Applying disability critical race theory in the practice of teacher education in the United States

Valentina Migliarini, Subini Annamma

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


Strategies for behavioral management have been traditionally derived from an individualistic, psychological orientation. As such, behavioral management is about correcting and preventing disruption caused by the “difficult” students and about reinforcing positive comportment of the “good” ones. However, increased classroom diversity and inclusive and multicultural education reform efforts, in the United States and in most Western societies, warrant attention to the ways preservice teachers develop beliefs and attitudes toward behavior management that (re)produce systemic inequities along lines of race, disability, and intersecting identities. Early-21st-century legislation requiring free and equitable education in the least restrictive environment mandates that school professionals serve the needs of all students, especially those located at the interstices of multiple differences in inclusive settings. These combined commitments create tensions in teacher education, demanding that educators rethink relationships with students so that they are not simply recreating the trends of mass incarceration within schools. Disability Critical Race Theory (DisCrit) shifts the questions that are asked from “How can we fix students who disobey rules?” to “How can preservice teacher education and existing behavioral management courses be transformed so that they are not steeped in color evasion and silent on interlocking systems of oppression?” DisCrit provides an opportunity to (re)organize classrooms, moving away from “fixing” the individual—be it the student or the teacher—and shifting toward justice. As such, it is important to pay attention not only to the characteristics, dispositions, attitudes, and students’ and teachers’ behaviors but also to the structural features of the situation in which
they operate. By cultivating relationships rooted in solidarity, in which teachers understand the ways students are systemically oppressed, how those oppressions are
(re)produced in classrooms, and what they can do to resist those oppressions in terms of
pedagogy, curriculum, and relationship, repositions students and families are regarded as
valuable members. Consequently, DisCrit has the potential to prepare future teachers to create a learning environment that encourages positive social interactions and active engagement in learning focused on creating solidarity in the classroom instead of managing.
This results in curriculum, pedagogy, and relationships that are rooted in expansive
notions of justice. DisCrit can help preservice teachers in addressing issues of diversity in the curriculum and in contemplating how discipline may be used as a tool of punishment, and of exclusion, or as a tool for learning. Ultimately, DisCrit as an intersectional and interdisciplinary framework can enrich existing preservice teachers’ beliefs about relationships in the classroom and connect these relationships to larger projects of dismantling inequities faced by multiply marginalized students.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Research Encyclopedia of Education
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
Publication statusEarly online - Jul 2019


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