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Those Who Can't, Teach: The Disabling History of American Educators

  • Kate Rousmaniere (a1)

This essay is an exploratory history of American educators as viewed through the lens of disability studies. By this I mean that I am looking at the history of school teachers with disability as the primary marker of social relations, in much the same way that I and others have looked at the history of education through the primary lens of race, gender, ethnicity, age, religion, and sexuality. Looking at the history of teachers through the analytic framework of disability studies allows us to see first, how educational systems, practices, values, and professional norms have developed in a way that excludes people with disabilities from educational employment, or assigned them to parallel and marginalized institutions of special education and second, how notions of normality have defined the work and identity of all educators. It is this latter point that is my greatest interest here: how cultural concepts of ability and disability have shaped all educators' occupational identity and experience over time.

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1 Longmore, Paul, “Making Disability an Essential Part of American History,” OAH Magazine of History (July 2009): 11; Longmore, Paul and Umansky, Lauri, The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York: New York University Press, 2001); Gabel, Susan, “Introduction: Disability Studies in Education” in Disability Studies in Education: Readings in Theory and Method, ed. Susan Gabel (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), 4.

2 Kudlick, Catherine J., “Disability History: Why We Need Another Other,” The American Historical Review 108 (June, 2003): 686–94.

3 Nielsen, Kim, “Historical Thinking and Disability History,” Disabilities Studies Quarterly 28 (Summer 2008): 3; Beratan, Gregg D., “Institutionalizing Inequity: Ableism, Racism, and the IDEA 2004,” Disabilities Studies Quarterly 26 (Spring 2006): 3.

4 Kudlick, Catherine, “A History Profession for Every Body,” Journal of Women's History 18 (Spring 2006): 163.

5 Baynton, Douglas, “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History,” in The New Disability History, eds. Longmore and Umansky, 33.

6 Ibid., 41–43.

7 A selection of this powerful and growing body of literature includes: Osgood, Robert L., The History of Special Education: A Struggle for Equality in American Public Schools (Westport, CT: Greenwood-Praeger Press, 2008); Osgood, Robert L., For “Children Who Vary From the Normal Type”: Special Education in Boston 1838–1930 (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2000); Franklin, Barry, From “Backwardness” to “At-Risk”: Childhood Learning Difficulties and the Contradictions of School Reform (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994); Dorn, Sherman, “Reading the History of Special Education,” in Rethinking Professional Issues in Special Education, eds. Paul, James L., Lavely, Carolyn D., Cranston-Gingras, Ann, and Taylor, Ella L. (Westport, Ct: Aplex Publishing, 2002); Freeberg, Ernest, “‘More Important than a Rabble or Common Kings': Dr. Howe's Education of Laura Bridgman,” History of Education Quarterly 34 (Autumn 1994): 686–94; Nielson, Kim E., Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009); Altenbaugh, Richard “Where Are the Disabled in the History of Education? The Impact of Polio on Sites of Learning,” History of Education 35 (November 2006): 705–30; Devlieger, Patrick, Grosvenor, Ian, Simon, Frank, Van Hove, Geert, and Vanobbergen, Bruno, “Visualising Disability in the Past,” Paedagogica Historica 44 (December 2008): 747–60; Dekker, Jeroen J. H., “An Educational Regime: Medical Doctors, Schoolmasters, Jurists and the Education of Retarded and Deprived Children in the Netherlands around 1900,” Paedagogica Historica 25 (1996): 255–68; Drenth, Annemieke and van Essen, Mineke, “Dutch Special Education Schools for Children with Learning Disabilities in the Interwar Period,” Paedagogica Historica 47 (December 2011): 805–24.

8 See Burch, Susan, “Reading between the Signs: Defending Deaf Culture in Early Twentieth Century America,” in The New Disability History, eds. Longmore and Umansky, 214–35; Baynton, Douglas C., Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language (Chicago: University or Chicago Press, 1996); Buchanan, Robert M., Illusions of Equality: Deaf Americans in School and Factory, 1850–1950 (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University, 1999); John Vickrey Van Cleve, “The Academic Integration of Deaf Children: A Historical Perspective,” in John Vickrey Van Cleve, ed., The Deaf History Reader (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University, 2007).

9 Baynton, “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History,” 52.

10 Alice Marsh quoted in Kate Rousmaniere, City Teachers: Teachers and School Reform in Historical Perspective (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997), 86.

11 Rousmaniere, Kate, Citizen Teacher: The Life and Leadership of Margaret Haley (Albany: SUNY Press, 2005), 72, 88, 207–8.

12 Eaves, Lucile, Old-Age Support of Women Teachers, vol. 11 (Boston: Studies in Economic Relations of Women, 1925); Whitehead, Kay and Thorpe, Stephen, “The Function of Age and the History of Women's Work: The Career of an Australian Teacher, 1907–1947,” Gender and History 16 (April 2004): 686–94; Whitehead, Kay, “Concerning Images of Women in Government Offices in the Early Twentieth Century: What Difference Does Age Make?,” Australian Historical Studies 127 (2006): 25–42.

13 Harner, Earl W., “Veteran Teachers: Old Myths and New Realities,” The Phi Delta Kappan 60 (March, 1979): 686–94; Preston, Effa E., “The Old Teachers,” The Clearing House 15 (September 1940): 21.

14 Garcia, M. Louise, “The Teacher,” Chicago Teachers’ Federation Bulletin 3 (29 November 1903), 3.

15 Irving, Washington, The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent (New York: Putnam's Sons, 1984), 253.

16 Hofstadter, Richard, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Random House, 1963), 314; Beale, Howard, A History of Freedom of Teaching in American Schools (New York: Scribner's, 1941), 11–12; Elsbree, Willard S., The American Teacher: Evolution of a Profession in a Democracy (New York: American Book Company, 1939), 26–27, 34.

17 Quoted in Kimmel, Michael S., Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 8283; “Male Teachers Needed,” American School Board Journal 37 (December 1908): 8.

18 Quoted in Clifford, Geraldine, “Man/Woman/Teacher,” in American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work, ed. Warren, Donald (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 312.

19 Hall, G. Stanley, “Certain Degenerative Tendencies Among Teachers,” Pedagogical Seminary 12 (1905): 686–94.

20 Learned, William and Wood, Ben, The Student and His Knowledge: A Report to the Carnegie Foundation on the Results of High School and College Examinations of 1928, 1930, and 1932, Bulletin No 29 (New York: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1938), 686–94; Koerner, James D., The Miseducation of American Teachers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963), 39–49; Sedlack, Michael W., “‘Let us go and buy a School Master': Historical Perspectives on the Hiring of Teachers in the United States, 1750–1980,” in American Teachers, ed. Warren, , 257–90.

21 Terman, Lewis, “An Important Contribution,” Journal of Higher Education 10 (February 1939): 112; Sedlack, “Let us go and buy a School Master,” 276–79; Wood, Ben D., “Making Use of the Objective Examination as a Phase of Teacher Selection,” Harvard Educational Review 10 (May 1940): 280.

22 Graybiel, J. M., “Tenure for Teachers a Sine Qua Non for the Welfare of the Public Schools,” American Teacher 16 (March 1932): 5.

23 Beecher, Catharine, The Duty of American Women to Their Country (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1845), 45

24 Haley quoted in Fraser, James W. “Agents of Democracy: Urban Elementary-School Teachers and the Conditions of Teaching,” in American Teachers, ed. Warren, 135.

25 Rousmaniere, Kate, “Teachers’ Work and the Social Relations of School Space,” Historical Studies in Education 8 (1996): 5152.

26 Hall, “Certain Degenerative Tendencies Among Teachers,” 454–455; Dublin, Louis I., “Physical Disability of New York City School Teachers: A Study of 3877 Records of Absence during the School Year 1914–15,” School and Society 4 (14 October 1916): 686–94.

27 Lewis, Ervin Eugene, Personnel Problems of the Teaching Staff (New York: Century Co., 1925), 401; Mason, Frances V., “A Study of Seven Hundred Maladjusted School Teachers,” Mental Hygiene 15 (1931).

28 Education: Crazy Teachers,” Time Magazine, 9 April 1934.

29 Notes and Notices,” Eugenics Review 11 (April 1919): 47, as quoted in Blount, Jackie, “Manly Men and Womanly Women: Deviance, Gender Role Polarization, and the Shift in Women's School Employment, 1900–1976,” Harvard Educational Review 66 (Summer 1996): 324.

30 Averill, Lawrence Augustus, Mental Hygiene for the Classroom Teacher (New York: Pitman, 1939), 1014; Mason, “A Study of Seven Hundred Maladjusted School Teachers;” Reese, Webster P., Personality and Success in Teaching (Boston: The Gorham Press, 1928), 58–73; Lewis, Personnel Problems of the Teaching Staff, 405–10.

31 Reese, Personality and Success in Teaching, vii; Lewis, Personnel Problems of the Teaching Staff, 399.

32 Richards, Penny, “Points of Entry: Disability and the Historical Geography of Immigration,” Disability Studies Quarterly 24 (Summer 2004); Wilson, Daniel J., “‘No Defectives Need Apply': Disability and Immigration,” OAH Magazine of History (July 2009): 3538; Baynton, “Disability and the Justification on Inequality,” 50; Rousmaniere, City Teachers, 37–39; Collins, Christina, “Ethnically Qualified:” Race, Merit and the selection of Urban Teachers, 1920–1980 (New York: Teachers College Press, 2011), 70.

33 Collins, “Ethnically Qualified,” 71; Reese, Personality and Success, 30–31.

34 Markowitz, Ruth Jacknow, My Daughter, The Teacher: Jewish Teachers in New York City Schools (Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 1993), 7982; Ogren, Christine A., The American State Normal School: “An Instrument of Great Good” (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2005), 78–79.

35 Collins, “Ethnically Qualified,” 71.

36 Ibid, 88.

37 Bardeen, Charles William, “Why Teaching Repels Men,” Educational Review (April 1908): 355.

38 Lee, Edwin A., “Teaching: A Man's Job,” Phi Delta Kappan 20 (March 1938): 231; Dalton, John W., “Mice or Men” (A Reaction to “Teaching as a Man's Job),” Phi Delta Kappan 23 (January 1941): 197; Cochrane, Roy, “Teaching as a Man's Job,” Phi Delta Kappan 37 (March 1956): 230–32.

39 Blount, “Manliness and the Gendered Construction,” 56.

40 Gist, Arthur S., “The Evolution of the Principalship,” Bulletin of the Department of Elementary School Principals, 3rd Yearbook (Washington DC: NEA, Department of Elementary School Principals, July 1924), 209; “Local Standards in the Selection of Elementary School Principals,” Elementary School Principals, 7th Yearbook, 1928, 385; Hinton, Eugene M., “Opportunities for Professional Careers as High School Principals,” The School Review 31 (January 1923): 31.

41 Leonard, Victor E., “No Man's Land,” American School Board Journal 113 (September 1946): 21.

42 Baynton, “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History,” 51.

43 Freudenberger, Herbert J, a psychiatrist, is largely credited for first using the term “burnout” in 1974, referring to workers’ and quickly applied to teachers. Freudenberger, Herbert J., “Staff Burnout,” Journal of Social Issues 30 (March, 1974): 686–94; Dworkin, Anthony Gary, Teacher Burnout in the Public Schools: Structural Causes and Consequences for Children (New York: State University of New York Press, 1986); LeCompte, Margaret D., and Dworkin, Anthony Gary, Giving Up on School: Student Dropouts and Teacher Burnouts (Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press, 1991); Brown, Marie, and Ralph, Sue, “The Identification of Stress in Teachers,” in Stress in Teachers: Past, Present and Future, eds. Dunham, Jack and Varma, Ved (London: Whurr Publishers Ltd, 1998), 37–56; Whitaker, Kathryn S., “Exploring Causes of Principal Burnout” Journal of Educational Administration 34 (1996): 60–71.

44 Labaree, David F., “Teach For America and Teacher Ed: Heads They Win, Tails We Lose,” Journal of Teacher Education 61 January 2010): 4855; see particularly, the language of the National Council on Teacher Quality on the quality of teacher education graduates, and Trip Gabriel, “Teachers’ Colleges Upset by Plan to Grade Them,” New York Times, 8 February 2011.

45 Rosenman, Kenneth D., “Causes of Mortality in Primary and Secondary School Teachers,” American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 25 (May 1994): 686–94; Safetyatwork Accessed 5 March 2011; Carr, Adrian, “Anxiety and Depression among School Principals—Warning, Principalship Can Be Hazardous to Your Health,” Journal of Educational Administration 32 (1994): 18–34; Shen, Jianping, Cooley, Van E., and Wegenke, Gary L., “Factors Influencing Application for the Principalship: A Comparative Study of Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents,” in Jianping Shen et al., School Principals (Peter Lang, 2005), 154–68; Blackmore, Jill and Thomson, Pat, “Just ‘good and bad news'? Disciplinary imaginaries of head teachers in Australian and English print media,” Journal of Education Policy 19 (May 2004): 301–20; Thomson, Pat, “Severed Heads and Compliant Bodies? A Speculation about Principal Identities,” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 25 (March 2004): 43–59; Thomson, Pat, “Principals and Black Lagoons: Reflections from England on Headteachers and Power,” Professional Voice 7, no. 3 (2010): 27–32.

46 Glanz, Jeffrey, “Images of Principals on Television and in the Movies,” Clearing House 70 (July/August 1997): 686–94. Tillman, Linda and Trier, James, “Boston Public as Public Pedagogy: Implications for Teacher Preparation and School Leadership,” Peabody Journal of Education 82 (2007): 121–49.

47 I recommend starting with the Disability History Association:; Nielson, Kim E., A Disability History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012), and texts mentioned in these notes, particularly, Longmore and Umansky, The New Disability History; Kudlick, “Disability History: Why We Need Another Other,” and Longmore, Paul K., Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003).

Earlier versions of this paper were delivered at the Brazilian History of Education Society Meeting, Vitoria, Brazil, May 2011, and the International Standing Conference on the History of Education, Geneva, Switzerland, June 2012. Thanks to Cathy Kudlick and the late Paul Longmore for their inspiration and guidance.

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