Meget er forskjellig, men noe blir problem. En sosiologisk studie av spesialundervisningens institusjonelle praksis
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This dissertation consists of five research articles and an introduction. The main theme in this study is the different ways in which institutional features influence and shape the way special education is defined and delimited in local Norwegian primary and secondary schools. Two main questions are asked: Firstly; how does different local actors define and categorise the learning related problems that children faces in school? Secondly, how does such problem-categories interconnect with other social categories, in particular gender as a social category? The empirical data consists of qualitative interviews with parents, headmasters, teachers, school psychologists and school administration representatives in four different municipalities. The introduction presents the methodological and theoretical framework of the study. The main theoretical argument is that the local practise of how special educational needs are being understood and categorised, is influenced to a large extent by different institutional features of special education. Hugh Mehan’s concept of ‘institutional practise’ forms a basis for outlining how we may analyse the interaction between institutional forces and local practise. The empirical analyses are presented in five articles. In the first article, ‘Resource distribution models and local school practise’, I discuss the connection between municipal resource models and the school based categorisation practise. Two municipalities are analysed, one with high proportions of students (15 %) receiving special education, the other with a relatively low proportion of students (5 %) in special education. However, the analyses of school practises in how students’ problems are being defined and met with specialised measures show that the schools’ practises are very similar across municipalities. Hence, the analyses shows that the differences in the proportions of students receiving special education in different municipalities and schools, seems to have more to do with resource models than with how actual problems are defined, and which measures are taken to deal with the problems. The second article, ‘Noisy boys and clever girls?’, presents and discusses two different theoretical perspectives for understanding why far more boys than girls are receiving special education in Norwegian schools - a feminist perspective and a special educational perspective. Examining a number of studies on gender and education/special education, I argue that a core element in how gender is understood in school, is visability. While feminist researchers tend to focus upon visibility as a crucial condition for girls’ success in school, researchers within educational research, who focus upon the situation of boys, are concerned with the negative aspects of visibility, such as boys being stigmatised and defined as ‘problem students’. A combination of the two perspectives raises some important questions regarding the complexity of gender aspects in special education. The third article, ‘The role of parents in special education: The notion of partnership revised’, written together with J. Sandvin, focus upon the particular relationship between teachers and parents regarding children who are defined as having special educational needs. Our main emphasis is on how teachers describe and perceive their relation to parents, and how parents experience their relationship to the school. The analysis show that while literature on parent - school relationship in general often talk about parents as ‘partners’ and parents as ‘problems’, our data points in the direction of two quite different roles; parents as ‘implementers’ and parents as ‘clients’, which we believe better capture the distinctive feature of the role of parents in special education. ‘Implementer’ implies parents being given responsibility for following up aims and measures set by the school, with very limited opportunities to influence on how things are being done. ‘Clients’ definitions occur when teachers see parents as part of their child’s problem. Both roles place parents in a subordinate relationship with the school, as a result of a strong asymmetry in power between parents and schools. This inequality is caused, among other factors, by the socially defined power relationship between the lay and the professional, and the stigma attached to special education which restrains parents from forming any collective resistance. In the fourth article, ‘The gendered category of ‘special needs’: Teacher interpretations of male and female students’, the point of departure is a recognition of the fact that although boys are overrepresented in special education, and have been for at least 30 years, very few studies have been designed to understand how boys and girls who experience problems in school are being understood and defined, and whether or not gender bears any significance in such definitions from a more in-depth perspective. The main question asked is whether teachers’ understanding of students with disabilities tends to be dominated by the ‘disability’ itself (or other categories that students are placed within), consequently making gender aspects invisible, or of it is possible to see gendered patterns in the way teachers understand the situation of girls and boys with disabilities. In the analysis I show that gender has an impact on how problems in school are being understood by teachers. Gender influences the way in which problems are being categorized, and also how different causal factors are drawn upon in teachers’ interpretations. Presumably 'gender-neutral' categories such as diagnoses are actually interpreted quite differently depending on whether the student is a boy or a girl. Furthermore, it could be argued that a basic challenge is the way in which the concept of gender and gender differences are used when studying such phenomena, and how the concept of gender in general is to be understood and interpreted in late modernity. But even so, just as with concepts of 'disability' and 'problem', 'gender' is in itself now a category which is imbedded in strong cultural conceptions. The analysis presented here shows how girls and boys are being interpreted in very gender stereotyped ways. Girls, even girls who are experiencing extensive problems, are interpreted as kind, simple to understand, good-natured, and hard working. Boys are presented by teachers as troublesome, noisy, and complex to understand. In other words, male and female students in school negotiate impressions and perceptions of themselves and others, within the larger societal frames of cultural understandings and conceptions of gender and disability. The fifth article is titled ’Individual rights in a collective context: practising individual rights to special education in local schools’. In the article I present three arguments concerning the determination of rights to welfare state services: a) ensuring access to resources by exposed groups, b) the desire for equal treatment of groups of persons with a need for help, independent of factors such as place of residence, personal resources and family background, and c) the strengthening of citizens’ independence in relation to discretionary practice by professional experts. The analyses in the article provide reasons to raise the question whether individual rights to special education contribute to fulfilling these three criteria. Firstly, the logic of rights, and the demands for documentation in special education resulting in allocation of resources, in some instances takes the form of individualised measures, something which is experienced by many as professionally and socially unfortunate. Secondly, equal treatment, irrespective of place of residence and other structural inequalities is also a complex principle in special education. ‘Needs’ are defined by others than the user himself: parents, teachers, the School psychologists. The help and control aspects of special education attribute it with the function of ensuring resources for the individual pupil, but attaches simultaneously sorting and social control mechanisms. In studies of recruitment to special education, gender, social background and ethnicity seem to be strong explanatory factors. Thirdly, independence in respect of discretionary practice by professional experts is an impossible criterium in the light of individual rights legislation. The opportunity for discretion is strengthened rather than weakened in the practice of special education legislation, defining special pedagogical needs as relative to local school practises. The analyses illustrate that the logic of rights as practised in the welfare state has particular effects when applied to special education. First and foremost because those services ‘released’ by rights are formulated within a collective context which conceals the rights-logic of individual demands and individual services. There is reason to ask whether individual rights to special education within the school, with inclusion and adjustment as the ideological cornerstones, emerge as a ‘cultural lag’, and function as an anchor point of an individual-oriented and biological/medical perspective of pupils’ problems, amounting to an ideological break with the ideal of inclusion and fellowship for all.
Paper 1: Spesialpedagodikk nr 6, Fylling, Ingrid, Forvaltningsregime og skolepraksis. Tildeling og bruk av ressurser i grunnskolens spesialundervisning. Copyright 1998 Utdanningsforbundet. Full-text not available due to publisher restrictions.Paper 2: Nordisk Pedagogikk 18 (3), Fylling, Ingrid, Bråkete gutter og flinke jenter? Kjønnsforskjeller i spesialundervisning i et sosiologisk perspektiv. Copyright 1998 Nordisk förening för pedagogisk forskning. Full-text not available due to publisher restrictions.Paper 3: European Journal of Special Needs Education 14 (2), The role of parents in special education: the notion of partnership revised, pp. 144-157. Copyright 1999 Taylor & Francis. Full-text not available due to publisher restrictions. The published version is available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0885625990140205Paper 4: Fylling, Ingrid, 2004, The Gendered Category of "Special Needs": Teacher Interpretations of Male and Female Students. In: Kristiansen, K og R. Traustadottir (red), Gender and Disability Research in the Nordic Countries. Copyright 2004 Studentlitteratur. Full-text not available due to publisher restrictions.Paper 5: Individuell rett I kollektiv kontekst. Praktisering av elevers individuelle rett til spesialundervisning i grunnskolen. Manuskript. Foreløpig upublisert.