Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Tricia Kress

Second Advisor

Francine Menashy

Third Advisor

Fiona K. Campbell


This dissertation seeks to explore the ways in which teachers in substantially separate classroom spaces make meaning of their work with students who have severe, multiple disabilities. In American urban public schools, a binary-laden culture perpetuates and reinscribes a dominant ideology that prizes inclusive settings and a meritocratic ethos for abled students, while constraining students with disabilities into a prescriptive model of teaching and learning. This results in a either/or suspension that ensures a discursive closure to both confine and constrain children with severe special needs into a continuum of attainment: focused specifically on a skills-based curriculum and a movement towards a more general education setting instead of an excluded, substantially separate space. Furthermore, this either/or logic provides a systematized approach to decision making about educational programs (general education or special education), settings (included or resource room or self-contained classroom), and ability designations for children with severe disabilities that is deeply entrenched in a recursion of the either/or. In practice, these binaries of setting are delusional and ultimately fictitious, as they both break down and are reproduced by the closed conversations that take place within them.

In this thesis, I employed a phenomenological approach to explore the ways in which educators of students with severe, multiple made meaning of their work in substantially separate classrooms and how this meaning is created and sustained within the boundaried discourse of ability/disability. Using discourse and its closure as a conceptual backdrop and Disability theory and Postcolonial theory as a theoretical framework, I agitated the suspension of either/or under the themes of curriculum, communication, age and ability, and finally, setting via the conceptualization of inclusion as a discourse. Braiding together the overlapping experiences of research participants, both reinscription of the dominant discourse and moments of agitation were discovered within the context of setting and structure of inclusion, allowing for a complication of the larger discourse. Finally, this work offers a new way to reconsider the boundaries of discursive closure through dialogue and naming as a subversion of dominant ideology, reconceptualizing how education views disability, settings, curriculum, and pedagogy.


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