Burke’s Program – Educational Impact

A pandemic of indolent school children might indicate that something is wrong with the school?

Kenneth Burke


Here’s a rewording of the first sentence in a way that makes sense to me:

Is it possible that a pandemic of lazy school children might indicate that something is wrong with the school, not the children?

I want to reflect on this aspect of the quote for right now.  This immediately reminds me on the writings on the social model of disability theory.  The social model of disability says that disability is a socially and environmentally constructed entity.  This means that the disability is outside of the person and, as such, is caused by the environment.  The social model challenges the medical model which says that the disability lies within the person.

When using the medical model, it is not much of a stretch, then, to say that the problem of disability lies within the person, and thus stigma is created.  However, the social model would say that that the problem is not within the person, but within the environment.  For example, if a person uses a wheelchair and can go anywhere and everywhere they want to unless there are no elevators, the social model would say they are not disabled, it is the environment that is disabling them.

However, this becomes a fascinatingly murky issue when moving from physical to emotional, behavioral, and social disabilities.  For example, if a person has crippling social anxiety (I don’t like how I worded that, but I don’t know how else to word it) and they learn that they can handle interacting with 4 or less people, but the environment with which they live in demands that they interact with 5 or more people.  Is the environment disabling or is the person disabled?  I had a discussion with a colleague who found himself torn because he disagreed with the concept of social model of disability here.

Why is that?  I think that is because with a physical disability, we can see it.  We don’t look at a person in a wheelchair as lazy because they don’t stand up, we can see that they have a disability.  However, with emotional, behavioral, and social disabilities, mainstream culture demands that they adapt and become “normal.”  It is probably because we cannot see them, but does that mean that they are not there?  Social, behavioral, and emotional disabilities are just as real as physical disabilities.

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