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Reflections on Mad At School

brisakane's picture

I really appreciated reading Mad At School for class. I became interested in disability studies because of my interest in education and this reading really spoke to the intersections in these subjects :). I have so many things I want to continute to think about from the reading this week! But I did want to highlight a few quotes that I really resonated with: 

"Academic discourse operates not just to omit, but to abhor mental disability -- reject it, to stifle and expel it" (8)

"What transformation would need to occur before those who pursue academic discourse can be "heard" (which I take to mean "respected"), not in spite of our mental disabilities, but with and through them" (8)

I thought these quotes really resonated with my experience having a mental disability in higher education, and is an important reminder of the ableist structures in academic discourse. As we've discussed before in class, higher education institutions operate on a sense of "smartness" that is inaccessible to a lot of people, including those with disabilities. I also think the section of the quote on hearing disabled people "with and through" their disabilities is especially important. Disabled people have so much wisdom and knowledge on their disabilities and because of their disabilities, and while not traditionally viewed as "smartness", this lived experience is really critical in understanding flaws in our education system. 

I've thought a lot about "participation" and "attendance" grades in school, which Price also talks about in their book. While I was growing up, I had a pretty intense speech impedient which often made it hard for peers or teachers to understand me. As a result of being pulled out of lots of classes for speech therapy, I became really scared to speak in groups, worried that no one would be able to understand. It's been over a decade since this, and I've gotten a lot better at sharing, but I have always resented grades based solely on vocal participation. I can be fully engaged, perhaps moreso than other students, in a class, but not share outloud. I really appreciate teachers who value and understand the variety of ways that students participate -- and provide opportunities for students to participate in different ways. Some of these opportunities could look like offering for students to hand in a written assignment at the end of class, following up one-on-one with a student to see if they're understanding course material, and providing homework assignments that can be done instead of vocal participation. As I continue thinking about accessible ways of teaching, these are methods that I want to keep in mind. 

"Attendance" grades present a whole other challenge as a teacher. When I work in classrooms, I notice the difficulity attendance rates have for teachers. It's hard to catch students up on things they missed, check in with them about when they were away, and students missing from the class makes a classroom community lose some of it's cohesiveness. I do, though, think that attendance policies unfairly target disabled and marginalized students. In a previous class, I did a study on attendance rates in Philly public schools and found that English Language Learners and Disabled and Black and Latinx students have the lowest rates of attendance, by far. This could be caused by systemtic structures that make it harder to see a doctor if someone's sick, that make it so that kids have to work, or that make education inaccessible to people who don't know English. Either way, attendance policies are hurting the most marginalized communities and that in and of itself should raise suspiscion on why we continute to hold strict attendance policies. 

All of these readings have made me think, how should we "grade" particpation, if we have to assign a grade? What are accessible ways to teach in large classrooms? Should we take attendance in the first place, what if it's required?