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From Disabilities Studies Quarterly
I approached writing a review of Special Education in the 21st Century: Issues of Inclusion and Reform with some caution because every chapter in it supports my personal prejudices regarding inclusion. I was gratified to read arguments in favor of inclusion not only for children with severe disabilities, but also for children with academic gifts. I agreed with the author who discussed technology both critically and optimistically. I found myself nodding in accord when I read that assessment, as it is currently practiced, has little practical value. In addition, the book is written by academics from both the United States and Canada thus bringing an international perspective to the discussion.
Winzer and Mazurek have put together a collection of pieces, each dealing with a different aspect of inclusion, pieces that grapple with challenges the movement has generated. The book consists of twelve chapters divided into three major sections, each section introduced by a well-organized, brief description of its contents. Section One explores the context of reform in special education discussing the philosophical theories, judicial background, and research bases undergirding the movement. Section Two examines technology, assessment, and teacher education, areas that can support or detract from inclusion as it is practiced. Section Three (by far the largest) deals with issues attached to particular populations. These include the children who present the most complex challenges to the inclusion movement - children who are gifted and talented, those who are emotionally and behaviorally disturbed, the Deaf and those with residual hearing, the very young, those with the most severe impairments, and those whose difficulties are compounded by language and cultural differences.
Most chapters begin with a brief and cogent review, including a history of and background to the subject. On the whole, reviews are informative and not overly technical, but they give the reader a sound foundation for what follows. Many chapters also examine the assumptions behind the topic. For instance, the chapter on assessment takes a careful look at the assumptions behind the categorical approach which the authors describe as defensibly logical, but flawed in practice. Each chapter provides insights to the complexities. The chapter on children who are behaviorally disturbed explains how teachers and students become locked into a negative reinforcement cycle. The chapter on technology categorizes educational software into two types, one that assumes passivity in learners (drill and practice) and the other that asks for creative interaction (word processing, desk top publishing, spreadsheets). And the chapter on multicultural education explains that the movement is contentious because it “brings a new vision of a pluralist rather than an assimilated America” (pp. 243-244).
Reviewing a collection of pieces on a topic can become problematic if the pieces have not been carefully selected and/or edited. Readers should expect consistent quality in organization, depth of discussion, relevance, use of research versus anecdotes, and writing. It was in this area that I found myself somewhat more critical of Winzer's and Mazurek's text. Initially, I was confused about the audience for the book. The chapter on teacher training, while fact filled, seemed a call to arms for administrators and policy makers, yet there is little discussion of the underlying assumptions (e.g., the need to recruit minority special education teachers). The first chapter on the inclusion movement is well-suited for graduate students, while the chapter on education for those with behavioral disturbances is useful for practicing teachers.
In addition, chapters are somewhat uneven in their presentation of history and background as opposed to an examination of assumptions and practical issues. The chapter on the Deaf was predominantly historical in its focus. I was disappointed that the authors did not grapple with the more extreme positions taken in the debate. The chapter on inclusion for students with severe disabilities relied heavily on decisions made by the courts, the legal basis for inclusion, and the use of paraprofessionals, while the one on multicultural education was theoretical. Perhaps, the above concern is a non-issue. The book's variety certainly adds interest to its reading, and, of course, each topic should be dealt with on its own.
The target audience may not be students who are already in a teacher certification program, but students at both undergraduate and graduate levels who are interested in disentangling the issues in which the inclusion movement has become snarled. Winzer and Mazurek do an admirable job in presenting an intelligent, well-organized, interesting overview and discussion of inclusion. The book is easy to read, yet it does not simplify complex issues or sacrifice the amusing use of metaphor for brevity. Authors are not afraid to take strong stands, stands based on logical arguments and a thorough review of empirical research. This is a valuable item for any library, whether personal or professional, and it will serve as an excellent foundation for a liberal arts examination of special education issues at the graduate or undergraduate level.
-- Beth Franks, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY
Margret A. Winzer is Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
Kas Mazurek is Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
ISBN 1-56368-100-5, 7 x 10 casebound, 272 pages, tables, references, index
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