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LEARNING DISABILITIES: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES - page 32 / 42

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compelling criticism and allows points of view to be endorsed that promote agendas that could be scientifically challenged.

The implications of postmodernism concerning the nature of knowledge have much potential to influence the field of learning disabilities in a negative manner. For example, there has been a rapid growth of scientific knowledge about the nature and treatment of learning disabilities during the past decade. If this knowledge were not recognized as valuable, it probably would not be used to improve the identification and treatment of individuals with learning disabilities in our public schools.

Nature of disability. The modern position views disability as a phenomenon that is within the individual and is consistent with the medical model view of wellness and illness. The disability is owned by the individual and needs to be treated, accommodated, and/or endured. Postmodernism views disability primarily as a social construction that is based on incorrect immoral assumptions about difference. Although the notion of a disability is not totally rejected, most postmodernists believe that disability exists more in the perceptions of the beholder than in the bodies of the beheld (Andrews et al., 2000). The aim is to change the flawed constructions of disability. Kauffman (1999) maintains this position undermines the concepts of disability. Sasso (2001) provides an interesting perspective on the postmodern view of disability:

Having apparently decided that teaching competency skills to children with disabilities is too difficult, they have decided that instead of changing children with disabilities, they will change everyone else. Thus, their reasoning goes, schools, the community, courts of law, the government, indeed all of society must be made to change to accommodate and accept individuals with disabilities. As with most initial claims of postmodernists, the basic goal of attitude change appears reasonable. When translated to practice, the illogic of these critics becomes apparent. (pp. 188–189)

The postmodernism view of disability has significant implications for individuals with learning disabilities. The social construction of disability risks minimizing or trivializing an individual’s disability. One of the most caring acts that educators can do is to apply current and forthcoming research-based assessments and interventions to identify and teach individuals with learning disabilities to read, write, problem solve, socialize, communicate, and be independent. The social construction process must not overlook the biological construction process.

Nature of special education and outcomes. The modern view of special education is to use instruction in order to enhance the functioning, knowledge, skills, and socializations of individuals with disabilities. Modernists hope that these cumulative interventions eventually enable individuals with learning disabilities to have successful and rewarding postschool experiences. Although the postmodern view of special education mentions the importance of enhancing performance, the primary focus is on changing social constructions that limit individuals with disabilities. Postmodernists value the outcome of creating a caring adaptable society that treats differences and needs without labels, stigmas, or exclusion (Andrews et al., 2000).

It would seem that modern and postmodern conceptions regarding the nature of special education and related outcomes should naturally blend together. Unfortunately, the strong and radical feelings between these two positions foster extreme viewpoints and minimum common ground. Sasso (2001) points out that the overall purpose of postmodernism is to dismantle special education, to undermine the epistemic authority of the science of disability and valorize “ways of knowing” incompatible with it.

The intensity of this special education divide is captured in Sowell’s (1995) words:

Those who accept this vision [postmodernism] are deemed to be not merely factually correct but morally on a higher plane. Put differently, those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen as being not merely in error, but in sin. For those who have this vision of the world, the anointed [postmodernists] and the benighted [modernists] do not argue on the same moral plane or play by

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