A "textbook" case of professional prerogative: Authority, disability and policy in introductory special education textbooks

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Douglas P. Biklen


Professional prerogative, Authority, Disability, Policy, Special education textbooks, Inclusion

Subject Categories

Disability and Equity in Education | Special Education and Teaching | Teacher Education and Professional Development


This dissertation is a content and ideological analysis of best-selling, introductory special education textbooks. Through an analysis of narrative strategies and textual elements, I show that the live books in this study both reflect and may participate in the reproduction of differing ideologies related to educational policy for students with disabilities. While these differences are significant. I then show through an analysis of the structure of the books and certain elements that are common to all of the texts, that the professional construction of disability is unified among these volumes in the introductory market.

In chapter six I look at one particular disability chapter--"mental retardation"--and show how it is constructed and presented through the professional lens. In chapter seven I analyze discussions of inclusive education as they appear in the textbooks. This contested policy issue is presented as such in four of five introductory textbooks, though the authors make it clear to readers which perspective they should adopt. My analysis of the structure of the arguments and the use of supporting evidence shows how this works.

In spite of adopting a professional construction of disability like its counterparts, one text stands alone in terms of consistently supporting inclusive education for students with disabilities. I examine this text and its disruption of the dominant assumption that disability-as-deficit necessarily leads to education in a system parallel to, and segregated from, general education.

In the final chapter, I elaborate on an idea that I suggest early on: that special education should be a dialogical process. I outline perspectives that might contribute to such a dialogue and argue that future educators should be exposed to a wide range of viewpoints so that a more critical, inclusive and democratic foundation might be the basis upon which one is introduced to the profession.


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