Author Archives: Kylah Torre

Special education, Nonprofits, and the Immunization Paradigm

I decided to post my article a little early.  You all can find it on the group site.  It is a piece by Tyson E. Lewis entitled Education and the Immunization Paradigm.  The article informs my research with its examination of biopolitics in education, especially as involves the creation of a “normal” standard.  Before I begin talking about the article, however, I think I should give some background on my viewpoint and research.  I will be looking at the Born This Way Foundation website with a critical eye to how the medical model of disability is reproduced through their discourse.

The medical model of disability what most of us believe about disability and disabled people.  It positions disability ultimately as a problem to be fixed, an issue residing solely in the individual, and as inherently negative, requiring treatment or cure.  This view of disability manifests itself in the treatment of disabled people as charity cases, or as inspirational in striving to overcome their disability.  In contrast and critique, many people with disabilities have defined themselves as a political minority (the largest in the United States) and believe that people with disabilities are not disabled by whatever impairment they might have, but rather by the laws, cultural values, attitudes, and constructed environments that surround them – structures which are all based on a fabricated normal standard. Ableism keeps this system in motion, the idea that disabled people have something wrong with them, that able-bodies are the normal standard to strive for.  This is often called the social model of disability.

In the social model, intersectionality comes into play.  Indeed, the normal standard is not only defined by ability, but also gender, race, sexuality, SES, etc.  In the article I posted, Lewis talks about the idealization of the bourgeois body, the male body, the heterosexual body.  This limited normal standard begins to explain why there is such an over-representation of poor, black kids in special education.  Indeed, educational institutions often define what is normal and what is not.

The monster, the masturbator, and the incorrigible individual are three figures that Foucault uses to demonstrate abnormality and its role in biopower.  The monster challenges “the fundamental laws of nature separating humans and animals”, while the others exhibit less extreme abnormal behaviors thought to be correctable through institutions like schools (p. 486).  Indeed, the special education system is  built on this premise, that people who are “abnormal” or disabled can and should be corrected through schooling.  Lewis asserts that society tries to immunize itself against the threat of the abnormal by “surveillance, hierarchical examination, and the construction of new academic knowledge systems in the psychiatric field”  (p.489).  I would suggest that society also attempts to immunize itself against the abnormal by pathologizing learning differences and excluding children with disabilities from general education classrooms and curriculum.  Lewis quotes Esposito when pondering the inherent conflict in immunization – namely that the attempt to immunize society will end in a “certain form of disqualified life” for that society (p. 488).  We can see this clearly in the attempt to immunize society through the process of special education.  Exclusion from the curriculum, reduced standards, and appallingly low graduation rates among special education students will not serve to protect society from their presumed abnormality.  While educational rhetoric would have us believe that encouraging normalcy in these students is the ultimate goal, they are instead being tracked into low wage work or prison.  Lewis calls this a process of “educational eugenics”.

The process of  does not only occur in school, it is widespread in society.  I chose to look at the Born This Way Foundation website for my research project for this course because their mission initially intrigued me.  The Foundation claims a goal of fostering “a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated”.  This more macro outlook is somewhat unique among organizations providing support and services for youth experiencing mental crisis.  For example, one of the best known of these nonprofit institutions is the “It Gets Better” campaign.  Even in the title we can see that It Gets Better is much more survival tactic than social movement.  What I am finding in looking at the Born This Way Foundation is that, despite the language of their mission, the Foundation does embrace the medical model, placing responsibility for fixing the problem on the individual and not society.  The emphasis of the organization is on encouraging youth to be brave in the face of societal pressure, not trying to change society itself.  I need to do more analysis to see if they are also engaged in subtle practices of immunization through exclusion of “abnormal” kids, but perhaps the very act of creating a community of “abnormal” youth and not working more openly against the normal standard indicates that those young people are regulating themselves.

The second part of the project I want to do for this class is create some sort of digital tool that addresses the gaps in services provided by organizations like the Born This Way Foundation.  I’m in the brainstorming process there and would welcome any suggestions that you all have.  That’s it for me.  I hope you all enjoy the article.



Teacher emotions

I have to finally admit to being uncomfortable during David and Andre’s presentations and the discussion of eMotion and other types of software that analyze facial expressions for emotion.  I wasn’t able to put my finger on exactly what made me wary of this type of technology at the time, but after some thought and additional reading, I think I have it.

As a former special educator, I default to the idea that teaching and learning should be an individualized process. As someone who uses Disability Studies as a framework, I am critical of “universals”.  The supposedly objective scientific fields have been and are used to construct what is normal, and therefore what is abnormal.  This type of categorization of people based on arbitrary criteria leads to the oppression of those who fall outside the “normal” box.  I was, therefore, hesitant to believe that there could be such a thing as universal emotions.  Then I read an article in Boston Magazine about psychologist Lisa Barrett ( which said that “her research has led her to conclude that each of us constructs [emotions] in our own individual ways, from a diversity of sources: our internal sensations, our reactions to the environments we live in, our ever-evolving bodies of experience and learning, our cultures”.  This seemed more in line with what I think is true.

I am afraid that eMotion and other similar technologies normalize certain emotions and thus do not allow for individual experience.  I am afraid that in the current climate of teacher bashing and punitive evaluation that such a technology could eventually work against teachers.  Perhaps I do not know enough and I would like to learn more, but I wanted to at least open up a conversation about my concerns with this type of technology.

Disabled people as an overlooked minority group

In this post I would like to address the readings and then I will write another to address issues that have come up for me during the in-class presentations.  As a reminder, my research this summer (and interest in general) lies in the field of Disability Studies and my stakeholders will be young people with disabilities.  A brief theoretical background of Disability Studies will help me to explain my thoughts. Ingrained in our cultural views is the idea of disability as deficit.  In Disability Studies, we call this the medical model.  The disability is a deficiency existing within the individual that should be treated in some way (whether by medication, educational intervention, etc.).  The social model of disability came about as a direct critique of the medical model.  In the social model, people with disabilities are viewed as the largest political minority in the United States and disability seen as a form of oppression (Barton, 1992). People are disabled not by any physical, cognitive, or other impairment that they might have, but rather by the physical environment, cultural attitudes, and discriminatory policies of their society.  As Len Barton says, “in a society fundamentally organized and administered by and for white able-bodies males, the position of disabled people in relation to education, work, housing, and welfare services is a matter of grave concern” (1992, p.51).  If society was more accepting of diversity, impairment would be less disabling.

Given that I am a proponent of this minority model of disability, I could not help but read disability into the Ogbu and Simons article.  It has been in the past somewhat of a contentious idea that the plight of disabled people should be compared to that of racial and ethnic minorities in this country.  However, it is important to keep in mind that the construction of disability has been and continues to be used as a tool to maintain the oppression of other minority groups.  In practice, disability is how we explain people who fall outside of the culturally constructed view of normalcy.  At different points in history, racial and ethnic minorities. poor people, and women were diagnosed and treated according to the deficit model (Baynton, 2001).  They were considered to have something wrong with them because they did not conform to the white, middle-class, male ideal of what was normal and that justified their oppression.  They same is true today for children labeled with various learning and emotional disabilities who are segregated into special classes and presented with watered-down versions of the curriculum and low expectations from their teachers and administrators.  Indeed, racial and ethnic minorities are overrepresented among the population of children in special education.

The Ogbu and Simon article discussion of involuntary minorities sheds some light on the situation of students in special education.  While I do not think it is a perfect comparison, there are certainly elements of his analysis that can apply to children labeled with disabilities.  Students with disabilities certainly often share the “dual frame of reference” in regards to education.  They view their situation, often both economic and social, as inferior to that of their able-bodies peers.  In addition, the families of students with disabilities have both historical and practical reasons to mistrust schools and other powerful institutions.  Schools have certainly not held students with disabilities to the same standards as other students, which is evident even if we just look at graduation rates (which hovers around 30% for students with disabilities).

Ogbu and Simon give advice for what teachers can do that involves building trust with students and families.  This is necessary, but for me it’s necessary to think bigger.  Gadotti says in his article that we need to treat “education as a foundation for another possible world” and for emancipation.  Nothing will change about the way we treat students with disabilities until we begin to truly embrace diversity as a culture and see it as a necessary element to the success of the human race, much as ecological diversity is necessary for the success of the planet.  I agree with Gadotti that such a shift involves social and political movement that goes beyond traditional education.

Barton, L. (1992) Disability and the necessity for a socio-political perspective. In L. Barton, K. Ballard & G. Fulcher (Eds.), Disability and the necessity for a socio-political perspective. Monograph #51. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability.

Baynton, D.C. (2001). Disability and the justification of inequality in American history. In P.K. Longmore & L. Umansky (Eds.), The new disability history: American perspectives. NY: New York University Press.


Furman and Gruenewald

I enjoyed this article as a firm advocate of expanding the landscape of social justice.  My work in Disability Studies is centered on human diversity rather than ecological diversity, but there were many familiar themes throughout the article.  In the book The Short Bus by Jonathan Mooney, a mother of a child with Down syndrome contemplates a future in which the syndrome is preventable (through screening of pregnant women).  She says “we don’t know what the loss will be but if I believe my presence is tied to the presence of diverse individuals and those people are gone, I think we’ve become less human” (2007, p. 193).  She compares human diversity to the diversity of the rain forest and emphasizes that we do not know what the consequences might be of wiping out that diversity.  Unfortunately, the dominant paradigm disvalues people with disabilities, considering them to be deficient rather than merely different.

Like Furman and Gruenewald, I believe that assumptions about progress in our culture are problematic and threaten diversity.  Our constructed ideas about what is “normal” cause some people to be labeled as outsiders.  Treating disability as disease means that “progress” is the eradication human diversity.  In fact, it is often the cultural attitudes and legal structures of society that disable people, rather than any physical or mental impairment.  Furman and Gruenewald suggest that a beneficial way to teach about diversity is through direct contact with communities, and I agree.  Educators must question “their deepest cultural and educational assumptions” about human diversity as well as ecological diversity (Furman & Gruenewald, 2004, p.62).  Students must come to know and appreciate the contributions of people labeled with disability.  I think that many of the ideas put forth by Furman and Gruenewald could be applied to human diversity as well as ecological diversity.

Mooney, J. (2007). The Short Bus. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Adding on an activist identity

Marissa’s two (very interesting) blog posts brought to light many good points and questions about identity and how that is negotiated for people who occupy multiple roles.  Marissa mentioned the types of roles that were discussed at the USER-S meeting last month, namely Teacher, Researcher, and Student.  I did not attend the USER-S meeting and instead spent the day at the annual conference of NYCORE (the New York Collective of Radical Educators) and with that in mind, I would like to complicate the discussion a bit by tacking on yet another possible identity, that of Activist.  While activism may be contained in the roles of Teacher, Researcher, and even Student, I believe it is important to also highlight this aspect of our potential professional selves as separate but integral to the rest.

I believe that many of us would agree that much of our work as doctoral students and teachers is meant not only to create or expose knowledge, but also to eventually change existing social structures in order to trigger the evolution of a more just and equitable world.  In the Santos article that we read, he concludes by saying that “social emancipation is, thus, every action aiming at denaturalizing oppression (showing that, besides being unjust, oppression is neither necessary nor irreversible) and conceiving of it in the proportions it can be fought with the resources at hand”.  Part of this process of emancipation or activism as he describes it is the realization that both knowledge and action are “precarious” and that the worth of a way of knowing or a particular action should not be how famous it is in the larger institution of academia, but rather the practical good that it might accomplish in the world.  As a teacher/research/student/activist who would like her future work to not only add something to the literture of Disability Studies, but also make a difference in the lives of indivual kids with disabilities, this article served as a reminder to maintain that Activist idenity in the forefront of my mind while exercising my Student identity, because it may be that the most useful knowledges for my stakeholders may not necessarily come from the Great Theorists.  What I took away from the NYCORE conference and the readings was that I should not suppress my Activist identity.  On the contrary, it should inform all of my other roles just as my Teacher/Student/Researcher roles inform each other.