Impediments to Social Justice

Hierarchy, Science, Faith, and Imposed Identity (Disability Classification)

Authored by: Ellen Brantlinger

Handbook of Social Justice in Education

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780805859270
eBook ISBN: 9780203887745
Adobe ISBN: 9781135596149


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In this chapter, I discuss how school hierarchy and imposed disability identity are products of a (social) science that refuses ethics as a grounding for actions. Observing that the special education faith community touts the science of classifying children and applying evidence-based practices as an enhancement of classified students’ lives, I counter that such scientific “progress” interferes with social justice for students caught in the burgeoning and sticky web of disability labels and specialized placements. I take a hard look at what science actually does as it tinkers in the realm of reifying student distinctions. I explore the historical braiding of science and disability, and challenge professionals who fixate on science to understand that for there to be social justice in school and society, they must infuse a social reciprocity morality into their practice. I briefly review evidence of the historical dangers of relying on science without considering the ethics of practice. I account for how traditional scientists can lose their intellectual edge in understanding authentic human problems. I also focus on theories of hierarchy production and social class to explain how stratified school and social class systems affect identity formation and democratic governance.

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