376 Derby / Commentary: Nothing About Us Without Us
Nothing About Us Without Us: Art Education’s
Studies in Art Education / Volume 54, No. 4 377
and the arts and humanities (e.g., Siebers, 2010;
Snyder, Brueggemann, & G...
378 Derby / Commentary: Nothing About Us Without Us
people with autism think, what they experi-
ence, what makes them lear...
Studies in Art Education / Volume 54, No. 4 379
myth that disabled people and their work are
incompetent; it is“without us...
380 Derby / Commentary: Nothing About Us Without Us
Eisenhauer, J. (2007). Just looking and staring back: Challenging able...
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  1. 1. 376 Derby / Commentary: Nothing About Us Without Us C O M M E N TA R Y Nothing About Us Without Us: Art Education’s Disservice to Disabled People J O H N D E R B Y The University of Kansas T he disability rights movement slogan,“nothing about us without us,” has been trumpeted with such fervor that it is nearly a cliché.1 However, you have never seen this phrase in Studies in Art Education. Almost “nothing about us”has appeared in the pages of Studies or other major journals in the field despite significant advances in disability research. Of the scarce disability research in art education journals, most has been “without us,” as nondisabled authors advocate nondisabled perspectives. Such research typically follows the predominant medical model that conceptualizes disability as a degenerative crisis to be managed by non- disabled caretakers, including teachers. This problem is most noticeable in research that promotes orthodox Special Education discourses as well as indulgent uses of disparaging disability metaphors and terminology, which I have criticized else- where (Derby, 2011). This is an unfortunate trend as disabled learners, educators, and others remain grossly underserved despite the truism that disabled people receive better treatment and resources than nondisabled people. Nothing About Us Following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and a brief flurry of accompanying interest in collaborating with Special Education (e.g., Guay, 1993) and challenging the medical model (e.g., Blandy, 1991), the past 18 years of Studies has included only seven articles on disability. During this time, disability research has advanced in diverse fields across medicine, psychology, and allied professions; education (e.g.,Gallagher,Heshusius,Iano&Skrtic,2004);socialsciences(e.g.,Barnes&Mercer,2010); Copyright 2013 by the National Art Education Association Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research 2013, 54(4), 376-380 Correspondence regarding this commentary may be sent to the author at: johnderby@ku.edu
  2. 2. Studies in Art Education / Volume 54, No. 4 377 and the arts and humanities (e.g., Siebers, 2010; Snyder, Brueggemann, & Garland-Thomson, 2002). Importantly, the transdisciplinary project of Disability Studies has emerged out of these efforts to promote advocacy and critical research on disability with acute attention to the perspec- tivesandinterestsofdisabledpeoplethemselves. While three recent articles in Studies (Derby, 2011; Eisenhauer, 2007; Wexler, 2011) address Disability Studies, the practices and suggestions of this research have not been integrated into mainstream art education research, nor have the influences of Disability Studies on Education and Special Education, including vastly improved teaching methods, been discussed. Studies has never explored the kinds of experiences disabled art educators have, like when I was told before an on-campus job talk not to discuss autobio- graphical research on my clinical depression because “it’s kind of uncomfortable” and “we want to know our colleagues will keep being alive.” Neither has Studies featured articles on the Disability Arts Movement, disability aesthet- ics (Siebers, 2010), universal learning design, the self-advocacy autism movement of neurodi- versity, or the implications of AERA’s “Disability Studies in Education”special interest group.2 The inattention to disability research extends beyond Studies with few publications in any national art education journal after the mid- 1990s. An exception is Art Education, which routinely addresses disability, and a handful of important books (Gerber & Guay, 2006; Gerber & Kellman, 2010; Nyman & Jenkins, 1999; Wexler, 2009). This discouraging trend defies the logic of inclusive education and is counterintuitive to the steady increase of disabled students being placed in regular art classrooms (Causton- Theoharis & Burdick, 2008). Art education is failing to serve disabled people by its omission of sustained research on issues“about us.” Without Us Brueggemann, Hetrick, Yergeau, and Brewer (2012) clarified that “nothing about us without us” is foremost “a corrective to a long history of disabled people being spoken about in public discourse by educators, doctors, legislators, and family members but, rarely, being authorized to speak for themselves except in private settings and to highly limited audiences” (p. 64). “Us” is not a concept about exclusivity or jurispru- dence, but of egalitarianism. From a Disability Studies perspective, anyone may create intellec- tual work about disability but doing so obligates artists and scholars to bear in mind“the perspec- tives and interests of the real people to whom disability is always related,” as “disability is not a concept that can be abstracted from people, but a way of being a person”(p. 64). Orthodox Special Education3 —while pro- viding important life skills and opportunities to children once barred from learning—does not do this. Born out of parental advocacy and institutionalized in the public school system, orthodox Special Education is often more con- cerned about nondisabled service providers than disabled learners and it is not democratic. It views disabled people in terms of“needs”rather than“rights”(Wexler, 2009), positioning them as helpless subordinates. Even now, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), which mandates Special Education, refers to adult learners up to 26 years old as “children.” Art education research has uncovered certain shortcomings of orthodox Special Education. For example, paraeducators act as gatekeepers to learning, often hindering learning by doing art for students, contributing to lower expec- tations, substituting their own objectives for the art teacher’s (Causton-Theoharis & Burdick, 2008), and through emphasizing discipline (Floyd, 2003). The problem has grown with the increase of paraeducators in art classrooms. Education of learners with autism, however, has improved significantly. By paying attention to the self-described experiences of learners with autism, Special Education and art educa- tion researchers have learned much about how
  3. 3. 378 Derby / Commentary: Nothing About Us Without Us people with autism think, what they experi- ence, what makes them learn, and so on (Gerber & Kellman, 2010). This research, while not acknowledging Disability Studies or activism, is firmly aligned with both Special Education and Disability Studies. It is“with us.” But, there are many problems with ortho- dox Special Education, which lacks attention in art education literature. A prime example is the rhetoric and pedagogy surrounding the “at risk” designation, particularly the “emotional disturbance/behavior disorder” (ED/BD) label as defined in IDEA (2004). Like past autism edu- cation, strategies for ED/BD typically involve constant punishment, which rarely increases learning, school enjoyment, or future quality of life. The label is unmistakably code for“mentally ill,” and the terms “disorder” and “disturbance” pathologize learners. ED/BD discussions are often embellished with the slanderous adjec- tive “problem” (e.g., emotional problem, behav- ior problem, problem student). Such language “remains as problematic today as it was when it was codified [in 1975],”and there remains“wide- spread recognition that, in general, efforts to provide effective education to students with ED have been largely inadequate”(Merrell & Walker, 2004, p. 899). Despite the inappropriateness of IDEA language, which retains other problematic practices, terminology, and language of ortho- dox Special Education—including the ghastly label “retarded”—the common pattern in art education has been to retain traditions until they become universally inexcusable. Most art education literature uncritically reifies the prob- lematic labels and practices of orthodox Special Education that the disability community finds offensive, placing traditions and conventions ahead of disabled learners. The negative effects of orthodox Special Education discourses are so deeply ingrained in our cultural concept of disabled people that we often represent disability as inferior without realizing it. One poignant, visual example was the September 2008 cover of Art Education. The “risk” theme featured a grid pattern of different road signs, many of which read “RISK.”The cover also contained the phrase “what risks do artists and art teachers construct, tolerate, and/or pro- liferate in both their teaching and artmaking policies and practices?” The answer is revealed in Pamela Taylor’s (2008) ironic editorial, “Risk Is Not a Word Taken Lightly in Contemporary Education.” After outlining risk research, Taylor identified“risks”taken by the authors: Gillian Furniss took a chance in reporting the critical needs and successes of students with autism. Author Jennifer Eisenhauer laid bare negative and inaccurate visual representations of people with mental illnesses while challenging art educators to confront such stigmatization in their teaching choices. (p. 4) Of what are they at risk? Of being stigmatized alongside their students? Perhaps, in the case of Eisenhauer’s (2008) article which, in the vein of articles about sexuality, automatically sug- gested that she may experience mental illness— a particularly risky venture for a pre-tenured professor. But the true irony is that the cover image is an unmindful reiteration of stigmatiz- ing representations.“STOP”indeed! Another example is the logo of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) Issues Group, Special Needs in Art Education (SNAE). The logo is a graphic reduction of a crude clay coil human figure, created by a young disabled child of an SNAE founder. It was selected because the young artist “personified the fight for children with special needs to have access to art educa- tion” (Peter Geisser, personal communication, September 30, 2012), including NAEA’s oppo- sition to SNAE and its mission. Nevertheless, it is the kind of sentimental image that comes to mind when thinking of “special needs” art, and it is a metaphor for our culture thinking of disabled people as adorably inept. Despite its earnest origins, it is a poor representation of disability in general because it exemplifies the
  4. 4. Studies in Art Education / Volume 54, No. 4 379 myth that disabled people and their work are incompetent; it is“without us.” As a progressive field, art education must pay closer attention to Disability Studies and other disability self-activism measures regarding Special Education. Art educators should strive toward innovative research that intersects the perspectives of disabled students, artists, and educators with Special Education as well as with intersecting identity issues. It is time for our field to acknowledge the dignity of disabled people and the validity of our way of being. Figure 1. Cover of Art Education, 61(5). Figure 2. Special Needs in Art Education logo. R E F E R E N C E S Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Barnes, C., & Mercer, G. (2010). Exploring disability (2nd ed.). Cambridge, England: Polity Press. Blandy, D. (1991). Conceptions of disability: Toward a sociopolitical orientation to disability for art education. Studies in Art Education, 32(3), 131-144. Brueggemann, B. J., Hetrick, N., Yergeau, M., & Brewer, E. (2012). Current issues, controversies, and solutions. In B. J. Brueggemann (Ed.), Arts and Humanities (pp. 63-98). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Causton-Theoharis, J., & Burdick, C. (2008). Paraprofessionals: Gatekeepers of authentic art production. Studies in Art Education, 49(3), 167-182. Charlton, J. I. (1998). Nothing about us without us: Disability oppression and empowerment. Berkeley: University of California Press. Derby, J. (2011). Disability studies and art education. Studies in Art Education, 52(2), 94-111.
  5. 5. 380 Derby / Commentary: Nothing About Us Without Us Eisenhauer, J. (2007). Just looking and staring back: Challenging ableism through disability performance art. Studies in Art Education, 49(1), 7-22. Eisenhauer, J. (2008). A visual culture of stigma: Critically examining representations of mental illness. Art Education, 61(5), 13-18. Floyd, M. (2003). The punishment is missing art? In S. Klein (Ed.), Teaching art in context: Case studies for preservice art education (pp. 56-59). Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. Gallagher, D. J., Heshusius, L., Iano, R. P., & Skrtic, T. M. (2004). Challenging orthodoxy in special education: Dissenting voices. Denver, CO: Love. Gerber, B. L., & Guay, D. M. (Eds.). (2006). Reaching and teaching students with special needs through art. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. Gerber, B. L., & Kellman, J. (Eds.). (2010). Understanding students with autism though art. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. Guay, D. M. P. (1993). Cross-site analysis of teaching practices: Visual art education with students experiencing disabilities. Studies in Art Education, 34(4), 222-232. Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, 20 U.S.C. §1400 et seq. Merrell, K. W., & Walker, H. M. (2004). Deconstructing a definition: Social maladjustment versus emotional disturbance and moving the EBD field forward. Psychology in the Schools, 41(8), 899-910. Nyman, A. L., & Jenkins, A. M. (Eds.). (1999). Issues and approaches to art for students with special needs. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. Siebers, T. (2010). Disability aesthetics. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. Snyder, S. L., Brueggemann, B. J., & Garland-Thomson, R. (Eds.). (2002). Disability studies: Enabling the humanities. New York, NY: Modern Language Association of America. Taylor, P. G. (2008). Risk is not a word taken lightly in contemporary education [Editorial]. Art Education, 61(5), 4-5. Wexler, A. J. (2009). Art and disability: The social and political struggles facing education. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. Wexler, A. (2011).“The siege of the cultural city is underway”: Adolescents with developmental disabilities make “art.”Studies in Art Education, 53(1), 53-70. E N D N O T E S 1 Following James Charlton’s (1998) book, Nothing About Us Without Us, the international disability community widely adopted the motto. It has been reinforced through countless activist events, print publications, aca- demic conferences, and organizations. 2 Disability Studies in Education (DSE) has been an American Educational Research Association (AERA) special interest group (SIG) since 2000. Hunter College provides a good overview of its history at www.hunter.cuny. edu/conferences/dse-2012/history-of-disability-studies-in-education 3 Orthodox Special Education refers to traditional Special Education (SPED) scholarship and practices that retain a caretaker/dependent lens and refuse to acknowledge the importance or legitimacy of Disability Studies perspectives. See Gallagher, Heshusius, Iano and Skrtic (2004) as a thorough critique of SPED research which is “closed to ideas”from a philosophy of science perspective.
  6. 6. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.