Skip to main content

Zoom Text:

In 1990, Martha Minow offered an example of how "inclusive education" could really work, if we only took the Martha's Vineyard example to heart. Minow described the case of Amy Rowley and her parents' fight to get the school board to provide her with a qualified sign-language interpreter in all her classes.

In the course of the litigation, a number of alternative ways to ensure Amy's right to a free, appropriate education could be respected. The school argued that Amy should receive instruction from a tutor and the services of a speech therapist. Amy's parents argued that Amy should be provided with a qualified sign-language interpreter in all her classes.

The school countered that Amy only needed supplementary instruction from a tutor and the services of a speech therapist. With that level of support, she was succeeding academically and socially. In the end, the court supported the school.

Martha Minow
Martha Minow

In many ways, the two sides of the argument agreed more than they differed. Both sides assumed that the problem was Amy's: because she was different from other students, the solution must focus on her. Both sides deployed from the unstated norm of the hearing student who receives educational input from a teacher, rather than imagining a different norm around which the entire classroom might be constructed… Both conceive of equal treatment as treating this child the same as other children, while making unimpaired students – and the classroom designed for them – the norm used in this comparison.

Minow suggests another alternative that was based on different norms:

A different stance would treat the problem of difference as embedded in the relationships among all the students, making all of them part of the problem. The individual teacher would need to use an approach that would work to the educational benefit of every student in the classroom, resisting the temptation to treat the problem as belonging to the "different" child…. In this light, what if the teacher instructed all the students in sign language and ran the class in both spoken and sign language simultaneously? This approach conceives of the problem as a problem for all the students. After all, if Amy cannot communicate with her classmates, they cannot communicate with her, and all lose the benefit of exchange.