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This New Field of Inclusive Education: Beginning a Dialogue on Conceptual Foundations

Mon, April 20, 2:15 to 3:45pm, Hyatt, Floor: West Tower - Gold Level, Regency AB


Numerous scholars have suggested that the standard knowledge base of the field of special education is not a suitable intellectual foundation for the development of research, policy, and practice in the field of inclusive education (e.g. Ballard, 1999; Danforth & Rhodes, 1997; Danforth & Ressa, 2014; Slee, 2001; Slee, 2011). Still, we have yet to have a dialogue on what conceptual foundations may be most generative for the growth and development of the field of inclusive education. As inclusive education gets increasingly taken up within international policy discourses, it may be imperative to explore and identify theories that can be responsive to diverse and hugely unequal contexts of schooling.

This paper initiates a new dialogue among educational researchers and teacher educators about the intellectual resources that can best support inclusive educators everywhere by forwarding an initial collection of intellectual resources - four foundational priorities - for the further development of the field of inclusive education.
1. Democracy - an ethical approach to schooling and a broader community life that pursues freedom and equality for all persons. Inclusive teaching should embody the principles of a liberal, pluralistic democracy (Lipsky & Gartner, 1996), providing young persons with opportunities to experience, develop within, and contribute to democratic living (Callan, 1997). Dewey’s (1976a, 1976b) vision of a democratic community and concept of moral equality are explored.
2. Interpersonal relationships communicating value - ways of cultivating and appreciating the interpersonal relationships that create the possibilities of human fulfillment and positive social change. Inclusive teaching should cultivate micro-communities of respect, reciprocity, and acceptance that reach across all possible social obstacles and sociological divisions (Bogdan & Taylor, 1986). Noddings’ (1984, 1992, 1995) work on the centrality of caring relationships provides profound, powerful guidance to the daily work of inclusive educators.
3. Political consciousness - an ideological praxis that exposes, resists, and counters the political oppression of disabled persons, in particular, as well as other persons who belong to groups that are subject to exclusion and devaluation. Siebers’ (2008) concept of the ideology of ability offers a piercing example of disability studies literature that shows how disability and disabled persons are habitually devalued.
4. Situated agency - All actors within the scope of inclusive practice (students with disabilities, their families, educators, policy-makers and researchers) are embedded within specific historically produced socio-cultural contexts where meanings of learning and achievement, ability/disability, success/failure are being continually contested, negotiated, transformed or abandoned. Departing from naïve notions of agency that either fail to consider disability (Erevelles, 2000) or which regard it as a stable internal property that can be transported across contexts, agency is always situated within discursive contexts (Holland et al, 1998). Inclusive education has to account for how a commitment to socially just pedagogy can inform and imbricate agentive maneuverings that may be both predictable and contradictory, consistent yet plural. The scholarship of Third World feminist writers on forms of oppositional consciousness are a resource to support the growth of teachers in navigating schooling contexts for achieving equity.


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