Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Power/knowledge in an age of reform: General education teachers and discourses of disability
by Lightman, Timohty, Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University, 2014, 218; 3666801
Abstract (Summary)

In this qualitative study, comprised of interviews and observations, I explore how discourses of disability circulating within the epistemologies and practices of four general education teachers at two different public elementary schools. Utilizing a Foucauldian lens, I am particularly interested in how these teachers responded to the power/knowledge claims asserted through the dominant medicalized discourse of disability institutionally employed and deployed through special education and the public school system writ large. Moreover, I have looked for acts of resistance, or in the parlance of Foucault (1983), "modes of action," recognizing that the formation of resistance is both a precondition and consequence of the exercising of power, and that power is the medium through which social change occurs.

In one of the schools, Taft, I encountered a school culture in which the institutional and discursive authority of special education and a medicalized discourse appeared deeply entrenched in the school culture encasing teachers, administrators and children within a network of power relations. This network discursively produced children identified with disabilities as unable to learn in general education classrooms, and general education teachers as unable to teach all children. Within this environment, opportunities for interrogation and resistance were nullified. In the other school, Bedford, I encountered a school culture in which the institutional and discursive authority of special education and a medicalized discourse appeared diminished, absent the institutional authority of special education. In its stead, appeared an internal bureaucratic discourse of assessment and accountability, concerned primarily with issues of compliance. With instruction and classroom management discursively organized, teachers were produced as officers of compliance, mobilized as agents in the discursive production of docile and compliant children.

Yet, with a weak administration and in the absence of an institutionalized special education apparatus within the school, I posit that at Bedford a localized alternative discourse circulated within the school, and that opportunities for interrogation and resistance arose in particular classrooms, with particular teachers, and in particular moments of time. However, despite an apparent disassociation from a medicalized discourse at Bedford, escaping the underlying assumptions of the medicalized discourse proved unreachable, if not impossible, and it continued to shape classroom teachers, and their notions of disability and inclusion as well as their perceptions and interactions with special education.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Oyler, Celia
Commitee: Hamre, Britt, Jahromi, Laudan, Naraian, Srikala
School: Teachers College, Columbia University
Department: Curriculum and Teaching
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 76/04(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Elementary education, Special education, Teacher education
Keywords: Disability, Foucault, michel, General education, Power/knowledge, Special education, Teacher education
Publication Number: 3666801
ISBN: 9781321400717
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