features for an ethical praxis in/out of special education
Rachel M. Heydon
Rachel M. Heydon is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education, University of Western Ontario, 1137 Western Road, London, Ontario, Canada N6G 1G7; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Her research explores the bifurcation of education along the lines of 'normal' and 'exceptional' student populations, the reappraisal of the notion of 'at-risk' students, and the challenging of instrumentalist and business-sector approaches to language and literacy curricula and pedagogy. She has published in The Canadian Modern Language Review, English Quarterly, Positive Pedagogy, and Language and Literacy.
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In this paper, through the case of Craig1, a young child who was labeled as behaviourally exceptional, I identify and analyse the shortcomings of a special education that is dependent upon instrumentalism (Skrtic 1995a), and I forward a radical alternative to this hegemonic form of special education. My alternative is an ethical pedagogical praxis which holds at least five interrelated features:
It juxtaposes a variety of theories and practices.
It deconstructs the general/special-education duality while challenging functionalist approaches to behavioural differences on several fronts.
It understands its historical context.
It has a decisive anti-sexist, anti-racist, and anti-classist mandate which constructs the teacher as an action-oriented educational worker who strives to alleviate other's suffering.
It attempts not to replace one authoritative discourse with another.
These features, and the praxis they form, are premised on an ethics that concentrates on 'the kind of person one must become in order to develop a nonviolative relationship to the Other' (Cornell 1992: 13). Located within Cornell's reading of Derrida's deconstruction, such an ethics is differentiated from morality, which is a mechanistic spelling out of how one should 'behave' (p. 13), and it is intimately concerned with the negotiation of identity in response to the needs of the Other.
Inasmuch as responding to whom we as educators must become is contingent on micro and macro issues (e.g. from the needs of the individual circumstance to the institutional structures which inform these needs), in order to ground this paper I begin with a narrative of 'Craig', discuss why his case begs for a reconceptualization of special education in general. Then I elucidate one by one the five features of an ethical praxis, linking each to Craig's example.
A narrative of Craig
It was the mid 1990s, and I was a special education resource-teacher in a small town in Ontario, Canada when my services were requested for Craig, a new 2nd-grader who was described by his classroom teacher has being a 'behaviour problem'. Following this referral, I worked with Craig for 18 months and learned that his case had much to teach about educational theory and practice, general and special education, and ethics.
By the end of the time I knew Craig, he had eaten his rubber boots, staples, thumb-tacks, Lego, pencils, and erasers; he had set fires, hit his mother, peers, me, himself, and the principal. Craig had cried big, wet torrents that made him choke. He had sworn, hollered, yelled 'You can't make me!'&endash;-even when he was offered a treat. Craig had cut holes in his clothing, broken toys, computers, windows, at least one tooth, and one urinal. Craig had beautiful hair and bright, shiny eyes, and on the rare occasion when he smiled, it could almost convince you that everything was going to be alright. But it was never alright. This is because Craig's smiles came from other people's pain: a leg in the aisle resulting in a trip and fall, a projectile of one kind or another hitting eyes, heads, or torsos, a litany of vicious, racist slurs leading to his classmates' shame, all of these would procure a smile&endash;-sometimes closed-mouthed, one corner of the lip turned up with eyes twinkling; at other times all apple-dumpling-cheeked and squinty-eyed.
Despite the seeming pleasure Craig got out of other children's distress, he WANTED a friend. He told me how he longed for someone with whom to play hockey, Nintendo, and soccer; how he wished to be invited for birthday parties, sleep-overs, and camp-outs; and how he 'never got to do nothing or go nowhere', because 'it' (the universe I supposed) wasn't ever 'fair'! But Craig's actions also demonstrated that he desired a friend whom he could boss, bully, and beat at every game, a friend who would be deferential, subservient, and perhaps most importantly, be someone who would play beside, but never with him. After school, I often heard Craig yelling down the road to the backs of a troupe of children, 'Guys, wait up! Wait for me!'. But after the first week of school they never did wait, perhaps because they were tired of being struck and called a 'tit-sucker' or a 'mother fucker' the moment something didn't go Craig's way. This, at least, was how many of the community's parents later explained the events to school officials when they asked for Craig to be expelled.
I met with Sarah, Craig's mother, shortly after that first day of school, and we worked closely together for as long as Craig was my student. In our first conference, I listened as Sarah told her story of an adolescent pregnancy, an absence of familial or institutional supports, pre- and post-natal physical trauma at the hands of Craig's father, the struggle, with no legal counsel (legal aid was not provided for custody cases), to escape this man and to limit his visitation rights. I listened as Sarah described the early onset of her son's behavioural difficulties which included violent nightmares and tantrums, his sexual-abuse by a neighbourhood boy at age 3, and her desperate attempts with little capital to find support.
The received wisdom of the special education literature on behavioural exceptionalities is that Craig's situation is easily described and explained. Craig demonstrated the typical predictors for anti-social behaviour: high impulsivity, attention difficulties, significant academic delays, born to an adolescent mother,2 a single-parent household with minimal resources,3 a physically-abusive father, incidence of early-childhood sexual abuse,4 onset of difficulties at infancy,5 and Craig was the right sex.6 By October of grade 3, the school-board psychologist completed behavioural and learning assessments 'on' Craig. In summary, she gave Craig three interrelated diagnoses: a general learning disability, oppositional defiance disorder, and depression. I then sat on the Identification Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) to legally identify Craig as an exceptional student within the category of emotional disturbance and/or social maladjustment. Such an assessment, diagnosis, and identification is standard practice in North American special education.
This identification did little to change Craig's circumstances. It legally mandated that his programme be guided by an Individual Education Plan, but given the 'realities' of Craig's classroom, few manageable and meaningful accommodations or modifications could be made for Craig. The 'realities' of Craig's classroom included high pupil-teacher ratio, a rigid standardized curriculum monitored through standardized provincial testing, and because of the ways schools were funded at the time, no teaching assistant.7 Placement in a special classroom was not an option despite the IPRC, because Craig did not meet the school district's strict criteria for special-class placement&endash;-his behaviour was deemed too severe, and his IQ too low for the behaviour-classroom admissions criteria.
In the middle of grade 3, Craig was placed by an inter-agency team (which included the school district) in a residential school. Sarah was devastated. The school was more than 50 km. from her and Craig's home, and transportation for visits would be a burden. Also, because of social assistance rules, with Craig in residence in the school, Sarah would lose his allowance, which she needed to pay her rent. Nevertheless, with the dearth of local services, and the school district's inability to manage Craig in their classrooms, Sarah was allowed few options. This forced separation of a family and a child's banishment from his community clearly demonstrates that an alternative to the status quo of special education must be found and enacted.
The need for a reconceptualization of ethics and praxis within special education
Special education as a set of theories and practices, and as a field, was insufficient and inappropriate for use as an ethical praxis with Craig for several reasons. First, special education is built on instrumental theories (e.g. functionalist psychology, see Skrtic 1995a) whose goals are to predict and control (Habermas 1972: 308). These theories were hurtful to Craig and Sarah, because they attributed the blame and responsibility for behavioural exceptionalities to them alone. This focus on the individual as a site of pathology is a feature of special education; Goodnow (1995: 306) maintains that psychologists 'who have greatly influenced special education' have myopically placed their 'emphasis upon conditions within the individual' and that there needs to be emphasis upon a 'line of theory and research [that] looks to conditions outside the individual'. In the studies cited in the endnotes to this story of Craig&endash;-for example, Fagot and Leve (1998), Fantuzzo et al. (1998), Lavigne et al. (1998), Wolfe et al. (1998), and Farrington and Loeber (1999)&endash;-there is no questioning why socially and economically disenfranchised women are ascribed the fault for 'producing' children who do not fit the system. Likewise, there is no consideration of the effects of assigning culpability only to mothers, or automatically pathologizing children's anger. In their etiologies, standard studies do not refer to the complaints proffered by Sarah and mothers like her, such as 'run-away dad', 'criminally-low social assistance amounts', 'no local support services', or 'not enough affordable housing'.
Furthermore, the initial etiological concentration and the eventual 'solutions' to Craig's problems (e.g. in-school behaviour modification and later institutionalization) never addressed how the school and its community might have created or exacerbated his pain. For example, Craig and Sarah's situation was akin to that reported by Harris and Dewdney (1994: 37&endash;39) in their study of barriers to assistance for battered women. In summary, the principal impediments include:
the service may not exist (particularly in small towns and rural areas);
help-seekers may not know whom to contact;
help-seekers may be unable to reach an agency because of language difficulties or other forms of social isolation;
the structure of a service may preclude assistance (e.g. seemingly endless waiting lists, difficult 'bureaucratic complexities', and narrowly-defined criteria for admission);
the agency itself may be unable to assist for many reasons (e.g. inadequately funded or staffed); and
help-seekers may be financially unable to pursue assistance because it would mean incurring costs (e.g. child-care, transportation, and time off from work).
All of these were factors at certain times in Craig's schooling and in many other aspects of his and Sarah's lives. I witnessed Sarah's struggles with the courts and the police to keep her son and herself safe from Craig's father. These barriers arose again in Sarah's relations with social assistance and in fighting to maintain a healthy living environment, including efforts to be allowed to see a dentist and have all necessary prescriptions covered. Foremost was my horror at the absence of assistance for Sarah years before when she was a scared, pregnant adolescent with no familial support and an abusive boyfriend. The barriers to help in those days are likely what fuelled Craig's later difficulties. Ironically, obstacles to assistance extend to help-providers like me, even though our position within a 'helping' institution might be expected to give us better access to information and services.
Foucault's (1977) theory of normalization is another way of explaining how the school and its community could be implicated in Craig's behavioural exceptionality. Foucault demonstrates how normalcy, including what constitutes acceptable behaviour, is situational not absolute, for 'there are no behaviours that exist outside the practices for producing them' (Walkerdine 1994: 61). Disciplinary features lead to the homogenization of norms and standards, and if individuals do not adapt to such norms they are deemed deviant (Foucault 1977: 182). All aspects of the individual are subject to normalization procedures, which by normalization's very nature are difficult to 'see' and this helps to fuel the status quo. 'Foucault argues that disciplinary techniques are the specific rituals for producing individuals who themselves become instruments for the exercise of power' (Ford-Smith 1995: 60). The discursive régime of an institution produces the parameters for what behaviours can be enacted as well as the subsequent terms through which they are judged. An understanding of such features requires critical practices like the uncovering of the invisible, the consideration of multiple perspectives, and the placing of one's 'reading' of a situation within its larger socio-political context before acting (for a discussion of critical literacy practices, see Lewison et al. 2002: 382).
These practices are not characteristic of contemporary special education. In narrative terms, special education is a 'realist tale' (Lather 1991): positivistic, linear, with a clearly demarcated beginning sequence of action directed at closure. The realist tale emphasizes behavioural observations and privileges what can be quantified. It hides its authorship in a detached omniscience that suggests that the text somehow created itself. Without apparent origins, the text conceals an easily identifiable site from which it can be critiqued. Such 'realist' tales, Lather suggests, 'assume a found world, an empirical world knowable through adequate method and theory' (p. 128). The authors of such tales use methods that ensure validity and reliability; in setting up conditions for discovery, they never interfere with the truth, for this truth emerges 'naturally' from the data, untainted by subjectivity.
Skrtic's (1995b) analysis points to omissions within special education as a realist tale: what it takes for granted and other ways of perceiving and constructing the social world. During the 1980s, when the bulk of social sciences had moved through their paradigm wars, special education had hardly begun theirs; thus the paradigmatic and theoretical 'diversity' of other fields in the social sciences is absent in special education (Skrtic 1995b: 35). Although there have been debates (e.g. on inclusion) during the history of special education, Skrtic notes that they have been argued on 'practical', technical grounds devoid of criticisms of 'theories and guiding assumptions upon which [the practical debates] are premised' (Sktric 1995c: 76). This renders special education (and by extension its workers) ahistorical and acritical, and in many ways anti-intellectual. Four tenets of the field are accepted without question:
Student disability is a pathological condition.
Differential diagnosis is objective and useful.
Special education is a rationally conceived and co-ordinated system of services that benefits diagnosed students.
Progress in special education is a rational-technical process of incremental improvements in conventional diagnostic and instructional practices. (Sktric 1995c: 75)
These tenets are so integral to the structure of special education that their own origins in specific instrumentalist theories disappear (Sktric 1995c: 69), and they become accepted as commonsensical. Unfortunately, what passes as commonsense may not be in the best interest of students. Certainly the version of special education that I have just described violated Craig and Sarah. In place of this special education I now submit a five-featured version of an ethical pedagogical praxis.
Craig's case demanded action and a thoughtful appraisal of that action of the basis of Cornell's (1992) ethics. In short, Craig's case required a praxis. A number of praxis-oriented philosophies have been developed to deal with 'the theory and practice dualism that has plagued Western intellectual thought (Quantz 1992: 463). The praxis which underlies the ethical praxis is consistent with the goals of critical and postmodern theories. Respectively, these goals are to emancipate (Habermas 1972: 310) and to 'deconstruct' (Lather 1991: 8).
Negotiating critical and emancipatory boundaries is inherent in the five goals of the ethical praxis. Thus such a praxis juxtaposes a variety of theories and practices, deconstructs the general/special education duality while challenging functionalist approaches to behavioural differences on several fronts, understands its historical context, has a decisive anti-sexist, anti-racist, and anti-classist mandate which constructs the teacher as an action-oriented educational worker who strives to alleviate others' suffering, and attempts not to replace one authoritative discourse with another. I will now examine each feature in turn.
One: The juxtaposition of differing theories and practices
In general, it is an egregious error for special education to support and be supported by the hegemony of instrumentalist theories and realist texts. This sealed 'hierarchy of ideologies' (Coppock and Hopton 2000: 165) curtailed the benefits that Craig might have received if his case had been allowed to be considered through other theories and practices, including perhaps most importantly, his mother's.
Despite their position of closure, however, realist texts can be part of a generative process. Bhabba (1994), in his discussion of how newness enters the world, explains that when different entities are juxtaposed, change may emerge from the crevasses between them. In special education, therefore, the more that its realist texts are rubbed up against alternate theories and practices, the greater chance there is for newness. In analyzing the case of Craig, for example, I juxtapose instrumentalist theories and practices against postmodern and critical theories as well as narratives of practice. The comparisons, contrasts, and spaces between these entities allow an entrée into each's constitution, limitations, and contributions relative to the case. It is through this opening that I am able to conceptualize an ethical praxis.
Integral to the creation of the new is recognizing that each theory and practice has something to teach, though not all should necessarily be employed. In relation to the dominant forms of functionalist psychology which informed the special education that drove Craig's circumstances, the contribution of these theories and practices was often obscured by the political necessity of working outside them in order to challenge their power. Still, functionalist psychology has something to say about Craig's situation and the situations of children with whom he shares things in common. Craig's instance demonstrates that it is not simply that madness is discursive. It can take other forms, and sometimes those forms are, at least in part, intrinsic. No praxis-oriented person who wants to diminish suffering would deny this. Even the operating principle of those sympathetic to the radical anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s was neither a denial of madness nor a wish to abolish psychiatry, but simply the aspiration to 're-open a dialogue between reason and those whom it considered mad' (Rose 1992: 148). Therefore any attempt to end suffering relative to behavioural exceptionalities 'should incorporate biological, psychological and social perspectives so that whatever the views [or circumstances] of any service user there is a starting point for a dialogue between service user and professional' (Coppock and Hopton 2000: 168). Incorporation should be read as juxtaposition not conflation, inasmuch as conflation could miss problems inherent in functionalist psychology. The benefit of juxtaposition is that it invites dialogue between persons, theories, and practices, while remaining aware of the power differentials between them.
Two: The challenge to functionalist psychology and the special/general education binary
Given that special education is a monotone of theory and practice, an ethical praxis must be cognizant of what challenges to functionalist psychology hold in common, and how they relate to educational issues. The most important commonality is how challenges are often posed through critically-oriented questions that reject exceptionalities as fixed categories. What, for example, is the relationship between institutional norms and procedures and the definitions of behavioural disorders? How have notions of unacceptable and acceptable behaviour changed over time, and in relation to notions of education, training, teacher, and student? How might 'helping' institutions (e.g. school districts, schools, children's aid societies, and paediatric psychiatric facilities through the ministries of health, education and community and social services) be impotent in assisting children and their families (or even exacerbate their difficulties)? What are the institutions' and help-providers' (specifically here, teachers') responsibilities towards students who are identified as behaviourally exceptional?
One responsibility is recognizing Habermas's (1972) lesson that theories have goals that are connected to particular understandings of the social good, education, schools, teacher, student, and more generally, epistemology, ontology, pedagogy, politics, and ethics. Another responsibility is the acknowledgement that the dyad of special education, to 'label' and 'place' (Rodriguez 1999: 395), belies the discursive, social, cultural, institutional, and historical aspects of theories and practices. With Craig, this resulted in the negation of the affects of poverty, social marginalization, and violence on his behaviour, and the perception of his behaviour. Violence also includes that done to Craig and Sarah by the system concentrating blame on them.
The second feature of an ethical praxis also requires accepting that the special/general education duality is a discriminatory structure: by virtue of being 'special' and not for all, special education divides the school population and the school itself (regardless of arguments for or against inclusion). This bifurcation occurs ideologically in what is defined 'normal' and 'abnormal', and it is carried out in practical terms. It happens through curriculum (e.g. Craig's curriculum was individualized, whereas all other 'unexceptional' students had a standardized or 'normalized' provincial curriculum), standardized assessment (e.g. Craig's classmates were required to partake in a 'general' standardized assessment from which Craig was excluded because of his exceptional status), 'classroom geography' (Sandow 1994: 157) (e.g. classrooms are usually conceived as for all, but when deemed exceptional, Craig was physically isolated from other children and relegated to the resource room, to his home, and later to residential school), occupational roles and human resource allocation (e.g. my role as special education named me a teacher for only some, and once Craig became my responsibility, his classroom teacher was no longer obligated to him), and the configuration of resource materials (e.g. the school's textbooks were to be for the classroom, yet because they were not suitable for Craig, they were thus inaccessible to him&endash;-and others like him). These examples show how most school practices are directed towards a supposed 'normal' student. To deal with its own failure to educate individuals, instead of a standard, the system creates exceptions of a few and relegates them to special education. This has implications for Sandow's (1994) question, 'whose special need[s]' are met through special education? In Craig's case, special education was primarily in the service of the government, the school district, the school, and itself as a field.
Despite its discriminatory structure, given the current configuration of public education, special education cannot be abolished. There are children who require services beyond what is presently available in general classrooms by generalist teachers. To do away with special education would be to abandon children in need. Instead, a reconsideration of general education must first occur. '[B]ecause special education', Skrtic (1995d: 233) contends, 'is a structural and cultural artifact of twentieth-century schooling ... deconstructing and reconstructing it necessarily requires deconstructing and reconstructing public education itself'. The first step in this re/de-construction is understanding the histories of those theories, practices, and movements that underlie general and special education.
Three: Understanding the historical context
An ethical praxis demands a critical appraisal of the histories of one's discipline, theories, and practices. There must also be an awareness that histories are always composed, never discovered; thus even the methodologies of one's history-making need to be juxtaposed against others. Understanding the histories of educational movements is critical to an ethical praxis, because that understanding helps to demystify special education and one's place within it. '[T]o understand what possibilities lie ahead for special education', Skrtic (1991: 23&endash;24) suggests, 'special educators must understand and, more important, free themselves from that which has conditioned, limited, and institutionalized their professional thought and action'. The excavation of a discipline's history is a critical project in that it uncovers the buried, and makes apparent its genesis and affinities. This is a process of de-familiarization, of distancing and seeing parts, and of connection-making, in seeing how the history of one's discipline relates to others. In these ways, history-seeking and history-making broadens the scope of juxtapositions.
Four: The anti-discrimination mandate and the action-oriented educational worker
The ethical praxis must announce its anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-classist agenda. Although the argument that an antidiscrimination stance must be part of such a praxis exists independently of Craig's case, his case demonstrates how theory and practice can limit and/or expand people's access to safety, autonomy, dignity, and capital (Bourdieu 1979). For instance, in looking at the connection between identity and the conditions of special education teachers' work, I discovered how my membership in a 'female-intensive occupation' (Harris 1992) limited my control over what I did and how I did it. My subordinate position as a servant to the technical masters (i.e. carrying out the orders of the psychologists and bureaucracy), had implications for Craig. My lack of professional authority made me less able to act on his behalf. My word could not secure him funding for the provision of a teaching assistant, designate him as an exceptional student, or place him in a safe environment (i.e. outside the regular classroom). Only documentation from a psychologist could do so.
As a mother, Sarah had even less status. In addition to the distress of having a needy child, Sarah carried the weight of being the target of blame for that need. She was young, poor, and female; the community, the educators, and the service-providers by-passed their own culpability for Craig's difficulties and placed it on her. The comments that Mickelson (2000: 169) heard from teachers when she studied the experiences of mothers with sons who had been identified as behaviourally exceptional parallel the staff-room talk to which I was privy: 'Find me a BD [behaviour-disordered] kid and I'll find you his BD mom', and 'The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, you know'. These stereotypes are a form of violence, in part, because by ascribing fault to mothers, they distract from other sources of liability. The behaviour-exceptionalities literature, for example, identifies teenage motherhood as a category of 'risk'. It articulates this risk as a fact related to deficiencies in the mother; yet when the reasons that underlie this risk are exposed, the sphere of responsibility can widen. Consider description of O'Shea et al. (2001) of teenage mothers:
Poverty is a reality for young mothers who have dropped out of school. The [United States] Children's Defense Fund 1998 Yearbook reported that almost two-thirds of teenage mothers did not finish their high school education. The combination of lack of economic stability due to inadequate job skills and inadequate parenting skills related to education and supports places the teenage mother and her child at significant risk. In this situation the mother is at risk for stressors associated with poverty and the child for social, physical, and cognitive problems. (p. 84)
O'Shea et al. articulate some of the challenges that mothers like Sarah may face. In the following paragraph, using these same factors, I invert the blame away from the mother to ask who could (and should) be helping.
In the quotation, a woman's poverty, lack of education, lack of economic stability, lack of employable skills, lack of parenting knowledge, and subsequent stress are identified as the causes of her and her child's at-risk status. The woman is written as the site of deficits. But Craig's case demonstrates the inadequacies on the part of a variety of systems to respond to his and Sarah's needs, and shows that the source of some risk should be accredited to the deficits of 'helping' social organizations, including schools. Perhaps these institutions are themselves lacking in skills&endash;-such as the skills to eradicate poverty, educate persons who do not fit a narrow definition of student, offer economic stability, broaden the scope of who is considered to be a contributing member of society, support families in caring for each other, and reduce the stress of trying to do too much with too little. In short, where are the skills of the collective to feed, educate, care for, and protect its children and citizens? An ethical praxis requires an examination of the social-positioning of children and their parents based on categories of difference such as sex, race, and class. The corollary of this is the appraisal of the ways in which these categories mediate people's lives through organizational policy, procedures, and the work of teachers. Educators in an ethical praxis must then actively challenge what allows discrimination to exist.
Five: The active refusal of an authoritative discourse
The complexity of Craig's life and the challenges in educating him deserve more than a stock pedagogical approach. An ethical praxis does not claim to privilege one theory or practice over another. It asks that we, as educators, assess our ways of knowing, being, and doing to reflect upon the assumptions that undergird their structure and then make known the conditions of that structure to the self and others. In this way, the form makes evident what it may include and exclude and how it configures the subject. This uncovering of the subject positioning is important to the construction of an ethical praxis, given Cornell's (1992) notion of ethics and its connection to identity. The deconstructive goal of an ethical praxis can be realized through several of its features: by seeking to make the known unknown through the dissonance and comparison offered by juxtaposition, by understanding the histories of theories and practices, and by striving insofar as possible to understanding one's needs, desires, and identities, and those of whom one is helping. This means that special education with its insistence on standardization must become more of what Skrtic (1991: 182) calls an 'ad-hocracy'.
An ad-hocracy is an organizational structure that relies on 'innovation' (Skrtic 1991: 182), not standardization. This dependence is based on the ad-hocracy's recognition of the mercurial nature of human endeavours (e.g. education). In an ad-hocracy, labour is shared by a group of professionals who make ongoing and mutually-derived decisions of theory and practice relative to the tasks-at-hand and the desired goals of the collective. Accountability is not derived from, as in Craig's example, a government's determination to tighten and expand bureaucratic procedures and paperwork, but rather through a 'presumed community of interests' that Skrtic (1991: 184) describes as 'a sense among the workers of a shared interest in a common goal, in the well-being of the organization with respect to progress toward its mission'. Apart from the ad-hocracy's compulsory features of 'collaboration', 'mutual adjustment', and 'accountability' through common interest, such an organization also requires what Skrtic calls a 'discursive coupling' (p. 184). The discursive coupling is a process of actively forming judgements and reflection on those judgements within the daily, embodied experiences of its professionals. Thus practitioners make explicit and binding links between theories and practices within actual educational contexts.
An ad-hocracy is preferable to the standardized bureaucratic system that governed Craig. By constructing a collegiality in which each member is regarded as a full, professional decision-maker, the ad-hocracy addresses the difficulties I had in educating Craig when my role carried little status. As a special-education teacher, I was consigned to a rigid set of practices and theories, as well as to an ineffective technical stance from which I was to carry out policies and programmes with scant room to decide what was in the best interest of my students. An ad-hocracy offers its workers power through collaboration, and enough structural agility to choose the most appropriate theories and practices for a problem. This defies the one-size-must-fit-all approach as well as the hierarchical organization of contemporary schooling. Moreover, the ad-hocracy counters the dangers of my having worked in relative isolation to secure an education and appropriate services for Craig. It demands that members work closely together to monitor, dialogue, adjust, and reflect upon the group's work. With its adaptability, elasticity, and focus upon co-operatively creating the novel within the context of a given problem, the ad-hocracy could create a praxis that is responsive to the needs and desires of an educational situation while not replacing one authoritative discourse with another. This continual deconstruction and reconstruction might also contribute to an ethical praxis by accentuating, through recursive dialogue, the shifting landscape of one's needs, desires, and identities as they are created by and function through said praxis.
Significantly, all elements of an ethical praxis are suggestive that it is in the interplay between theories and practices within the context of teachers' work that we as educators can best understand how the structures of theories and practices guide our eyes, encourage particular brands of thought, and make possible what can and cannot be expressed, and understood. The five features all adhere to an ethics of a nonviolative relationship that rejects reductionism and the standard in favour of investigating the complex nature of educational thought, action, and circumstance, as well as the persons enmeshed within them. The ethical praxis limits and guards against lapses of complacency or oversimplifying human experience into something that can be controlled or predicted. This is an ethical imperative, as Derrida (2000: para. 15) suggests:
[I]f the whole political project would be the reassuring object or the logical or theoretical consequence of assured knowledge (euphoric, without paradox, without aporia, free of contradiction, without undecidabilities to decide), that would be a machine that runs without us, without responsibility, without decision, at bottom without ethics, nor law, nor politics. There is no decision nor responsibility without the test of aporia or undecidability.
Embedded within the ethical praxis is also the call for continued thought and work on the problems of educational theory and practice, as well as special and general education. Sadly it is too late to save Craig from the suffering he endured. His case, however, has much to teach us educators about how to prevent or at least minimize the suffering of other children. Some of these lessons are presented here, in the ethical praxis.
1. All names are pseudonyms.
2. According to Fagot and Leve (1998), one of the top three predictors of externalizing behaviour at age 5 is single-mother family status.
3. Farrington and Loeber's (1999: 5) research on juvenile delinquency concludes that 'several risk factors are replicable predictors of delinquency over time and place, especially impulsivity, poor concentration, low achievement, an antisocial parent, a large family, low family income, a broken family, poor parental supervision, and parental conflict'. Except for the large family, Craig had all of these predictors for antisocial behaviour.
4. See, for example, the findings of Fantuzzo et al. (1998), as well as Wolfe et al. (1998) in relation to the behaviour of children who have been maltreated or abused.
5. Lavigne et al. (1998) conclude that a preschool child with a psychiatric, disruptive, or emotional disorder, is two or three, eight, or four to six times respectively more likely than a child not diagnosed with a disorder at that age to have a disorder throughout the early school years. Their findings suggest that early onset of problem behaviours is an indicator of later difficulties.
6. 84.5% of students in Ontario identified as socially-maladjusted/emotionally-disturbed are male (Ontario Ministry of Education cited in Weber and Bennett 1999: 32).
7. The Intensive Support Amount (ISA) is a grant by the Government of Ontario to provide resources to students with special needs. The application process is onerous, detailed, and very inflexible. When Craig was my student, the deadline for ISA grants was in the spring before the school year in which a teaching assistant would be needed, and teaching assistants were directly attached to the students for whom a grant had been procured (thus there was no flexibility to reallocate or share a teaching assistant). Consequently, for Craig to have a teaching assistant in our school, his previous school would have had to apply for it. Frustratingly, Craig's previous school could not have applied for it, because they did not have the required documentation for the grant. Though the special education resource teacher is responsible for completing the application procedures for ISA, they are excluded from documenting need. Key documentation consists of assessment reports from 'regulated qualified professional[s]' (p. 27) which government auditors inspect for 'objectivity'. This necessitates that the documentation be 'psychological or medical' (p. 19) in nature. The waiting list for the assessments by such professionals&endash;-unless parents can pay privately&endash;-is very long (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2003: 6).
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