The Cultural Work of Learning Disabilities

by Ray McDermott, Shelley Goldman, and Hervé Varenne

Educational Researcher. Vol. 35. No. 6. pp. 12- 17

Winner of the Palmer O. Johnson Memorial Award, 2007, "given for an outstanding article appearing in an AERA-Sponsored publication."


Culturally and educationally, the United States specializes in the production of kinds of persons described first by ethnic, racial, and lingustic lines and second by supposed mental abilities. Overlaps between the two systems of classification are frequent, systematically haphazard, and often deleterious. An examination of classrooms around the country shows shifting currents of concern and tension that invite the attribution of labels for mental andlor minority-group status. This article introduces a language for a cultural analysis-a language of people interpreting the interpretations of others-and pursues an example from a classroom where both the good sense and the dangers of categories for learning-disabled and minority-group status are on display.

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April 20, 2007