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Positioning new patterns of privilege in learning: a response to Ware.


This special series represents collective courage because what is willing to be risked may be profound.At center is a willingness to reach out and cultivate new conversations on disability. Indeed, the artists who contribute to Ware's article are key co-authors; their art ushers us into a new disability literacy that extends and challenges current cultural scripts. We examine four central themes informed by Ware's text and art-based educational research (ABER) linked to the larger series conversation on interdisciplinary research methodology.


disability studies, learning disability, interdisciplinary research, ABER

Complexity and Art as Invitation

We applaud Ware's address of complexity; interacting in and making sense of the world is complex activity. Ware (2011, this issue) recognizes the complexity of identity and the contributions of disability studies (DS) in deepening our understandings of how labeling and categorizing affect individual and collective identity. Ware offers DS as a means for cultivating "new conversations on disability." Furthermore, Ware repositions the identity conversation by not only talking about the role of the arts but also actually inviting us into an arts-based conversation with those who experience disability as part of their identity. As advocates for bringing multiple voices to the educational research and practice table (Mariage, Paxton-Buursma, & Bouck, 2004), we support Ware's privileging of DS and disability arts as one way to increase multi-vocality in research with, of, and for those identified with disabilities.

Given the need for broadening the complex terrain of engaging with disability, we wish to strengthen and extend Ware's invitation by considering how ABER provides one more avenue in the plurality of research practices that can deepen our understanding of learning disabilities (LD) research and practice. While disability arts and DS provide theoretical entry points into understanding the lived experience of those with disabilities, such particularity may cause professionals to reduce a broader role of the arts or ABER in LD research and practice.

Although we do not have the space for in-depth discussion, we recognize that those involved in the arts and educational research and practice admittedly still wrestle with distinctions between art that informs and teaches and art that researches (O'Donoghue, 2009). Likewise, whether ABER stands alone as a research paradigm or is firmly rooted in qualitative research methods is also debated (O'Donoghue, 2009). However, great strides in defining and describing the issues, purposes, processes, and practices, as well as the promises and pitfalls, of ABER in general (Cahnmann-Taylor & Siegesmund, 2008; O'Donoghue, 2009; Smithbell, 2010) inform our brief summary of ABER features. Arts-based educational research typically differs from traditional scientific quantitative research in its:

* Purpose: ABER creates another way of seeing or knowing (Barone, 2008; Eisner, 2008);

* Methods: ABER's pre and post structural nature alters the "methodological turf" by reshaping scientific foundations through performance, narrative, visual, improvisational, pluralistic, and iterative inquiry activity (Barone, as cited in Rolling, 2010);

* Data analysis and findings: ABER recognizes subjectivity in research analysis as a stepping-stone to reflexivity and an examination of one's own previously held assumptions about the research topic. Barone and Eisner (2006) argued that this engagement leads to empathy and a deeper understanding of research than is possible with a traditional representation.

Living and learning in a diverse, global context that affords dignity to all requires us to engage with and pursue complexity through multiple ways of knowing. We welcome the interdisciplinary richness that art brings, specifically the exploratory capital ABER affords in probing the complexities of identity and other persistent issues in the field of LD through disability literacy and disability arts. Narratives and scripts socially, culturally, and historically constructed over time affect the epistemological lens and stance others take toward difference and diversity. Ware highlights script reconstruction--a challenge and invitation worth accepting.

Arts and Interdisciplinary Research: Suspension Bridge in LD

Even more than a focus on "art," Ware challenges us to confront a chasm in the field of learning disabilities. The gap is created by disparate theoretical, epistemological, and philosophical hilltops, maintained and entrenched by politics and privilege, and represented through discourse. Powerful discourses result in patterns of privilege and an adherence to particular views of what counts as science in our field, uncontested cultural narratives of disability as deficiency, and a reliance on a narrow value of knowing in school. Bridging this gap will require recognition of the gains and losses that we all ultimately experience by maintaining an exclusionary hold on particular ways of doing research and practice.

Ware recognizes disability as both psychologically and contextually situated in educational and institutional policies and practices. Special education scholars (Reid & Valle, 2004) have argued that we have privileged theories of behavioral psychology and medicine to interpret and construct specific disability narratives. In turn, those narratives, animated with other complementary and competing educational beliefs, infuse the discourses, reify the norms, and guide the practices that create and sustain the field. Much of the special education discourse finds itself well situated in the contemporary discourse of general education policy and practice. Eisner (2002) considered how power, position, and privilege are consequential within the educational scene:
   The value and visions that have driven education during
   the first quarter of the 20th century are reappearing with a
   vengeance today. We look for "best methods" as if they
   were independent of context; we do more testing that any
   nation on earth; we seek curriculum uniformity so parents
   can compare their schools with other schools, as if test
   scores were good proxies for the quality of education ...
   What we are now doing is creating an industrial culture in
   our schools, one whose values are brittle and whose conception
   of what's important narrow ... Achievement has
   triumphed over inquiry. I think our children deserve more.
   (p. 3)

So does Ware. She highlights the loss of research into identity and agency that currently remains distanced from exploration by the politics and practice. She specifically recognizes the potential tensions educators experience around categorizations, yet avoids engaging in the compartmentalizing and further reifying of the labeling practice. Ware instead demonstrates how the arts provide entree for those with disabilities to enter into the disability dialogue.

Despite the strides made toward educational access for students identified with LD, persistent issues create tensions regarding overrepresentation, identity, and successful societal engagement. This conversation creates greater complexity for the field of LD as it navigates the gap amidst the tensions and the compression of political discourse such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Response to Intervention (Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2008). To date, we as a field have tended to respond to the compression of the accountability discourse by privileging a fairly narrow view of "evidenced-based instruction." Perhaps art, mediated by performance artifacts, can serve as a conversational third space for exploring the sociohistoric nature of disability (Bhaba, 1994). Could the arts and ABER provide a necessary suspension bridge that recognizes and responds to compression and tension in the field by offering a way to step back and forth through new ways of seeing and listening in our school and research practices?

Schools and Practices

We cannot have a conversation about research methodologies without considering schools, the very place where students end up categorized as disabled to learn. In this accountability-for-results age, the LD field has offered much in response to questions of learning struggles through evidenced-based intervention research. However, Ware points out that we still have much to learn regarding the schooling experiences of many learners identified with LD. She, and others, illustrate powerful potentials learned from those identified with LD--those who have encountered and live with blame and shame instead of dignity and respect (Connor, 2008; Ferri, 2009; McNulty, 2003; Rodis, Garrod, & Boscardin, 2001). How do we collectively attend to narratives of shame and blame to help us re-imagine new possibilities of access and ability?

Ware proposes art as a catalyst in generating a new disability literacy that interrogates and challenges existing cultural narratives about disability. However, like art curricula, the incorporation of a disability studies curriculum in schools, particularly one that opens a content of study addressing ableist discourses in our society and schools through art, may not be seen as essential (Eisner, 2009). Until the arts in general are valued as necessary for exploring the complex relationships in learning, we fear they will be positioned at best as "add on" and at worst as nonessential for kids who struggle. Curricular space for the arts and ableism challenge and redress core assumptions about learners and learning (Eisner, 1985). How might interdisciplinary arts-focused curricula and pedagogy position students and teachers to more fully access knowledge and skills?

Curricular content inclusion or exclusion signals deeply consequential choices for fostering one's ability to think in different ways (Eisner, 2009). We have privileged the role of language as cultural invention because of its ability to represent experience and form thought (Gee, 1990; Vygotsky, 1986). Yet, as numerous scholars have reminded us (Bakhtin, 1986; Burbules & Bruce, 2001; Lemke, 2005; Roth, 2008; Rose, 2005), multiple semiotics mediate our knowing in ways that words alone cannot always express. The animation of semiotic systems creates new representations--opening new zones for transformational learning (Barnes, 1992). Art as epistemologically different from many school-based ways of knowing provides a "framework for reconceptualizing curriculum and related educational research" (Rolling, 2010, p. 110). The use of semiotics in both artistic and scientific ways may scaffold learners who struggle with privileged language conventions along zones of proximal development that previously were not accessible. The use of clay, string, sounds, paint, images, or movement can generate deep divergent or connective thinking. Through art presentation and representation, the student comes to know and do with empowered voice and dignity as author, creator, writer, poet, and performer: co-constructor of knowledge.

Art requires courage, as there are no clear outcomes; yet it provides a venue for repositioning learners, teachers, and researchers. The generation of imagination and creation are often not possible a priori; means can precede goals, activity can precede beliefs. When we reposition people in probing, shaping, and producing knowledge, we can begin to reconfigure practice and honor different ways of knowing and being in a way that "seamlessly integrates supports for all students" (Ferri, 2009, p. 426). Empowerment and voice can be realized in these moments when one's activity invokes or invites response. Today's powerful political narratives flame learning discourses with important, yet limited, direction and focus for our educational questions and responses (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Eisner, 2002; Zhao, 2009). If we devalue the importance of fostering more diverse ways of being, doing, and thinking in school, we may lose the very footholds we need to understand and responsively teach the students we are trying to serve.

Representations:Truth-Seeking and the Aesthetic of Wonder

Research, through representations of knowing, serves our truth-seeking and demands our truth-telling. Ware reminds us that truth work, according to Reid and Valle (2004), necessitates critical interrogation of our discursive research and schooling practices, contingent on "more complex understanding than binary comparisons typically allow" (Ware, 2011, p. 29). Such interrogation requires shifts in our research, including (a) humble recognition of the contradictions wedged between our contributions and persistent issues; (b) acknowledgement of the gaps in our representations; (c) reflexivity of the research community, established through interanimation of interdisciplinary research practices; and (d) rediscovering wonder.

Rolling (2010) suggested that "the greater the array of approaches in addressing a given set of problems, the more successful a community of research practitioners will be in surrounding that set of problems and generating a number of viable solutions" (p. 103). Qualitative research has emerged as an increasingly legitimate means of scholarly empirical inquiry for studying the complexities in special education studies (Artiles, 2003; MacArthur, 2006; Pugach, 2001). However, compared to other education fields, the use of interdisciplinary inquiry in special education has moved with clay feet with regard to multiple research representations, publications, and what counts as evidence-based research. A decade ago, Pugach suggested that the special education field determines the influence qualitative research has on "our fundamental conceptions of what is important to study, understand and act on--in other words, what stories we choose to tell in our collective commitment to improve education for students with [identified] disabilities" (p. 441). Accepting an interdisciplinary approach that includes qualitative research paves the way for exploring and exposing the contextual implications of our knowing, and not knowing, and our doing, and not doing. A reflexive interdisciplinary approach, along with the variety of theories, provides a "view of qualitative [and quantitative] research that governs its practice within special education in an effort to challenge both the nature of the stories we choose to tell about disability as well as the frameworks by which those stories are disciplined" (p. 439).

Ware's attention to individual representations of disability as lived experience through disability arts and aesthetics provides a critical framework for exploring cultural constructions of disability and begins to demonstrate how an aesthetic of wonder might affect our research questions and agendas. White, Garoian, and Garber (2010) invited us to risk the questions created in arts-based research where "ambiguity and incompleteness are open-ended goals" (p. 137) and where disquieting objects and actions provide an aesthetic opportunity to shift convention and increase intellectual insights and interactions. Arts-based educational research holds the potential to "make the familiar strange" (Erickson, 1986, p. 121) and generate complex questions alongside new representations of knowledge that generate reflexivity and a new form of rigor (Smithbell, 2010).

Ware's focus on identity, ableism, and inclusion of disabled voices in research responds to an accountability call for missing truth resulting from missing voice and representations (Ferri, 2009). There is much identity work to be explored; Ware helps us consider ABER as part of the qualitative plurality for broadening the disciplinary frameworks in the research stories we explore and choose to tell. Including interdisciplinary research methods involves courage and risk, for it invites vulnerability--something we have been asking the "subjects" of our research to live with for decades. Responding courageously to this series' consideration of research alternatives opens up multiple ways of seeing, hearing, thinking, talking, and valuing together.


Linda Ware invites us into a new discourse space by positioning case examples of artists whose work adds new disability perspectives to our conversation, thinking, and wonder. She asks us to join her and others with disabilities in investigating how we engage in narrow ways of knowing, and the consequences for our patterns of privilege. Pressing needs in the field require us to expand the research methodologies utilized and valued. We applaud the LDQ editors for including this special series. It is now time to act. How might ABER, along with other interdisciplinary research methods, create a bridge for acknowledging complexity and persistent issues in our truth-seeking and truth-telling in ways that could serve diverse learners and society? We believe that art and art-based educational research create additional semiotic spaces to develop, nurture, share, contest, resist, and distribute our individual and collective learning. For students, teachers, and researchers who enter ready-made cultural discourses, it seems particularly important to privilege multiple people, places, and processes in the exploration of complexity.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


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Debra J. Paxton-Buursma received her PhD from Michigan State University and is an associate professor and director of the Graduate Teacher Education Program at Calvin College. Debra's scholarship focuses on the relationship of socio-cultural and critical teaching-learning factors such as diverse learners and identity, discourse as pedagogy in culturally responsive literacy practices, and place.

Troy V. Mariage is an associate professor and program coordinator of the Special Education Program at Michigan State University. His research examines the ethnography of mediation in instructional contexts related to literacy learning for students with and without disabilities.

Debra J. Paxton-Buursma (1) and Troy V. Mariage (2)

(1) Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, USA

(2) Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

Corresponding Author:

Debra J. Paxton-Buursma, PhD, Calvin College, Education Dept. 1820 Knollcrest Circle SE Grand Rapids, MI 49546-4450 Email:

DOI: 10.1177/0731948711417558
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Title Annotation:Linda Ware
Author:Paxton-Buursma, Debra J.; Mariage, Troy V.
Publication:Learning Disability Quarterly
Date:Aug 1, 2011
Previous Article:When art informs: inviting ways to see the unexpected.
Next Article:Addressing the "research gap" in special education through mixed methods.

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