Comparing Special Education: Origins to Contemporary Paradoxes

Comparing Special Education: Origins to Contemporary Paradoxes

by John Richardson, Justin Powell

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In today's schools the number of students who receive additional resources to access the curriculum is growing rapidly, and the ongoing expansion of special education is among the most significant worldwide educational developments of the past century. Yet even among developed democracies the range of access varies hugely, from one student in twenty to one student


In today's schools the number of students who receive additional resources to access the curriculum is growing rapidly, and the ongoing expansion of special education is among the most significant worldwide educational developments of the past century. Yet even among developed democracies the range of access varies hugely, from one student in twenty to one student in three. In contemporary conflicts about educational standards and accountability, special education plays a key role as it draws the boundaries between exclusion and inclusion.

Comparing Special Education unites in-depth comparative and historical studies with analyses of global trends, with a particular focus on special and inclusive education in the United States, England, France, and Germany. The authors examine the causes and consequences of various institutional and organizational developments, illustrate differences in forms of educational governance and social policy priorities, and highlight the evolution of social logics from segregation of students with special educational needs to their inclusion in local schools.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In an area of educational practice rife with nostrums and fruitless ideological controversy, this unique book identifies key issues that children with unusual needs pose for the enterprise of schooling."—Robert Dreeben, University of Chicago

"Special Education for physically and mentally disabled children should not be taken-for-granted. From the earliest asylums and dungeons for the 'dumb, feebleminded, and insane,' through 19th century theories of eugenics, to the current paradox of mainstream educational inclusion yet with persistent stigma, Richardson and Powell present a sweeping and insightful comparative sociological history of the origins and development of Special Education. They show that the ways youth with special needs are defined and educated reflect core ideologies and political struggles at the heart of a society. There has never before been such a rich and penetrating study of Special Education—this is the authoritative sociological analysis of the topic."—David P. Baker, The Pennsylvania State University

"Finally, a text that moves beyond comparative transnational studies in safe statistical mode. Richardson and Powell's insightful account pushes the methodological envelope, artfully illustrating how claims about nations, education, disability and children are quite literally patterned inventions to be questioned rather than naively applied. A monumental and pathbreaking must-read."—Bernadette Baker, University of Wisconsin

"This is the most important book on special education to be produced for decades. Using historical and comparative information it demonstrates conclusively that a global commitment to inclusive education is leading to more graded, hierarchical systems in which regular education cannot function without an interconnection with special education, however this is defined and organized."—Sally Tomlinson, University of Oxford

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Stanford University Press
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Origins to Contemporary Paradoxes
By John G. Richardson Justin J. W. Powell

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2011 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6073-7

Chapter One

IDEAS AND INSTITUTIONS The Enlightenments, Human Nature, and Disability If one steps back from the present into the past, what patterns, what structures does one discover in the successive waves of this movement, if one looks not from us to them, but from them to us? Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process

The education of children with disabilities long preceded the formal expansion of public education. The established organizational forms for the education of the blind, deaf, and "dumb"; the "feebleminded" and "insane"; disorderly, criminal, pauper, dependent, and neglected youth were diverse— from charitable asylums and orphanages to hospitals and various reformatories. Setting aside superficial differences in name, size, and administration, the universality of these organizational forms is compelling. In societies with widely different religious, cultural, political, and economic systems across Europe, such organizations for disabled children and youth were established. The differences lay in their relative importance and the timing of their founding.

Asylums, orphanages, hospitals, work houses, and reformatories have their own and conjoint histories that are more than subordinate chapters in the chronology of national education systems. If we retrieve these histories, we find continuities that offer a broader context for understanding the different structures of contemporary special education. Today, disabled children and youth are classified into special education categories, and their subsequent placement in a particular organizational structure may be thought of as a form of confinement. Such placement has affinities to "binding out" a child as an apprentice, a process that confers certain education benefits while placing limits on liberty. Special education programs that segregate children and youth may be thought of as places of well-meaning confinement. Today's special schools for children with disabilities may be considered as modern-day replacements for asylums; special schools for youth with challenging emotional or social behaviors, as variants of houses of correction or reformatories. At minimum, such a thought experiment underscores the way in which more recent terms, such as "handicapping conditions" or "special (educational) needs," have historically been intertwined with poverty and laboring classes and thus with exclusion and stigma. Yet such an experiment accentuates what has been an education transformation of enormous scope: forms and places of punishment and degradation have moved from historically isolated locations to become legally guaranteed provisions and thoroughly legitimate and ubiquitous sites within systems of mass education.

This chapter explores the eighteenth-century Enlightenment as the ideological origin of what would be called "special education" by the end of the nineteenth century. As indicated by its title, this chapter focuses on the interplay of ideas and institutions. An ironic feature of this intellectually rich century was how the flurry of international exchange of ideas that covered the de cades from 1700 to the 1780s ended with the rise of institutions that brought forth segregated organizations in which deaf and blind people, the mad, paupers, and criminals lived. The contradiction between the ideas that enlightened thinking celebrates, such as freedom from errors and fallacies, and the construction of large-scale institutions and state-sponsored organizations to care for and control those considered "abnormal" or deviant has not gone unnoticed; neither has it been fully explained.

The exploration of this inaugural era of special education is organized around, first, the trinary structure of Enlightenment thought, referred to as the official, counter, and periphery Enlightenments and, second, the sequential order of institutionalization and the founding of organizations to carry out the ideas advanced among the leading thinkers and supported by state initiatives.

Enlightenment thought is commonly divided into central bodies of ideas. The official Enlightenment accentuates reason as the source of truth and understanding. The counter Enlightenment, that of Romanticism, accentuates the moral and the spiritual as sources truer than the rational. By including deliberations about people who suffered social disadvantages and people with disabilities, in particular blind and deaf people, we enlarge the number of contributors to Enlightenment thought and thus modify the standard framework. As part of the philosophical treatises on human nature that preoccupied official thought, social and physical deviance became convenient subjects for debate as a methodological means to expand the philosophical questions about the origins of human senses and knowledge. This is the periphery Enlightenment. Although it was not of the stature of either the official or the counter Enlightenment, it came increasingly into public view. The periphery Enlightenment, we argue, represented a core problem to both the official and the counter Enlightenments. The capacity of blind and deaf people to participate in society was a vexing question that led to the larger question of their capacity to be educated. The late eighteenth-century flurry of institution building and establishment of organizations of what would become known as special education would most likely not have happened as it did without the ideas of the periphery Enlightenment.

From this trinary structure of Enlightenment thought, we propose that the manner in which these three schools of thought are interrelated influenced broader cultural conceptions of appropriate and deviant behavior generally and how individuals with disadvantages and disabilities were viewed and treated concretely. Most important is the degree of independence of the periphery Enlightenment, for this determined the seriousness that was extended to reforming the conditions of poverty and treating the afflictions of poor people and those with disabilities. And although the periphery Enlightenment was evident in all national Enlightenments, its autonomy relative to other thought varied, and thus did its long- term impact on the education of these groups. Which groups became the focus of national attention was contingent on the content, structure, and autonomy of the periphery Enlightenment.

Next we consider the sequential order of institutionalization and the founding of organizations to carry out the ideas advanced among the leading thinkers and supported by state initiatives. Although En gland and France erected large-scale institutions at strikingly similar times, within this general sequence there are critical distinctions: Were they constructed as local or national institutions? Was temporal priority given to the social deviancies of pauperism, vagrancy, and delinquency or to the differences perceived among people with sensory or physical impairments or mental illnesses and disabilities? We propose that the priority given by specific countries to particular organizational forms and the general institutionalization processes informs our understanding of the structures of contemporary special education and criminal justice.

Comparing the two developmental paths in En gland and France, specifically, we find that the former exhibits a combination of decentralized authority with the prior construction of reformatory institutions to deal with social deviance. This temporal sequence facilitated a long- term path of punitive benevolence. In contrast, in France the combination of centralized authority with the prior construction of eminent national institutions for a select group of blind and deaf people facilitated a long- term path of paternalistic benevolence. The contrast of En gland and France illustrates the specific structures of Enlightenment thought and specific trajectories in the formation of "benevolent" institutions and organizations to address disadvantage, disability, and deviance— one leading to a punitive model, the other to a paternalistic model. Benevolence was never, of course, purely benevolent, as punitive intentions were ingrained in these institutions.

THE TRINARY STRUCTURE OF ENLIGHTENMENT THOUGHT The Official Enlightenment: John Locke and the Theory of Human Nature

At the dawn of the eighteenth century, John Locke affirmed the end of absolutism by announcing a new theory of human knowledge. Locke rejected the existence of innate ideas. In the place of Cartesian belief that (much) knowledge originates from ideas of the intellect itself, such as infinity and the existence of God, Locke proposed to view the human mind as a blank slate. In doing so, he made the origin of human knowledge an empirically understandable question, able to be grasped through observation and experimentation. Locke argued that knowledge derives from the sensory perceptions that come from experiences. This was not substantially different from what Thomas Hobbes proposed thirty years earlier in his Leviathan ([1651] 1991). However, Locke's timing was more auspicious. In Alfred Cobban's terms, "For a hundred years, Europe contrived to live on his ideas, modifying and developing them in all directions, but making no fundamental change" (Cobban 1962: 16).

Locke's theory proposed that ideas derive from perceptions that are mediated by one or more of the senses. The centerpiece of his theory of knowledge is the distinction between primary and secondary qualities and the corresponding distinction between simple and complex ideas. Simple ideas come from one sense only, such as "light and colours come in only by the eyes, [whereas] all kinds of noises, sounds, and tones, only by the ears" (Locke [1689] 1998: book ii, chapter 3). Simple ideas, such as solidity, derive from the real, indivisible qualities of objects themselves; that is, they are inseparable from matter itself. Other ideas, such as space, rest, and motion, derive from more than one sense. These ideas are removed from the material content of objects and result from the active reflection of the mind.

A key element of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding is his doctrine of abstract ideas. At the core of all ideas, whether simple or complex, is the material reality of matter itself. The process of forming complex ideas is the active mental operation of combining simple ideas. Abstract ideas derive from reflecting upon the material impressions made on the senses. The generality of abstract ideas is based on that which is common to these particular impressions. The process of abstraction, for Locke, is essentially the mental operation of combining and distinguishing, out of which process emerge words that have a general reference. At all times, however, the priority of matter remains the central causal force.

Locke's distinction between simple and complex ideas invited critiques from numerous quarters and on several grounds. As Leslie Stephen noted, "He, like Descartes, is trying to get outside of himself. His distinction assumes that universal perceptions must be in de pen dent not only of the constitution of this or that man, but of the constitution of man generally" (Stephen 1902a: 37). Locke's materialism, however attractive to those impatient with philosophical abstractions or with theological or absolutist obscurities, was advanced with the aid of logical inconsistencies. Locke maintained his theological beliefs, namely, the existence of God, while proclaiming that all knowledge derives from the senses. This coexistence of a material empiricism with abiding theological beliefs underscores how Locke's theory of knowledge did not rest on logical consistency. To be sure, its positive reception was promoted by its apparent superiority over the Cartesian doctrine of innate ideas. Yet the true superiority of Locke's theory rested more on a promise that was ironically akin to Cartesian assumptions. Much like Descartes' pure ideas, Locke's materialism was founded on a singular criterion for truth. As Stephen put it: "[G]et rid of the ideas which do not correspond to actual facts, and of the truths which cannot be tested by experience, and philosophy will be restrained once and for ever from these fruitless and endless attempts to raise its flight above the atmosphere" (Stephen 1902a: 35). Aside from critiques that profited from his logical inconsistencies, Locke's distinction between simple and complex held out the promise of universal perceptions founded on dynamics that transcended individual differences. Like Descartes, Locke was "trying to get outside of himself"; and it could be said that like John Locke, European cultures and nations at the beginning of the eighteenth century were trying to get outside themselves.

The elevation of Locke to theoretical preeminence was forged by concepts and arguments beyond a philosophy of knowledge and understanding. Locke's Essay, published in 1689, parallels in many respects his Two Treatises of Government, published a year later. A major link between the two works, a link between his theory of knowledge and his theory of civil government, was his concept of property. Much as his sensationalist theory of knowledge answered the search for universal perceptions, his conception of property answered the growing swell to replace traditional justifications of absolutist power with the authority of civil government.

Like the logical inconsistency in his theory of knowledge, Locke rejected innate ideas with an attribute that was equally antecedent and inviolable. For Locke, an individual's property was much more than the product of industry and labor. The property of each man was distinctive, for it was "in his Person." The true meaning of property extended beyond the necessities of life, for God gave it "to the use of the Industrious and Rational" and not "the Fancy or Covetousness of the Quarrelsom and Contentious" (Locke [1689] 1998: sec. 34). Property was "outside" the constitution of any one individual, for it was freedom from necessity; thus the lack of freedom on the part of servants and children was owing not to a deficiency in material resources, but to their bondage to the necessities of surviving. And as a consequence, they could not exercise reason. Thus, in Locke's terms, "we are born free as we are born rational" (Locke [1689] 1998: sec. 61), and "[T]he freedom then of man and liberty of acting according to his own will, is grounded on his having reason, which is able to instruct him in that law he is to govern himself by, and make him know how far he is left to the freedom of his own will" (sec. 63).

Locke's conception of property rested on distinguishing man as animal laborans (laboring animal) from man as animal rationale (rational animal). The former is common, encompassing what God had put on the earth for human survival and defining what needs to be appropriated for continued existence (Arendt 1989). Yet the products of labor, of the body, disappear upon being consumed and must therefore be remade time and again. Labor is the least private of activities. As such, labor is akin to the primary qualities of material objects, to impressions that are given to us by way of one sense only. The products of labor encompass only primary ideas. In contrast, the products of the hands are the result of reason and knowledge and have thereby a longevity that extends across generations and immediate geographic place. The products of reason and reflection encompass secondary qualities and are thus founded on complex ideas inaccessible through labor. Possession of property presupposes access to reason, which, conversely, entails a distance from the necessities of existence.

The Counter and Periphery Enlightenments

The counter Enlightenment coexisted as an intellectual movement parallel to the official Enlightenment. It opposed the dominant ideas of universal reason and individual rights and their implied consequences for traditional authority and the institutions of the ancien régime. Much like the official Enlightenment, the counter Enlightenment took variable forms, both within and across nations (Berlin 1968). In En gland, the official Enlightenment and the ideas of Locke and George Berkeley were not without their antagonists; likewise for the philosophes in France and the Aufklärung in the German-speaking lands. An accepted term for those philosophical and literary rejections of official Enlightenment thought is Romanticism, or the counter Enlightenment. Romanticism viewed traditional authority as a prerequisite to social order, sentiment as superior to reason, and social inequalities as more deeply embedded than notions of individual rights and liberties could overturn.


Excerpted from COMPARING SPECIAL EDUCATION by John G. Richardson Justin J. W. Powell Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

John Richardson is Professor of Sociology at Western Washington University. He is the author of Common, Delinquent, and Special: The Institutional Shape of Special Education (1999). Justin J. W. Powell is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Germany. He is the author of Barriers to Inclusion: Special Education in the United States and Germany (2010).

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