A Dis/human Approach to Education

Daniel Goodley and Katherine Runswick-Cole state that “Dis/ability usefully disarms, disrupts and disturbs normative, taken-for-granted, deeply societally ingrained assumptions about what it means to be human and what it means to be able (dis/human).” Questioning socially constructed binaries, such as disabled verses abled, starts with critical thinking. It is with this mindset that I will work to embrace the dis/human quality of deconstructing narrow views of what it means to be human, in my classroom.

Eli Clare states that “Disability activists fiercely declare that it’s not our bodies that need curing. Rather, it is ableism.” I believe that we, as educators, need to intentionally work toward this curing of ‘ableism’ and the idea that people with labeled disabilities are not able. Although our abilities may differ, we are all able.


What are your thoughts on debunking normative narratives surrounding the dis/ability binary?


Writing the Self Analysis (Whiteness)

Welcome back, everyone! Today, I am going to take us back to the topic of racism and whiteness.

i) Examining Normative Narratives

You may or may not remember my second self-story. If you need a refresher, you can read it here. The thoughts that ran through my mind as a five-year-old girl (Would the other kids like me, whose skin is different than theirs? Would they think that I am weird because of my differences? Was I allowed to play with kids whose skin was different, or were we meant to remain separated?) demonstrate several normative narratives. In particular, the normative narrative that colours other than white are the “other” or “different” skin colours is evident in my attitude toward my classmates. White privilege and white supremacy are seen even in children. As a white five-year-old, I was already questioning the segregation between people of varying skin colour. Although I did not conform to the normative narratives that had been presented to me, I did hesitate to rebuke them as I considered my options. I did not know what race meant, but I did wonder, at a very young age, whether it was a good reason for separation.

Carmel’s experience with racial ignorance and curiosity is similar to my own. Carmel states her thoughts as a young girl: “I did not understand why this girl named Oprah was darker than me. I asked, my mom “why is her skin different.”” She too expresses the normative narrative that non-white skin colours are the ones that are “different” and that whiteness is the norm. A couple of other normative narratives are expressed at the end of Carmel’s story:

My race was not hidden from me. It was the town I lived in. At the time, there were not many other races then white. But now the town is much more diverse, where everyone is accepted regardless of their race.

Stating that her race was not hidden from her implies that she was aware of her race in reference to space and time. I do think, though, that one’s lack of awareness about “other” races reinforces the idea that white skin is the norm. Lastly, “everyone is accepted regardless of their race” is a normative narrative that I hear quite often. It can be used as an excuse for white privilege, implying that “other” races are given an equal position in society.

Dayle’s story reinforces the normative narratives in Carmel’s story, as well as my own. As a young girl, Dayle responded in curiosity to the first women she had seen with skin that was not white, stating that “she had all the makings of a human but colour wasn’t quite right.” For the third time in this analysis, we see the normative narrative that skin colours other than white are the “other” or “different” ones. In Dayle’s experience, we see people of colour being labeled as not “quite right.” Much like Carmel and myself, Dayle’s views were impacted greatly by whiteness from a very young age.

ii) Disrupting Normative Narratives

The normative narrative of whiteness being superior and coloured people being the “other” or “different” groups is disrupted in a piece of Robyn’s story. At one point in her journey, the questions ”What are you doing with that white piece of trailer trash?” echoed in her surroundings. In this particular instance, her whiteness casts her aside and labels her as the “other” race. In other parts of her story, Robyn addresses the normative narrative that whiteness is superior, just as the other stories did. However, she disrupts the narrative when she recalls being mistreated and labeled as “different” because of her whiteness.

Presenting a normative narrative, such as that of white privilege and supremacy, does not necessarily mean that our stories are untrue or contradicting. In the first three stories, whiteness is focused on as the commonality and other races are the minority. In Robyn’s story, situations of whiteness being the “other” race and coloured people being the “other” race are both represented. Robyn’s experience with mistreatment is harsh and worded in a way that causes immediate empathy for her. The first three stories, including examples of ignorance and curiosity toward peoples of colour, are not written with such emotion. I find myself reacting with a stronger sense of sympathy toward Robyn in her memory than I do toward the people of colour who were excluded in the other experiences, despite the fact that they relay a more common truth. This demonstrates the ability that some stories have, to silence others.

Whiteness is a position that I am very familiar with, as are many of my classmates. The normative narrative that I have addressed, the idea that other races are somehow “wrong,” is an all-too-familiar viewpoint for many of us. Tim Wise gives us, white people, some advice in his 2003 speech:

“And for whites, wondering where we fit in this struggle for racial equity and justice, I say to you that we must learn to listen, to follow, to be allies in the truest sense of the word; to challenge this society even when, and especially when, it provides to us unearned privileges because of our skin color, our history, and the inertia propelled into the present-day by that history. And not because of some misplaced liberal guilt, but because racism diminishes us as well, and steals a part of our humanity by separating us from our brothers and sisters of color”(Wise, 2003).

I chose to attempt to disrupt the normative narrative of coloured people being lesser than white people, because I believe that being seperated from “our brother and sisters of colour”(Wise, 2003) is negative and unacceptable. Although I understand the unfortunate realities of white supremacy, white privilege, and racism toward people of colour, I do not choose to simply accept it as the ultimate truth. I do not want to be complacent in my understanding of social structure and race. Now that I have been educated on white privilege, I feel a sense of responsibility to fight against it. I will begin by acknowledging my biases, my past experiences, and my own views on race. Seeing coloured peoples as the “other”, “different”, or “lesser” group is not the mindset that I wish to accept for myself.


Wise, Tim. (2003). Cleaning Up the Funk: Commencement Speech at Grinnell College. Retrieved from  http://www.timwise.org/2003/05/cleaning-up-the-funk-commencement-speech-at-grinnell-college-2003/


Writing the Self 4: [The Sky is The Limit]

I just could not seem to stop the thoughts that came flooding into my mind; can I really do this? I am just a woman after all… but I’ve practiced. Yes, I’ve practiced hard. I’m ready…

As the back side of my knees shook against the hard metal seat, the gentle sway of the tree became increasingly rapid and the space between each creak was decreasing at a concerning rate. I began to question the sufficiency of the tree in its role of support for all of the weight that we had entrusted to it.

My chest felt heavy as each breath seemed to be louder than ever before. Have you ever noticed that trying to be quiet can transform normal breathing into that of someone at the finish line of a marathon?

Every part of my body seemed to have fallen asleep and I wanted nothing more than to stand up and walk. I could not give up though. I had waited and prepared for this for many weeks. I was going to try my best, and quitting was not an option.

This was my moment. The barriers had been broken and my femininity was no longer a factor. I was given the opportunity to pursue this and I was not going to let myself down. I would prove to the world that women can…

“There it is” were the three words that I had been waiting for all evening. As I heard my husband’s nearly inaudible whisper, my pulse began to resemble the metronome set by a world record speed playing pianist.

Each impending crunch simultaneously set me into a panic and prepared me for my potential shining moment. The steps grew closer and closer until it was time for me to stand up.

I tried to take deep breaths to no avail. I glanced down at my trembling fingers and prayed that my grip would not fail me now. I questioned the strength of my left arm and hoped that my shoulders wouldn’t give out. My knees buckled, making me regret my decision to trust their support.

Stop. This is your moment. Your knees are fine, your shoulders are sufficient, your breathing will not stop, your arm has been prepared for this, and your aim is good. The words of encouragement came to mind as I took my stance.

This was it. The sky was my limit…

“Writing the Self 3: [Do I Have To Smile?]”

It wasn’t as though I was underprivileged and it wasn’t as though my parents didn’t treat me well. In fact, I had way more than I needed and a loving family to top it off. So why did I feel so different?

I felt like an orange among a bunch of donuts. The orange is appealing on its own, but amid those delectable desserts, it doesn’t stand a chance. I became absorbed in thought as my friends chatted excitedly around me. I bit down and felt the familiar emotional sting as my bottom teeth tucked behind my top ones. I wonder if they notice it like I do… my thoughts trailed off as the commotion around me became a blurry background.

My mom worked so hard. My step-dad worked so hard. Why did it seem more difficult for them to do this? My pulse was fast, my eyes were moist, and my jaw was tense.

My friends didn’t seem to notice, nor did they even notice the factor that was causing this internal conflict. I felt my face turn a deep shade of pink as I opened my mouth to speak. Talking was safe, talking would not remind them of my difference. Before long, I began to laugh… hard!

I needed to trail back. This was exactly what I was trying to avoid. It was too late though and, although none of them ever pointed it out, they had to have noticed the obvious proof of my family’s economic class.

I could never confess my disappointment of course. After all, many of my classmates had less than we did and I knew that this was not a crucial use of our family income. I was old enough to understand priorities, so why did I still feel so glum?


“Writing the Self 2: [Why Are They Different?]”

Why do these kids have “weird” skin? Why don’t I have skin like theirs? Will my skin turn darker or lighter while I go to school? These questions filled my five year old brain on the first day of elementary school.

I was a very shy kid. It took a lot of courage for me to introduce myself to the other kids, never mind vocalize the personal thoughts that had so abruptly taken the place of my regular internal conversation. I desperately wanted to understand what skin colour meant and why it was so varying among the people in my classroom.

Up until this point in my life, I had primarily been around family and friends whose cultural backgrounds were similar to mine and whose pigmentation matched the one I saw in the mirror each morning. I took for granted the inclusion that I felt among those who I had come to trust and love.

Would the other kids like me, whose skin is different than theirs? Would they think that I am weird because of my differences? Was I allowed to play with kids whose skin was different, or were we meant to remain separated? I didn’t have the knowledge and the life experience that I now have. I was a young child lost in a sea of unfamiliar observations and terrifying realizations.

I liked to blend in. I was comfortable with hiding in a large crowd and keeping my individuality to myself. I saw myself as a kid among many kids on the playground and I did not want to stand out. My skin was a darker pigment than many of my classmates, while simultaneously being lighter than many others’ in my neighborhood. I was unique…. and I was uncomfortable.

An appreciation for my special talents and skills had not yet developed within me, nor had any desire to embrace my family background and personal identity.

What was destined to be a day of getting lost in the hallways and being put into awkward social situations turned into a day of internal struggle with racial awareness and cultural understanding.


“Writing the Self 1: [Warmed by the Cold]”

It is as if my legs have detached from my body in petition. The feeling I once had from my blood flow is absent and I begin to question whether or not I can actually stand up. Using the sled to brace myself, I prepare for the uncertain landing that waits as my feet hit the ground. My only security comes from the reassuring fact that there was a fresh layer of snow to soften my landing. My faith is abundant though, and I work up the courage to depart from the seat. I do not have much choice, as the fear of getting stuck in the sitting position has become very real to me.  

“Wow,” is the only word I can think of to describe my immaculate surroundings.

            I look down in awe and realize that my legs are not only attached, but are doing their job as I slowly release my grip on the sled. I feel the slightest bit of nausea from inhaling the fumes on the long ride. My chest is pounding with each breath as my lungs fight to process the cold air. My fingers have virtually frozen inside my fur mitts that our friend so carefully constructed for me. I know that there is a warm fire waiting, so I fight to ignore the throbbing that has made itself known in almost every part of my body. Periodically, I feel my blood moving as a gentle reminder that I am still alive. I become more aware of my surroundings, as I try to process the amazing opportunity that I have been given. The very same environment that chills me from head to toe manages to warm my heart in ways I cannot fully explain.

            The sky is painted in varying shades of violet and the only sound above our breath is the gentle wind travelling through the crisp winter air. The trees around us resemble those in the background of a Hallmark Christmas special and create a feeling of safety and shelter from the regular stresses of life. A rabbit hops across the trail ahead, creating new tracks in the fluffy, untouched snow. I stand in awe as the sun sets against the marvelous wonder of the Saskatchewan sky.

            “This is so beautiful,” I whisper under my breath as my husband’s excitement begins to rise.

            “I think we have something!” he exclaims.

            I had forgotten the reason we were even there, but the anticipation as we approach the first spot creeps through my veins and allows me to share in his gratefulness with genuine admiration. I know in this moment that I do not want to leave. I find myself dreaming of possibilities, wondering what lies ahead. My stomach turns, reminding me that we have not eaten anything since the start. I walk to the sleigh and pull out a hard granola bar; frozen solid. I pray that my teeth will not break as I take my first bite. Followed by a sip of hot chocolate though, the snack hits the spot just right. Everything about this is just right. This place is where we belong. This place is home.