DEVELOPMENT OF INCLUSIVE EDUCATIONAL PRAXIS
The seeking of intersubjective understandings through dialogue is integral to constructivist approaches and supports inclusive education in several ways. First, and perhaps foremost, dialogical pedagogy offers an alternative to the traditional school discursive practices that result in the initial pathologizing of student differences. Because the origins of exclusion are found in the creation of individual pathology (i.e., some students as individuals have differences that are understood as inherent disability), we might begin by examining through a constructivist framework how the very creation of individual pathology is accomplished through the largely invisible disabling discourse practices of schools.
Drawing on the work of Gergen (1990) and Freedman and Combs (1996), Dudley-Marling (2004) illuminates how “learning problems dwell in activities and cultural practices situated in the context of social relations rather than in the heads of individual students” (p. 482). In two contrasting examples of teacher-student exchanges, Dudley-Marling demonstrates how “smartness,” “learning disabilities,” or any other student identity “emerges in the discursive space between people” (p. 485). In the first exchange, the teacher employs a didactic “guess what I’m thinking” mode of questioning a student who is labelled as having a learning disability. As one might anticipate, the student emerges from this interaction looking every inch the incompetent, disabled student his teacher and school understands him to be. The second exchange takes place among a teacher and a small group of students who have been identified as having special learning needs and/or who are English as second language learners. Employing dialogical pedagogy, this teacher facilitates the students’ deeply engaged and complex analysis of a challenging text. What emerges from this exchange is an image of these students as intelligent and competent learners. “In the end,” Dudley-Marling (2004) concludes, “no student can have LD [learning disabilities] on their own. It takes a complex system of interactions performed in just the right way, at the right time, on the stage we call school. And, as it turns out, this is precisely what is required to construct students as ‘smart’” (p. 489).
The point here is that there is no driving need to categorize, rank, and label students when learning is centred on their interests, understandings, culture, language, and so on. This is so because dialogical pedagogy obviates the need for prescribed curricula and normative standards, both of which substantiate perceived student pathology and subsequent rationales for segregated schooling. Instead, constructivist approaches such as dialogical pedagogy create learning contexts in which students and teachers experience a sense of connection and mutual respect (see: Noddings, 1992). Proposing an alternative narrative of teaching, Miller (1993) incorporates Noddings’s ethic of caring to draw four conclusions that portray teaching as a moral rather than technological act: “(1) everyone is taken to be smart and capable of learning; (2) everyone is seen to be motivated by unique and often different things; (3) individual variation is accepted as normal, not as a disorder; and (4) discovering each person’s individual story is the starting point for designing meaningful and relevant instruction” (p. 75).
Constructivist pedagogy engenders competence by creating an understanding that students are adept in learning something they value. As Barton and Hamilton (2003) note, “Socially powerful institutions, such as education, tend to support dominant literacy practices. These dominant practices can be seen as part of whole discourse formations, institutionalized configurations of power and knowledge which are embodied in social relationships. Other vernacular literacies which exist in people’s everyday lives are less visible and less supported” (p. 12). When students’ “vernacular literacies” are supported, a climate is created that provides for enhanced meaning and favourable dispositions toward learning.
Finally, constructivist pedagogy cultivates cooperation and an ethic of social reciprocity. Cooperation is entirely at odds with and resists the competitive ethos, thus undermines the “winners versus losers” ideology of schools as sorting and selecting mechanisms (see: Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Chapman, 1988; Spring, 1989). In essence, constructivist pedagogy advances a “noncompetitive conviction that all people are equally and uniquely valuable, and have the same claim on respect of their fellows and the benefits of society” (Watt, 1994, p. 227).