Power and Partnership in Education: Parents, Children, and Special Educational Needs

By Derrick Armstrong | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Professionalism and power

The construction of special educational needs

The need, generated by modern forms of economic and social organization, for a centralized system of control and discipline for the young has increasingly led to the state playing an important role in childcare. This centralization of child-care responsibilities is directly mirrored in the growth of professional groups expressing a claim to expert knowledge in respect of children’s needs. From psychologists to speech therapists, from educational social workers to teachers of English as a second language, the application of expert knowledge to the care and control of children has been a major phenomenon of the twentieth century. Yet the diversity of professional claims to child-care responsibilities belies a picture of state intervention drawn solely in terms of an homogeneous system of state control.

The concept of ‘control’ is complex and multi-dimensional. We live in an increasingly child-centred society in which concern about the needs of children is a dominant theme in the culture of our daily lives. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there is evidence that ever larger numbers of children are being identified as having ‘special’ needs of one sort or another. Amongst these children are those seen as disadvantaged by social and environmental conditions, those believed to be ill-equipped physically or mentally to cope with the complexities of modern living, and those whom because of abuse or neglect have been psychologically damaged. Humanitarian justifications for increasing the amount of professional involvement in the care and control of children are not necessarily linked to any overarching design to impose or maintain social order. However, the legitimacy of different professional interests (within as well as between professional groups) depends very much upon the belief that childcare policies are based upon humanitarian principles.

This chapter seeks to explore the nature of professional roles within the modern state and, in particular, focuses upon the implications of recent

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