The Language of Disability Diagnosises: Writing and Talking Back in Multicultural Settings

By Lightfoot, Dory; Gustafson, Ruth | Multicultural Education, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

The Language of Disability Diagnosises: Writing and Talking Back in Multicultural Settings


Lightfoot, Dory, Gustafson, Ruth, Multicultural Education


Writing and Talking Back in Multicultural Settings

Introduction

In spite of the multicultural perspective ofmany ofthe aspects of school life, the language of school records, reports, and evenconversations about"diverse" students are dominated by educational psychology and its increasing tendency to diagnose difference as disability (Walker,1998.) This article explores journal keeping, creative writing, and fiction as a means of including the positive qualities of children of various minority cultures which go unnoticed (Bhabha, 1994; Said, 1994).

These tasks involve using tools which have more commonly been associated with the humanities than social science-poetry, biography and autobiography, and fiction-to redress this imbalance. It should be noted at the outset that this paper is not a refutation of educational science in that we recognize that differences in ability, learning styles, and motivation can and do exist. Rather, the emphasis in this project is on how language of measurement dominates thinking and omits important information about students, characterizing their intelligence as lacking in dimension and thoughtfulness.

In Part I of this paper we analyze traditional writing in social science as a type of literature. Here we trace some of the origins and limitations of the metaphors of weight and scale used to quantify learning and understanding. We show how these metaphors appear as part ofthe "objective" reasoning of educational science; as such they call for psychological and medical remedies. In Part II we demonstrate how imaginative writing about students casts doubt on the validity of psychometrics and diagnostics in school reports, records, and discussions as complete portraits of students' abilities. We believe that these stories provide a different way of reasoning about ability and a fresh way of thinking about schooling in multicultural settings.

Part I

The Metaphors of Social and Educational Science

The prestige and influence of science, seemingly infinite in our computer age, is nonetheless quite limited in drawing compelling portraits of human passion and motivation. Much of the literature of the social sciences is modeled on the procedures of the sciences, especially measurement, in demonstrating the truth or falsity of an idea. Measurement is the chief metaphor ofeducation (Fendler,1999). Unfortunately, the use of measurement and its effects on children can be negative, especially as descriptions of complex human subjects (Sleeter, 1987 ). In recent years there has been an increase (Apple,1993) in the influence of assessments and measurements of all kinds in curriculum planning and educational policy. This trend courts dangers of onesidedness and sterility.

As the philosopher of science, Bruno Latour, writes (1993), science is undoubtedly about "truth," on some level, but it is also about culture, as well as about power. these forces are intertwined and tied together in an inextricable fashion which he refers to as a "Gordian knot." Policy and curriculum theory utilize metaphors and images that, when analyzed, reveal partitular cultural and political interests (Apple, 1986). As Said (1994) says, "All [academic] writing is writing and delivers figural language, be they in the codes of (imitation), metaphor, allegory, or irony."1

The philosopher Michel Foucault wrote: "Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its general politics of truth: that is the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true."2 Cushman, drawing on Heidegger's concept of cultural clearings, or "horizons" argues that truth functions as a circumscribed cultural and intellectual space in which we are free to function and to construct meanings, but which makes it difficult to think, feel, or perceive, anything which falls outside of these limits: "Horizons are created by the culture's particular way of perceiving. …

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