Dolmage continues his exploration of how disability accommodations do currently manifest themselves, both within the academy and within other aspects of society. He provides several examples that primarily center around the kinds of technologies designed to “enable” people with disabilities to utilize things designed entirely with their abled counterparts in mind. The chapter touches on how so often teaching faculty tack on additional provisions for students with disabilities while keeping many of their practices and fundamental approaches to pedagogy completely static. This approach quite often leaves the student with a disability in the awkward position of accommodating themselves and often results in an inequitable expenditure of effort to achieve the same level of success or academic standing as is expended by their fellow students. This chapter made me consider what changes need to be initiated to library instruction to ensure that pedagogy and lesson design put accessibility concerns first rather than continuously relying on students with disabilities to shoulder the undue burden of their own education. In my estimation, it isn’t enough to leave course design entirely to an accessibility office’s discretion of accommodations. It is important for disability concerns to be rooted at the heart of critical pedagogy, because, as Dolmage points out, disability does not discriminate.
One of the things in this chapter that really struck me was the assumptions made by faculty members regarding disability among their students. Early in the chapter, Dolmage references Amy Vidali and her experience with many faculty members who had said to her some variation of “but there are no disabled students in my class.” Dolmage goes on to talk about how teachers often operate their classrooms under these assumptions. Dolmage connects this idea more concretely with the traditional viewpoints of eugenics within the university which he outlined in the introduction.
This chapter made me think about the ways that I approach teaching. It specifically challenged me to consider how much energy I put into making my instruction sessions accessible for a group of students regardless of what information I have about their needs. While I can’t always provide an answer or completely address the needs of every student in a given session, working towards a universal design and implementing disability-considerate practices for each session will ultimately be beneficial to both the students who may need accommodations and even those who may not need them but benefit from the design regardless.
The introduction to Jay Timothy Dolmage’s Academic Ableism is a stark reminder of the real history of anti-disabled social Darwinist ideology and its origins in the early 20th century North American university’s academic eugenics movements. Dolmage details in brief not only how universities have ignored or tokenized their students and faculty with disabilities, but also systematically assisted in my marginalization and attempted eradication of those same populations. While things have certainly changed, Academic Ableism begins with a premise towards being skeptical of disability and access initiatives as anything more than compliance. The introduction sets up the discussion about disability well. It positions American universities as both purveyors and perpetuators of marginalization for people with disabilities. Several key factors of Dolmage’s view regarding disability and the methodology through which he will be analyzing it are laid out early in the introduction.
Overall, the introduction does a good job of setting up the study of disability and the academy’s relationship to it. Dolmage points out some key issues of intersection that occur between universities and disable people with other non-hegemonic qualities like race, gender, sexuality, as well as others. Having an intersectional approach to disability is important when addressing systemic issues, because people with disabilities can come from every race, every gender, with every sexuality and with every religious background. This kind of recognition places this book in conversation with many different perspectives on diverse populations among people with disabilities. This is especially important when talking about eugenics, as all of the qualities stated above have at times been separate criteria for eugenics.
An area of critical pedagogy that I am genuinely interested in is critical disability studies. While I have connected disability studies to some of my interests in literary criticism and library science, I have slowly been realizing the need to connect critical disability studies to my pedagogy and my view of the classroom. One of the biggest revelations that I had, which initially interested me in critical disability studies was the invisible qualities of many illnesses and disabilities. A common occurrence discussed in disability circles is a disabled individual using public or private utilities designed for them (parking spaces, mobility scooters, etc.) and being accosted by a stranger because their disability is not obvious. This kind of interaction can also happen in the classroom, and often manifests itself in the form of instructors and professors assuming a quality of ability among their students. There are some ways in which institutions try to protect and accommodate students with disabilities and inform instructors about their students’ disabilities; there is a fundamental flaw with disability accommodations in the classroom. This fundamental flaw of relying entirely on disability accommodations programs the nature of self-reporting of disabilities that put the burden of classroom relations on the student rather than the institution or the instructor. The instructor believe that they are aware of students who require assistance and do not need to change or improve how they structure their classroom outside of the known accommodation needs. Instead of relying entirely on these critical and necessary programs, instructors should integrate disability awareness and critical disability studies into their curriculum by integrating anti-ableist language, creating a space in their classroom for individuals of all statuses, and supporting their students with disabilities regardless of the visibility or perceived difficulties that the student experiences. It is the role of the critical pedagogist, then, to implement critical disability studies in their pedagogy and praxis with the students they teach or interact with in any job.
One of the biggest hurdles to developing my identity as a teacher has been the implicit view of the classroom as a politically neutral space. While I cannot think of an instance in the past where someone has taught me that the classroom is a neutral space, it is nonetheless a primary assumption about what the classroom is and how it is supposed to function. But from my own experiences both as a teacher and a student, I have found the classroom is a space that prioritizes whiteness, maleness, straightness, and ableness. There are many token attempts at inclusivity that manifest themselves as pedagogy fads, such as the disastrous implementation of Prezi for differently-abled students or teachers outing their students and putting them in dangerous circumstances. Enacting specific programs or actions that target racism, ableism or homophobia continue to operate with the assumption of neutrality and adopt a solution to issues of marginalization by trying to deal with the issue in a single instance and then move on from it, as if merely addressing the problem is sufficient praxis to undo generations of oppression and marginalization. This problem is why the role of theory inevitably becomes so essential for individual teachers looking to enact anti-ableist, anti-racist, and anti-homophobic praxis in the classroom. As I continue working on my approach to teaching, I am thinking more and more about what it means to move theory to practice, as hooks calls it. The classroom is treated as a neutral space by students and teachers alike, but that view of the classroom is actively harmful. Instead, we must adopt a holistic praxis rooted in theory and rooted in radical empathy.
As I begin to think more about library instruction and the role of an instructor in the classroom, I find that Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed to be an excellent guide into how I consider the dynamic between students and myself as an instructor. In Chapter 4 specifically, Freire discusses how cultural invasion functions as a type of violence between the individual possessing power within a given dynamic and the individuals (in this case, students) who are expected to function within that dynamic while lacking the same amount of agency. While Freire doesn’t seem to be suggesting that pedagogy should abolish the student-teacher dynamic, he does suggest that teachers should prioritize a cooperation within the classroom between students and teachers. The responsibility for this kind of cooperation and removing the elements of cultural invasion is placed entirely on the teacher in this instance. Freire’s words have made me consider how I myself have prioritized the view of myself as a teacher as a kind of provider of information over what should be a prioritization of liberating my students from the subjugation that much of the academic system is constructed around. The view of students as blank slates needing to be “written” upon by proper teaching is a toxic one which does not acknowledge the value that students bring with them to the classroom. As a library instructor specifically, I want to become more focused on how I approach my students and how I can seek to raise up their own thoughts through involvement in the subject matter while also being careful not to impose myself and my own cultural biases or prejudices onto the students. I am further interested in finding more information on how to equitably moderate the classroom with a Freireian approach to classroom management, especially for classes where the culture and individual personalities and cultures are largely unknown to me.
Critical theory has often been criticized for being passive consideration of oppressive systems without actually working as a liberating force for the oppressed through praxis. In many circles, theory and praxis are discussed as separate forces with no connection other than praxis being a separate principled implementation of theory. But bell hooks challenges this in her chapter titled “Theory as Liberatory Practice.” Although hooks does admit this disparity between theory and praxis in many circles, with terms such as “theory” and “feminism” being used as tokens, she goes deeper into this distinction between theory and praxis as being one between individuals who adopt a system of practice rooted in theory. As an instructor, it is important to continue considering the systems of white supremacy and oppression which established the modern academy and actively choose words, activities, and assignments which work against those structures. Inviting students to learn in a space that is designed to help support students regardless of background while also validating the experiences of oppressed individuals. Theory acts as a basis for thought about systems of oppression, but a practice of theory in the classroom involves a concerted effort to implement theory in a way that brings attention to how the system was designed to maintain hierarchies of dominance.
In Chapter 2 of her book, bell hooks considers several different factors of racial inequality and how it manifests itself within a school setting. Hooks discusses her experience with a high school reunion and the illusion of inclusivity is insightful, as well as her analysis of her own perceived radicalism that only manifested itself as retaining the status quo. This second portion especially speaks to me as an educator. Hooks discusses the phenomenon of white individuals treating their relationships with black individuals (and by extension all people of color) as a means of gaining points in the “see-I’m-not-racist” game. This chapter especially made me consider more deeply my own complicity in perpetuating physical or intellectual segregation in the classroom and reminds me on some level of Freire’s own idea of cultural invasion. Ensuring that the classroom is not only an equitable space but one which actively works against the system of segregation that is inherent in the education system.
Freire’s main idea for chapter 2 of his book presents itself as a rehumanization of pedagogy. While Freire is not simply talking about pedagogy but also power-relations at large, his analysis of education is still relevant to thinking about teaching and the role of teachers in the classroom. He says of humanist educators “they must be partners of the students in their relations with them” which is far removed from the more traditional master-apprentice view of teaching. This chapter challenged a lot of preconceptions I had about education, being an educator, and what the ideal goal of the student-teacher relationship should be. Education should be a process of mutual validation and exploration, and I wholly agree with Freire’s breakdown of the banking model of education and why it fails to humanize students and help them actualize in their own education.