Gable, S.L. and Connor, D, j. (2014) Disability and Teaching. Reflective Teaching and the Social Conditions of Schooling. A Series for Prospective and Practicing Teachers. Abingdon, Routledge

Number of pages: 145

Cost: not specified

The book is concerned with disability and teaching and is written by two university teacher educators who have worked previously in inner-city, small town and suburban elementary and middle school in the United States of America. They start from a premise that what happens within school is mainly influenced by what happens outside school within the greater community. As teacher educators the authors believe that trainee teachers should be prepared to respond to political chances as they happen. The United States of America, as explained by the authors, is one of constant change, social transformations and social and political controversies. They acknowledge that ethnic and cultural differences common in society can lead to violence and bullying. The authors concede that educational issues affect both the heads and hearts of teachers and teacher educators.

This book is the eighth in a series written by the authors, the previous books being constantly referred to throughout this book with the preface summarising the content of each of these. The preface also aims to summarise the public view of disability. They suggest that for many American citizens the concept of disability means segregated classrooms, bureaucratic paperwork and individual educational or behavioural plans. This means that there is a question as to whether people with disability fit into the modern society with barriers preventing them from participating fully in school life. It explains that pre 1975 pupils with a disability were not guaranteed free public education and even in the twenty first century pupils with a disability do not have the freedom to attend a school in their neighbourhood or mainstream schooling.  In England free education for all was guaranteed following the 1944 Education Act although, at that time, pupils with disability were educated in special institutions that were deemed to be able to cater for their special needs.

The book, as previous books in the series is organised into three parts the first part presents four case studies detailing the attitudes and beliefs of four practising teachers. Part two examines the four case studies in the light of three arguments: traditional, liberal-progressive and disability- centred. Part three offers the authors interpretations of the case studies and offers further though and recommendations. The four case studies are: Inclusion Tension; Ableism at Forest Run Elementary School; Race, Place and the Search for Solutions and finally the fourth case study is the Special Educator. At the end of each case study there is an opportunity for the reader to write reactions to the case, reactions the authors have gathered from teachers, teacher trainees, administers, parents and members of the community. Finally following each case study there is a summary and questions set by the authors for the reader to ponder.

The case studies call into question whether the United Stares of America provides adequate teacher training in inclusion and even debates whether inclusion works. It suggests that as it the decision of each state as to whether they choose to implement inclusion, some choose not to.

Case study one suggests that the time it takes to adapt the curriculum to include all pupils was incongruent with any gains that may be conceived operating inclusion within the school. As one teacher explains: it makes our job harder (adapting teaching and the curriculum so that it can be accessed by all pupils. The argument within this case study is centred on the fact that an acceptance of diversity and inclusion prepares able bodied pupils for life in a diverse society but thus is pitched against the challenge of ‘doing’ inclusion and the fact that this may result in teachers working harder with overall attainment test scores adversely affected. There seems to be an option as to whether or not the school/state chooses to practice inclusion, a view that in England would be unacceptable.

Case study two starts with an acceptance that bias against people with disability is ‘fairly common’ and often results in discriminatory actions. It examines the notion of ‘ableism’ which it says, can be both invisible but pervasive and shapes the curriculum opportunities offered to pupils with disabilities. One teacher described a pupil as a ‘flatliner’ –  a pupil who has not and cannot improve achievement levels. Another teacher reading the profiles of pupils entering her class, kept them grouped according to the information in the profiles and a further teacher described a pupil as just having moved from Detroit and not belonging in her classroom.

Case study three examines the situation at a particular school that has a serious decline in financial and academic terms. It is a school in which there are a large number of African American and Hispanic pupils which have English as an additional language. Almost all the pupils in its school live below the poverty line and approximately half of these are graduates. This case study discusses the question as to whether these pupils should access special education or whether the teacher of these pupils should operate an inclusive classroom which seems, I would assume, an alien concept to many English teachers. African American and Hispanic pupils are over represented in special education when often their only issue is that English is not their first language.

Case study four examines a newly qualified teacher’s attitude to inclusion and suggests that teacher education cannot fully prepare prospective teachers for the realities of the classroom which includes many pupils with disabilities. The newly qualified teacher cannot understand why he should adjust his teaching so that all pupils’ learning can be accommodated. He seems to be unable to modify either the curriculum or his teaching styles so that all pupils can learn and wrestles with the notion of whether it is his responsibility to adjust his expectations based on the level and need of the pupils with special educational needs.

Part two of the book discusses the issues raised by the case studies to contrast three public arguments which the authors suggest are: rewarding achievement and maintaining tradition; celebrating diversity and creating equity and finally acknowledging differences and deconstructing normalcy. It refers to the USA Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act in 1994 that for the first time guaranteed that all children including those with disabilities had a right to a free and appropriate public education. But this Act was thought to be progressive and even radical with much scepticism that the purpose and conditions of education should be changed because of pupils with disabilities. There is also the argument presented that suggests that standards would fall should schools have to educate pupils with disabilities.

There is dichotomy in the book with the American Dream and freedom of the individual in the United States of America pitched against many people’s views – including those of some teachers – that a whole group of society- those with disabilities, should not be included in education.

It is difficult to comprehend that this is a book, written in 2014 about life in a major world power of the United States of America highlights such exclusive practices. It is important to note though that the authors are special needs teachers and operate fully inclusive practices within their work.

I do not believe that this is a book that is would be useful for English teachers or teacher trainees unless they wish to compare the inclusive practices of the USA with those in England. It was the 1944 Education Act that first offered a free education for all pupils in England and since then inclusive practices have increasingly been part of the school system and mainstream classrooms.

Dr. Sue Faragher

Head of Primary and Early Years programmes, LJMU