Massachusetts towns. Philadelphia's archives,3 however, offer no indica

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