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From Integration to Inclusion
A History of Special Education in the 20th Century

Margret A. Winzer

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From the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

Prior to the 20th century, private or church-supported institutions educated individuals with disabilities. Tax-supported, universal public education emerged in the 1800s with North America’s transformation from a rural to industrialized society; a society addressing massive immigration. Schools served to assimilate diverse cultures and to create effective citizens and a skilled labor force. The initial vision of public schooling advocated the common education of all students, but student diversity and a desire for bureaucratic efficiency resulted in the creation of special segregated classes for those considered deviant, different, or delinquent. Thus, began special education within the public school setting.

Margret Winzer describes the evolution of special education within a changing 20th century America. She notes that America’s entry into World War II drew adults with disabilities into the war effort. Their contributions elicited curricular revisions to teach special education students more than fundamental skills and manual training. The 60s civil rights movement and philosophy of normalization prompted efficacy studies of special classes. Although flawed methodologically, results did not support special education as superior to that provided in general education classrooms. Legislation making integrated education available to children with special needs was passed within this climate. In the late 20th century, projections that by 2020 students of color will comprise 46% of the school age population resulted in concerns about equitably serving culturally different students. These concerns advanced the concept of disability as diversity and of inclusion as the means to provide equal rights for all students.

This text describes the educational history of the range of students served within special education, but readers will appreciate the sections that specifically address the education of deaf individuals, “the only so-called disabled group to form into a discrete, identifiable, and politically viable cultural group” (p. 157). Although we have accounts of the history of deaf education, it is rare to see this history set within the evolution of special education as a field. Through this lens, it is evident that much initial work in educating “different students” and in preparing qualified teachers occurred within our field. Although the author notes that the term “hard of hearing” came into common use after World War II, the educational history of this group is not documented. It would benefit our field to know more about this group of students. Winzer highlights ongoing concerns with the dearth of solid research in special education and the power of politics and emotion to direct policy, rather than “evidence-based results.” The construction of a research base for instruction is certainly an area being addressed through the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.

From Integration to Inclusion would be an excellent text for those teaching a course on the history of special education to upper division undergraduate or graduate students. As stated in the text’s introduction, “… the notion that special education can ignore its past is unsustainable: the field cannot afford to dismiss or denigrate the forces that have shaped contemporary understandings” (p. viii). Winzer helps readers see that historical knowledge of special education will deepen our understanding and ability to critically evaluate current challenges and approaches to educating special students.

Margret A. Winzer is former Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

ISBN 978-1-56368-365-7, 7 x 10 casebound, 304 pages, tables, references, index


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