The politics of teacher attitudes on inclusive education

Year: 2017

Author: Spandagou, Ilektra

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The politics of teacher attitudes on inclusive education
Teacher attitudes have been claimed as one of the key indicators for inclusive education's success. While this paper doesn't question the centrality of the role of attitudes as a potential barrier or facilitator of inclusion, it questions the assumptions informing substantial body of the literature in this area. Literature reviews (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; de Boer, Pijl & Minnaert, 2010; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1996) demonstrate that persistently teachers' attitudes are linked to the perceived nature and severity of impairment and there has been no significant change over time. For the most part this research tends to be accepted without criticism. Slee's (2011) critique is one of the rare arguments in this area, claiming that this research tends to pathologise disability as the problem and it decouples attitudes from the context that they occur.
This paper provides a critical analysis of this literature extending Slee's argument. It is a focused exploration of what actually is examined in the teachers' attitudes on inclusive education research. Fifteen studies examining the attitudes of general education teachers, special education teachers, and student-teachers published in peer-reviewed journals in the last ten years (2006-2016) and using quantitative questionnaires and surveys were identified.
The analysis examined how a) inclusive education, b) disability and impairment, and c) attitudes are constructed in the data collection instruments used and the justification presented in the actual articles. The analysis used the United Nations (2006) definition in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In this definition disability defined as resulting "from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others" (p. 1). This definition moves the focus away from impairment to the attitudes' bearers within a specific environment. It also provides a working definition of inclusion in terms of equal and full participation.
The findings indicate that a deficit understanding of disability dominates the construction of questionnaires with a tendency to limit students to their impairment. The supports explored tend to focus on 'add-on' supports (e.g. teacher's assistant, extra time, etc.) with an individual orientation and structural contextual elements are not examined. Setting-based and utility oriented understandings of inclusive education are dominant while cultural diversity and differences are under-examined. In the concluding part of this presentation is argued that this research perpetuates unhelpful conceptions of disability and inclusion, and potential alternatives are presented.