04 SES 05 C, Intelligence, Talents And Inclusion: Expanding The Conversation
Background to the work
Notions of intelligence are a defining feature of education (Swann et al, 2012) and people’s place in wider society. Status is commonly defined by an ability to demonstrate specific knowledge in specific contexts, with superior status to those with the knowledge and even greater status to experts who can deepen that knowledge (Schoen, 1983). This knowledge hierarchy (Rix, 2006) is evident in both our formal and informal relations. The Mail on Sunday newspaper can have “Are these the Morons who ruined Christmas?” as their headline whilst the Mail’s departing editor is called a “newspaperman of genius”; the President of the United States can refer to himself as a “stable genius” while the Brazilian president can refer to protesting teachers and students as “idiots” and “imbeciles”. Schools can run Genius Hours (Ginsberg & Coke, 2019) whilst pupils refer to each other as idiots because they are different in some way, for example in relation to their weight (Varea & Underwood, 2016) or their faith (Vikdahl, 2019). The everyday nature of its usage means it is evident in the language of academics (Bancroft-Billings, 2020) or as a measure of students views of a teacher’s academic prowess (Storage et al, 2016).
It seems reasonable to suggest that concepts such as idiot, imbecile and moron had a brief period of being what Hacking referred to as a “scientific kind” and have otherwise been just a “mundane kind” (Mendes, 2015). It also seems reasonable to suggest that in moving out of the broad categories by which resources and support are organised in educational contexts (eg: special educational needs, learning difficulties, additional support needs, learning disabilities, intellectual disability, cognitive impairment, emotional and behavioural difficulties) these terms have become mundane in their impact. However, such terms are not simply long-lost relics of the medical discourse (eg Ward, 1998). ‘Imbecile’ and ‘feeble-minded’ were still evident in Indian official documentation in 2001 (Rao 2001), ‘idiot’ was evident in British Common Law until 2006, and lawyers continue to use a ‘moron in a hurry’ as a test of copyright law. These terms have a historical resonance beyond their adoption by the medical profession too. In writings before the 1600’s, for example, ‘fools’ and ‘idiots’ was used for anyone who was not part of their elite group; agricultural workers, women, non-gentlefolk, melancholics, it was even used to refer to the disciples before they met Jesus. Idiocy was a matter of class and background (Goodey, 2011).
Very little consideration has been given to the use of these terms and their potential impact upon individuals and the collective. It is possible that the impact is considerable. In considering a related matter, selection within schools according to a hierarchy of intelligence (Rix & Ingham, in press), the literature is quite clear that notions of intellegence:
- Impacts on the lives, identities and relationships of individuals, families and communities across the lifespan and within and between generations.
- Creates and perpetuates hierarchies and divisions according to ethnicity, social class, gender and disability.
- Has a fundamental influence on individual and community educational experiences.
- Overall, is a conflicted experience but is understood to have more negative effects than positive.
This current proposal is a first step in exploring the use and impact of these terms.
How are the terms idiot, imbecile and moron evidenced in the everyday arenas of education and newsmedia?
This study will involve a two data sources. The intention is to identify: • text which has emerged within interviews or observations within educational contexts. This will involve a systematic search of the literature following protocols based upon EPPE methods, to seek out the use of these terms within academic research associated with education since 2016. • text which has been constructed with a public audience in mind. This will involve examining a popular newspaper in four English speaking countries to seek out the usage of these three terms since 2016. In drawing upon these two sources, it is anticipated that we will be able to identify the degree to which the use of terms is an everyday part of our lives and to map out the meanings being attached to them. A discursive approach will taken to the analysis, examining the text for spontaneous references that construct individuals as different (Mik-Meyer, 2016) revealing attitudes and practices that have personal impact upon lives and experiences. This will inform a thematic analysis, using an approach drawn from grounded theory (Corbin and Strauss 2008). Through open-coding, the data will be refined to identify concepts which represented aspects of that data, to seek patterns and to enable categorisation, comparison and synthesis.
The study is ongoing and no findings are yet evident. It is anticipated however that we will find considerable evidence of these terms being in use; that they will be largely derogatory of the self and or others and that they are being used with a sense of impunity.
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