Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Barbara Applebaum

Second Advisor

Emily Robertson


Citizenship, Civic participation, Inclusion, Intellectual disability, Political agency

Subject Categories



Within philosophical literature on democratic education, philosophers of education embrace the existence of cultural, religious, racial, gender, and other social differences as important to a thriving democracy. However, they frequently ignore or marginalize the potential significance of ability differences, especially those associated with intellect and reasoning ability. In fact, prevailing understandings of civic engagement within political philosophy, social and educational policy, and institutional practice conform to norms of development, behavior, and civic contribution that assume the presence of able-bodied and able-minded individuals. There is therefore an unchallenged assumption that those who experience significant difficulties in reasoning are unable to perform the tasks of citizenship. My dissertation investigates and challenges this assumption. I consider how the recognition of existent intellectual ability differences alters our philosophical theorizing about democratic education and suggests the need for alternative frameworks of democratic participation and the education that supports it. I propose that individuals' existent variability in intellectual processing, communicative modes, and behavior should guide our reasoning about what is required for civic participation. My view places demands on educational policy, schooling practices, and teacher education to re-examine curricula, teaching practice, school-community partnerships and, importantly, ideas about how civic knowledge is acquired and put into practice in light of varying abilities. Answering the question of whether individuals with intellectual disabilities are owed an education that prepares them to participate in democratic citizenship not only concerns the extent to which we embrace differences of ability within education in general, but also hinges on whether a just society can be one that does not enable the civic contribution of those with significant disabilities.


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