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Stuck in Neutral

I have a draft book chapter due March 15. It is an important project, whether I remain in academia or not, but I am finding it difficult to complete the draft to my liking. Some call this being "stuck in neutral" because little progress is made no matter how much I try to accomplish on this project.

The project is outlined, I know what I am trying to communicate, and it needs to be done quickly so my wife can review it and I can submit a good draft.

The problem is that I have accepted that my academic career seems to be ending, at least the full-time, tenure-track career I had hoped to have. Writing this book chapter, then, must be motivated by the hope that it will influence others, encouraging faculty to consider students with special needs.

Consider the irony: I'm writing to faculty about inclusionary designs, while I never felt "included" within academia.

It is hard to write about classroom designs and the challenges students with special needs encounter when I had to engage in battles just to be tolerated. Forget acceptance or inclusion, I didn't get past the tolerance stage in many instances.

So, as I write my chapter I get frustrated. I get upset. I feel like I'm fighting for a lost cause. Yes, this is the result of bad experiences, but so many families and students come to me with similar stories that I feel emotionally drained. The educational system doesn't really like "difference" even when it might claim otherwise.

Accommodation is something "tacked on" after course materials are prepared. Inclusion requires designing courses and spaces that don't require special accommodation. When you accommodate, you still view someone as different, an outsider requiring special effort.

I recall watching an entire class help move chairs and tables to make way for a wheelchair. That's accommodation, not inclusion. To include the student in a wheelchair, the class would have already had wider rows and open spaces. Instead, the student had to watch as this special effort was undertaken. Even if it was well intentioned, it comes across as, "Look at what we are doing for you. See? We tolerate you here."

I know that's not always a fair interpretation, but too often I felt people were (barely) tolerating me. Then, when it became clear that some did not tolerate me, that reinforced the belief accommodations were superficial efforts.

Yes, I need to write and edit this chapter. I need to make my statement. Yet, I find it hard to write knowing that I was on the outside too often even after I became a professor. Worse, I was told that I was the cause of my own alienation — because I didn't adapt well. So, in the end, some people want the disabled to accommodate the desires of "normal" people.

The last few years have made me bitter, and that's leaving me stuck in neutral.

There are great schools, colleges, and universities out there where my thoughts might be read and appreciated. I simply need to remind myself that my book chapter might help those places.


  1. I am sorry to hear that your tenure track career may be ending. However, I hope that you continue to write your book as you have been such an inspiration in your blog. Again, I am a teacher for students with special needs (specifically moderate to severe disabilities and autism). We need to get special education to the forefront, especially autism as it seems to be more prevalent now. (maybe due to the awareness of autism). Either way, you have personal experiences that you can share to try and help others similar to your situation. Inclusion is a huge topic today in education and one that every educator should be thinking about. So often I hear, your students or my students from other staff. This should not be the case…the students in the school are ‘our students’. There should be no divider…I know easier said than done.

    I understand about the student in the wheelchair and how that student might have felt watching others move furniture on his/her behalf. I agree this is accommodation, not inclusion as the room should have been ready for that student to join the group. This is why I sincerely hope you continue to write your book from your personal experiences. The teachers who are ‘accommodating’ students with special needs or don’t like ‘difference’ or ‘change’ or even ‘inclusion’ are the teachers that need to leave the field of teaching. We need teachers in special education who truly and sincerely understand how to make students feel wanted, needed, included, and cared about.

    So again, please get out of neutral and know that there are teachers, people out here that will read your book and take it to heart. My favorite books are those that are written from experiences and the heart. I look forward to your book coming out.

  2. I am hoping that I might be able to remain in higher education. Much depends on interviews over the next month.

    Education needs more diversity, ironically.


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