1st Edition

Ableism in Education Rethinking School Practices and Policies

By Gillian Parekh Copyright 2024
    208 Pages
    by Eye On Education

    How we organize children by ability in schools is often rooted in ableism.

    Ability is so central to schooling—where we explicitly and continuously shape, assess, measure, and report on students’ abilities—that ability-based decisions often appear logical and natural. However, how schools respond to ability results in very real, lifelong social and economic consequences. Special education and academic streaming (or tracking) are two of the most prominent ability-based strategies public schools use to organize student learning. Both have had a long and complicated relationship with gender, race, and class.

    In this down-to-earth guide, Dr. Gillian Parekh unpacks the realities of how ability and disability play out within schooling, including insights from students, teachers, and administrators about the barriers faced by students on the basis of ability. From the challenges with ability testing to gifted programs to the disability rights movement, Parekh shows how ableism is inextricably linked to other forms of bias. Her book is a powerful tool for educators committed to justice-seeking practices in schools.

    Part I: Thinking Through Ability, Disability, and Ableism

    1 Making Disability a Different Kind of Issue in Schools: Disability Studies in Education

    2 How Ability is Constructed and Organized in Schools

    3 Detangling the Relationship Between Race, Class, and Perceived Ability


    Part II: How Students Are Organized by Ability

    4 Special Education Program, Identification, and Placement

    5 Academic Streaming and Hierarchies of Ability

    6 Implicating Gifted and Talented Education


    Part III: Practical Strategies for the School and Classroom

    7 Critical Approaches to Inclusion

    8 Inclusive Pedagogy and Practice


    Conclusion: Moving Forward and Setting New Conditions for Justice


    Gillian Parekh is an educator, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Inclusion, Disability and Education within the Faculty of Education, York University. As a previous teacher in special education and research coordinator with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Gillian has conducted extensive system and school-based research in Toronto in the areas of structural equity, special education, and academic streaming. In particular, her work explores how schools construct and respond to disability as well as how students are organized across programs and systems. She resides in Ontario with her family.

    "Ableism in Education provides a necessary counternarrative to the lives of disabled students and their families. Education scholar Gillian Parekh writes of how ableism as an ideology serves to structure the ways in which we think of, and work with, students who present as not having met predetermined indicators of social and intellectual development. With this critical and valuable work, Parekh makes the indispensable link between ableism, classism, and racism, detailing how these and other forms of discrimination operate as barriers to education and schooling. A must read for educators, clinicians and parents."

    Carl E. James, author of Colour Matter: Essays on the Experiences, Education, and Pursuits of Black Youth

    "Ableism in Education: Rethinking School Practices and Policies is an essential read for all educators in public education. Dr. Parekh provides a direct but simple alternative path forward in rethinking the purpose of public education from one largely instrumental in reinforcing societies' existing inequities and oppression to one that could serve as a critical platform for social justice and opportunity for the historically most marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities and people. In rethinking common notions of ‘ability’ and ‘disability’—both central to public education’s mission—Parekh breathes life into a different way to perceive what it is to know something, for whom, and for what. In so doing, she offers new possibilities for how educators and the education system alike might work."

    Dr. David Hagen Cameron, Senior Manager Research and Development, Toronto District School Board

    "Dr. Gillian Parekh has delivered an important new book that centers disability in the fight for justice in schools. With a balance of historical context, current research, and theoretical depth, this book provides a critical entry into understanding how we construct ability and disability and enact ableism in our current educational practice. The book also provides a way forward with guidance for reflection throughout the book, as well as for practice that centers the experience of disabled students."

    Kathryn Underwood, Professor, Director of the Inclusive Early Childhood Service System Project