04 SES 01 A, The Wandering Wingless: Reconnecting Migration And Inclusion
Inclusive education is a relatively new field, grounded in the present and forward looking. The nature of the field and its call for educational reform means that providing a vision for the future is more of a priority than probing the past. It is worth then to consider the relevance of historical inquiry to the field and what kind of contributions can make in the current social and educational environment where the past raises concerns about the direction of the future.
This inter-cultural and dual language research study grapples with such issues as it explores the loss and creation of communities, inclusion and exclusion, and the role of formal and informal education. More than 200,000 people who identified as culturally Greek from Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere, migrated to Australia between 1947 and 1977. For many the transition involved movement from rural, close-knit communities into the large bureaucratised cites of Sydney and Melbourne. In the communities of origin responses to illness and disability mingled folklore, religion, and traditional and western medicine. A strong family culture of care combined with familial and societal stigma formed a complex response to disability and caring responsibilities that migrants brought with them to the new country and to their experience of parenting a child with disability. Within Australia, especially in the cities and towns, disability was typically managed through bureaucratic structures. These systems of care, education and welfare constructed disability as a deviation from developmental norms and commonly perceived Greek migrant parenting as lacking, or culturally backward. It is in this intersection of old and new place, culture and language, and formal and informal education that the migrant parents came to terms with disability. While the migrant experience has been recorded (Martin, 1975; Bottomley, 1979), the experiences of parents with children with disability have been neglected. In education, the history of special education tends to be ‘hidden history’ (Armstrong, 2003), focusing on institutions, interventions and labels of impairment, while erasing the diversity of individuals, such as migrant status.
This paper is product of an oral history project about the experiences of post-war Greek origin migrants who are now the parents of adult children with disabilities, examining their understandings and recollections of “disability”, migration and the role of education. A series of in-depth interviews were conducted with first-generation Greek migrant parents of one or more adult children with a disability that was diagnosed in childhood and requires a high level of care. The project looks at the life span of these participants within what we theorise as “community”: a community that was left behind, and a new community that was created in the new country and still changes and evolves. The parents and their children are approached as active creators of community, both in making meaning and also in defining what is possible.
This paper reports how these parents, mainly mothers, recall their interactions with schoolteachers and paraprofessionals involved in their children’s education and care. We are especially interested in how the interviewees represent the networks and supports available to them, and the constructions of disability they formulated at different times in navigating institutional-policy systems of diagnosis and education. We are also interested in how the interviewees approach the present and future for them and their children and the role that education still plays in their lives.
The paper also explores the possibilities of feeding back research into community. It discusses how researchers and participants are negotiating and developing narratives based on the data for different audiences including, the academic community, the Greek and wider communities in Australia, and in Greece.
The methodological approach allows for intercultural and dual-language research, with an emphasis on respectful and community-oriented ethical practices. A critical element is to eschew lines of questioning that narrowly construct the experience of caring for a child with disability, or being a migrant parent of such a child, as an experience of deficit. The study involves in-depth interviews conducted with six first-generation Greek migrant parents of one or more adult children with a disability that was diagnosed in childhood and requires a high level of care. To allow for rapport and trust to be developed, three meetings were planned with each participant: two interviews of about 90 minutes each (one focussing on the longer life history, one more closely focussed on the caring strategies) and a follow-up meeting to share observations and interpretations. Preliminary investigation suggests that the participants share a Greek culture and language in which stories and recollections are frequently shared as a way of cultural identification, but where there is a strong sense of privacy, or even stigma when it comes to the revelation of personal and social experiences of disability. Interviews are recorded and transcribed, and, as necessary, translated into English and/or Greek. Analytical summaries are developed using common thematic categories allowing for the identification of commonalities and differences across the individual experiences of disability and migration in ways that protect the confidentially and trust of participants, according to their informed consent. The summaries will constitute the basic material for dissemination through different forums, both academic and community. Partly this is a conventional “recuperative” oral history project (Sangster, 2016) and our dissemination strategy encompasses celebratory community activity. In a more critical vein, we propose that centralising these ostensibly marginal voices offers opportunities to challenge dominant understandings of key concepts within “mainstream” fields. The study aims to create a new space for knowledge in the fields of disability, the history of migration, and inclusive education.
As this is a project in which education history meets disability studies and inclusive education, we embrace the possibility of speaking to present practical concerns, rather than seeing present perspectives as antithetical to good history. We aim to use historical tools to contribute to a literature of contemporary disability that is “reflexive and politicised” (e.g. Goodley et al 2019) and the implications of that for inclusive education in terms of the enduring question of “inclusion for whom, into what and for what purpose” (Armstrong, Armstrong, & Spandagou, 2009). Our focus on the local interactions between migrant parents and school employees and informal education providers responds to a call by education historians Myers et al. (2018) for a new grounded engagement with the detail and complexity of migrant experience that attends to intercultural encounter and decentres (although does not ignore) the nation-making narratives of high level policy change. The project also speaks to theorisations of the twentieth-century Keynesian state that focus on the distinctive Australian politics of state-facilitated citizen participation in the so called “democratic-participative” era of Australian public administration, i.e. the 1970s and 1980s (Yeatman, 1990). The analytical framework examines how the participants describe and make sense, many decades later, of how they navigated state or quasi state institutional systems—through everyday encounters with “street level” employees (Lipsky, 1980)—that addressed them as either or both migrants and parents, under the shifting contemporary policy regimes and classificatory practices of “multiculturalism” and “special education” and how these experiences informed their expectations for inclusion and belonging in different communities.
Armstrong, D. (2003). Experiences of special education: Re-evaluating policy and practice through life stories. Routledge. Armstrong, A.C., Armstrong, D., & Spandagou, I. (2009). Inclusive education: International policy & practice. London, UK: Sage Bottomley, G. (1979). After the Odyssey: A study of Greek Australians. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press. Goodley, D., Lawthom R., Liddiard, K. & Runswick-Cole, K. (2019). Provocations for critical disability studies, Disability & Society, 34(6), 972-997. Lipsky, M. (1980). Street-level bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the individual in public service. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation. Martin, J. I. (1975). Family and bureaucracy. In C. Price, (ed.), Greeks in Australia (pp. 188-222). Canberra, Australian National University Press. Myers, K., Ramsey, P. J., & Proctor, H. (2018). Rethinking borders and boundaries for a mobile history of education, Paedagogica Historica, 54(6), 677-690. Sangster, J. (2016). Politics and praxis in Canadian working-class oral history. In R. Perks, & A. Thomson (eds.), The Oral history reader (pp. 59-72), (3rd edn.), Abingdon: Routledge. Yeatman, A. (1990). Bureaucrats, technocrats, femocrats: Essays on the contemporary Australian state. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
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