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Disability and the Meaning of Social Justice in Teacher Education Research: A Precarious Guest at the Table?

This article is an excerpt that originally appeared in the AACTE Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) and is co-authored by Marleen C. Pugach, Ananya M. Matewos, and Joyce Gomez-Najarro. AACTE members have free access to the articles in the JTE online archives—log in with your AACTE profile to read the full article.

Preparing teachers for social justice has long been a driving force within teacher education, reflecting a commitment to educating students from multiple social identity groups who are marginalized and oppressed in schools. Given any particular decade, specific social identity markers may take center stage in this work—with new markers gaining visibility as previously neglected identity groups begin to receive vital, much needed attention.

Alongside social justice concerns for equity regarding race, class, ethnicity, gender, language, socioeconomic status and, more recently, sexual orientation and religion, stands the question of disability. As part of the overall vision for social justice, disability is generally viewed as a key social marker of identity. Yet students with disabilities continue to be marginalized and have persistently lower academic outcomes, such as graduation rates, compared to their mainstream peers (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). The connection between social justice and disability was amplified with the emergence of the disability studies in education (DSE) movement in the 1990s, which views disability as a socially constructed phenomenon, shifting its historical definition away from an immutable individual characteristic (Baglieri et al., 2011). Furthermore, the inclusion of students with disabilities itself has long been viewed as a social justice issue (Artiles et al., 2006).

Despite the aspirational status of disability within social justice, and four and a half decades after the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), conflicting views exist regarding the relationship between disability and social justice. For example, in an analysis of the content of three social justice handbooks published in 2009–2010 titled Does Dis/ability Now Sit at the Table(s) of Social Justice and Multicultural Education? Connor (2012) maintains, “as the formerly uninvited guest at the table of diversity within education, disability now sits in its rightful place among peers” (Conclusion, para 7). Conversely, a 2012 special issue of the Journal of Teacher Education on diversity and disability in teacher education featured leading multicultural, social justice, and disability-oriented teacher educators (i.e., Cochran-Smith & Dudley-Marling, 2012; Florian, 2012; Irvine, 2012; Pugach & Blanton, 2012; Rueda & Stillman, 2012; Villegas, 2012). They portrayed an enduring tradition of separation, reflecting distinct discourse communities and minimal interaction among teacher educators in social justice, diversity, multicultural education, and disability. Furthermore, calls for sustained dialogue across teacher educators concerned with social justice, equity, multicultural education, and disability persist (Blanton et al., 2018; Lalvani & Broderick, 2015).

In response to these conflicting positions, and given the “lack of attention to disability intersections with other sociocultural markers” (Artiles et al., 2016, p. 801), we undertook an inquiry to shed empirical light on the status of disability within social justice by systematically investigating how the research literature on social justice in teacher education treats disability. Three questions drove our analysis: (a) How frequently and in what ways does disability appear in the empirical literature on preparing teachers for social justice? (b) How integrated is disability within the study of social justice in teacher education? (c) How is disability treated in this literature with respect to intersections with social identity markers of other marginalized

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