Theorising Special Education

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

11

THE POLITICS OF THEORISING SPECIAL EDUCATION

Roger Slee


Introduction

The practice of special education has proven extremely resilient since its beginnings in the nineteenth century with Johann Jakob Guggenbuhl's refinement of the work of Itard and Seguin (Kanner, 1959; Lewis, 1989) until its present and many manifestations. It would not be an overstatement to suggest that special education has reinvented itself to stake its claim in the so-called era of inclusion. The linguistic adjustments that have recently taken place to describe and legitimate the expansion of special educational interest and practice do not, however, constitute a comprehensive 'retheorising' of special education. In fact, at the risk of being provocative, I would assert that the failure to apply theoretical analysis has been detrimental to the project of inclusion. What has transpired is, as Bernstein (1996) demonstrates, better described as the 'submersion' of special educational interest within the distractive discursive noises (Ball, 1988) of integration and, latterly, inclusion. To be sure there have been some beneficiaries, but they remain those with an interest in traditional special educational practice, an unreconstructed school system and the bureaucratic and political imperatives of education policy makers.

The analysis of a theory of special education must be pursued with reference to its relation to a theory of schooling and coterminous changing theories of disability. In other words, few writers in the tradition of special education problematise school failure beyond defective individual pathologies in need of special provision to support their own specific educational needs and delimit the disruption such children cause to their own academic and social progress and that of their 'non-defective' peers. Highly complex sets of political relations articulated through the forms of educational provision are reduced in a 'spurious biology' or set of 'biological metaphors' (Bernstein, 1996:11). Theorising special education is thus not an academic indulgence, a retreat from the 'real' world' problems of responding to difficulties in the everyday life of schools and classrooms: it represents a chance to throw into sharp relief the anti-democratic

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